December 24, 2011

REFLECTIONS ON FATHERHOOD
Baby Jesus

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Often times when I look at my son, I think, "What will he be like when he grows up? What kind of a man will he be?" I think every parent has that thought.

But the other day, as I was watching him, I thought, "What was Jesus like when He was this age?" Often when it comes to historical figures, especially ones who had a great impact on history, we forget that they were once children. This is especially true of Jesus even though we talk about the baby Jesus once a year.

So here we have this kid who possesses the fullness of the Godhead. Yet according to Christian theology He must have developped like any ordinary child. Well, my child gets stuck under the side table because he could only crawl over one the bars. Of course, he has no history or knowledge that would have aided him in knowing that that was a bad idea, but wouldn't Jesus have?

Personally, I think no. At least I think that right now; I could easily change my mind in a month. However there is more going on in my son right now besides learning. His physical brain and body are developping, and what he can't do one day, he can do the next. There is a necessity for a child to explore and try out his mind and body. Jesus who would have just come into possession of a human body, which was itseld still developping, would also need to try it out. This is especially true if we have the theological commitment to the belief that Jesus was truly human.

What are your thoughts? How do you think Christ's divine nature would affect His childhood days?

December 19, 2011

Calvinist Santa: The Movie

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Calvinist Santa
by: jc_freak



View here for original script

December 12, 2011

Calvinist Santa (Satire)

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We enter Santa's workshop. Over by the desk we see two elves talking. One is Legolass, who has been Santa's secratary for the past 200 years, and is moving on to new work. The other is Qeebler, who is taking over the secretary resposibilities. As the scene opens, Legolass is pulling out a large scroll from his desk drawer. Let's listen:

Legolass: So this is Santa's naughty and nice list for this year. You will find that about 75% of your responsibilities will involve referencing this list.

Qeebler: Wow this is heavy. So after this year, where does this go.

Legolass: Over there. (points to a room) That room is full of old lists. And this filing cabinet over here has the future lists.

Qeebler: What do you mean future lists?

Legolass: You know, for the next few years.

Qeebler: How does Santa already have a list?

Legolass: Because Santa is the one who decides who is naughty and who is nice, of course.

Qeebler: Of course, but doesn't "nice" and "naughty" refer to what the kids actually do?

Legolass: Well sure! Santa decides who is going to be naughty and who is going to be nice.

Qeebler: Wait wait wait! Isn't the whole point of the Santa Claus project to encourage all children to be good?

Legolass: Originally yes. However, about a hundred years ago, Santa read this book by A. W. Magenta. Completely changed his outlook. He realized that all kids are inheritly naughty.

Qeebler: Of course! That's why they need to be given incentives to be taught right from wrong.

Legolass: Except Santa realized that it is even worse than that. He realized that no amount of present giving or coal giving will ever teach a child right from wrong. So he individually causes each kid to be either naughty or nice. That is the only way to be sure that any of them are going to be nice at all.

Qeebler: Well, then why doesn't he just make them all nice? Why make some of them naughty?

Legolass: Are you kidding? Then who'll get the coal, man! Think!

Qeebleer: Why does anyone need to get coal?

Legolass: Because coal is a basic symbal of justice! In order to show that he is just, Santa needs to deliver coal to someone. Therefore he has to make some kids naughty, or them getting the coal wouldn't be just.

Qeebler: But how is it just to punish a child for doing what Santa caused him to do? Besides, why is justice even an important concept if he can just make all children be nice? Justice only makes sense as a reaction to naughtiness. It doesn't justify the existance of naughtiness itself.

Legolass: Ok, clearly you haven't read enough A. W. Magenta yourself. Maybe I can recommend a few more contempory books. For instance, maybe Desiring St. Nick by John Flutist, or In the Toymaker's Hands by James Mutherovpirl.

Qeebler: Look, you can't just hide behind a bunch of authors whose names sound like really bad puns. How can you and Santa justify punishing children for doing exactly what they were made to do? That's just hypocritical!

Legolass: Apparently you have this strange idea that kids can be good enough to earn their own presents.

Qeebler: I never said that. First of all, I am aware that you can't earn gifts. That's what makes them gifts. Santa is under no obligation to give anything to anyone. Second of all, I am not complaining about children not really earning theirs gifts under your system. I'm complaining about them not really earning their coal! While there is nothing unjust about giving someone something good without merit, there is something inheritantly evil about giving someone a punishment without merit. There is a big difference between Santa punishing a child by intentionally giving them a lump of coal and Santa simply not givng certain kids a gift because he loves other kids more.

Legolass: Wait a minute! Stop right there! Santa loves all kids! After all, he says so.

Qeebler: How can you say he loves all kids if he treats some differently by means of some arbitrary decision!

Legolass: It's not arbitrary.

Qeebler: Oh, so what does he base his decision on then!

Legolass: His own good pleasure.

Qeebler punches Legolass hard in the shoulder

Legolass: Ow! What was the reason for that?!

Qeebler: My own good pleasure.

Legolass: Qeebler, maybe we rushed you to this position. I'm not sure if you are quite ready for it yet. In fact the cookie department could use a good managerial mind. Perhaps we can move you there.

Qeebler: Hold on, you di...

Legolass: That's enough! Good day Qeebler.

Scene fade out.

December 5, 2011

CALVINIST RHETORIC: Consistancy
Or "Van Til It Hurts"

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What I Mean By Consistency

In the 1920s a Dutch Theologian by the name of Cornelius Van Til (hence the joke in the subtitle) revitalized an apologetic approach known as presuppositional apologetics. In essence, presuppositional apologetics assesses the validity of a philosophical view by its presuppositions (the underlying assumptions upon which the view is based) and whether these presuppositions contradict each other or are consistant with each other.* It sort of like a monological Socratic argument.

Oh, and Van Til was a Calvinist.

Personally, I have no issue with presuppositional apologetics. Indeed, I think it is a powerful rhetorical technique, and it vastly important in inter-religous studies as well as systematic theology. I even defend it in this post. However there are some precautions one should consider before they completely trust arguments from consistency.

First, there are very few beliefs that are homogenous, that is existing in only one form. For most philosophies, there are variations, and some of these variations are going to be more consistant than others. Therefore, if one is intent on making good and honorable arguments (instead of trying to just destroy whatever you disagree with irregardless of validity), one must study the breadth and depth of the other position.

Second, if you are going to argue from consistency, then you must only consider the other opinion. You cannot allow your own presuppositions and priorities to be involved in the argument. This is really, really, really... really hard to do. Therefore, one must not only study the breadth and depth of the position to be critiqued, but also must completely and exhaustively and critically study the full depth of one's own position so that it may be appropriately set aside.

Third, there needs to be an understanding that if you are making an argument from consistency, you are not criticizing what a person believes; at least not directly. If I say that to be consistent, a Calvinist would have to believe that God is the source and designer of all evil, I cannot then say that God, in Calvinism, is evil. I have to admit, if I care about being honest, that Calvinism doesn't actually teaches this (Thank goodness).

Fourth, we have to consider how much strength we can give to an argument from consistency given the theological category of mystery. Mystery is the simple and humble acknowledgement of God's ineffability: we cannot fully describe Him. Though without having any stipulations as to what properly constitutes a mystery the idea becomes an intellectual cop-out, we do still have to be careful about how much strength we give to consistency arguments when the subject is the ineffable God.

Consistency in Action

Synergism

Here is an example of this:
You may say, how can "everything be of Christ" if faith is from us? I would answer, it is possible to be inconsistent! (we all are to some extent) But it is a happy inconsistency, as long as they truly rest on Christ alone.
The accusation is a common one: if Arminians were consistent, we would note that we are the cause of our own salvation. I would say that this accusation is completely false. Although one could call us synergistic, we do not hold that we in any way cause our salvation. (Of course, this depends on your definition of the 'synergism' so I don't find the appellation helpful in theological discourse. )

Why do we say salvation is all of Christ? Because I do not do any of the saving. The actions of salvation (justification, salvation, election, sanctification, regeneration, etc...) are completely done of God. We have no energetic input into any of these processes. The "part we play," so to speak, is passive: we get out of the way and trust God to do all of the work. That is hardly something causal.

But Calvinists say that is inconsistent. Inconsistent with what? Here is one of the major problems with the way in which Calvinists use the rhetoric. In order to demonstrate inconsistancy, they must point out two or more beliefs that Arminians hold and show them to be incompatible. However, they usually don't really do this. They usually merely state that we are inconsistent.

Personally, I think that they usually don't mean inconsistent (there are counter examples of course). Inconsistent is just a euphemistic way for them to say illogical. However, saying illogical directly gets them in much more trouble because it is a much harsher accusation to make and a much harder accusation to prove (not to mention untrue). Much like the political use of the word 'tolerance' in lieu of 'acceptance', it is a way of saying what they really want to say, while not sounding like they are saying something obviously objectionable.

The truth is Arminianism isn't illogical, nor inconsistent. This is because all logical arguements start with unprovable presuppositions, and even though both Calvinism (at least certain forms of it) and Arminianism (at least certain forms of it) are completely logically, they are still different belief systems. This is because we hold different presuppositions: different starting places. The Calvinist claim that we are inconsistent usually is based on their inability to seperate out their own presuppositions in their analyses.

The End Result

The way that the term consistency is used gives a lot of unscholorly Calvinist arguments a scholarly feel. It makes them (the arguments) sound a lot more impressive than they really are.

Think about it. To say that something is inconsistant is to claim that you have done all of the work that I mentioned in the first part of this post (studying the breadth and depth of Arminianism, exhaustively and critically studying the full depth of Calvinism, and setting aside Calvinistic assumptions). Therefore the Calvinist is rhetorically taking this higher ground that says, "Trust me. I've thought about this."

However, the gross ignorance of of these same Calvinists on what Arminianism teaches coupled with the absolute assumption of certain Calvinist presuppositions means that most have actually not done this work. For many, Arminianism is inconsistant because Piper or Sproul said so, but they don't actually know themselves. The arguments simply make sense to them, so it must be true.

Dealing with this rhetoric though is actually fairly simply. First of all, you can simply give it back (like how they say that making the human will a secondary cause in salvation** puts salvation in the hands of man, but God only being a secondary cause to sin completely absolves Him from it). Second, point out how they are assuming Calvinist presuppotions in their analysis, which is a failure in showing inconsistancy. Finally, by callingg you inconsistant, they have essentially invited you to explain Arminianism. take up that invitation and set the record straight.

_________________________________________________________
*Actually any argument based of an analysis of presuppositions is an example of presuppositional apologetics. Arguments from and for consistency are just the most common and basic form of it.

**I wouldn't actually say that humans are a "secondary cause", since I don't think that we take as causal role. But, Calvinists due argue that human inaction does alter the course of one's eternal destiny, and is thus causal in some way. But even if it is causal, it is, at best, a secondary cause since God does all of the actions.


For series index, click here.

November 28, 2011

Why Respecting My Religon Is Disrespectful

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There are a lot of words thrown around today in the political arena that simply don't mean what they used to mean; some are more obvious than others. However, the biggest area where this goes on is within the context of religion. Many have talked about how those who preach "tolerance" are often intolerant of those who disagree with them, but that is not the word that I talking about today. I'm talking about respect (insert Aretha Franklin joke here).

First a caveat: I do believe that we should respect other people's beliefs. Not all beliefs are worthy of respect, but most are. Besides, they are human beings, and they have reasons for what they believe. Often times we just have different starting places (or "bliks" as Roger Olson recently said). If you don't respect that they have a right to their opinions, and that there are reasons behind what they are saying, then you are not going to be able to have a serious conversation about truth with them, evangelisic or otherwise.

However, what many mean by respect isn't respect at all. Many times, I have gotten into conversations with someone, and they talk about what they believe, and I either assess what they said, or offer my own opinion on the subject. And then, they turn to me utter that great conversation stopper, "I respect that opinion."

However, they don't. They don't because they ended the conversation, and left it at that. By "respect that opinion" they mean "I am fine with you believing that but I'm not going to think about." That isn't respect. Respect isn't taking what I said, wrapping it up in a little box with a ribbon that says "respect" on it, and then putting it on a shelf to collect dust. Respect is taking what I said seriously.

I don't believe what I believe because it makes my life simpler, easier, or happier. Indeed, it doesn't always. I believe what I believe because I am convinced that it properly describes reality. If I am right, then that belief is as true for you as it is for me.

It seems to me that this "respect" and "tolerance" movement often allows people who don't really want to get involved with thinking about such things to hide their beliefs from criticism. People have taken personal possession of their beliefs: their own little creations that marks who they are, and shows how creative they are. Like those paintings that I made in high school that I still have for some reason, there is this self-gratifying nostalgia looking back at such creations.

However, also like those paintings from high school, many times they're crap! However, the difference is that I am aware that those paintings were crap, but many of these people expect to receive the same level of respect for such opinions as ancient beliefs that have had thousands of persons carefully meditate and consider the implications of for centuries. While being old or organized doesn't make something true, it certainly makes it more worthy of respect than a really cool idea someone came up with while eating pizza and playing Halo.

Respect needs to be earned, and if your idea really is brilliant (and it may be), then demonstrate it by allowing it to stand up against scrutiny. True respect is not only recognizing that someone has good reasons for believing what they believe, but that they could be right, and that therefore what they are saying is worthy of consideration. This is especially true if what they are saying has serious ramifications for your life (like the future of the country, or the eternal state of your soul). These are things to be taken seriously, and not "respected" like I respect that you like Elvis over the Beatles (which I don't understand, but I digress). It needs to be true respect. It needs to be a recognition that this is something worthy of my time.

Here is my advice to you: don't use respect, tolerance, or other political words to ignore important ideas. Really take the time to think things out, and hear what people say. Show people enough respect to take them, and their ideas, seriously. Then maybe, just maybe, we'll become a society of real dialog that has conversations of substance.

November 24, 2011

Thankfulness as the Key to Joy

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Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 5:17-20

In Christian life, thankful is intended to be a way of life. It is not incidental that Paul advices us, no, charges us to be thankful in everything. The key to living a joyful is to choose to be thankful for the life that we have.

It is interesting that we live in such a properous nation, and in such lavish comfort over all, and yet most of us have a lot of trouble being thankful. Here nation is a testament to the truth that getting what we want does not make us happy. What makes us happy is recognizing that we already have more than we deserve.

God is a merciful and caring God, and even the most disadvantaged person in the world has still been given life, a gift that was unearned and was not owed him. My every breath is a gift. Even though it is easy to be frustrated that things are as good as they were, be grateful that you still eat three square meals a day, have a roof over your head, and clean clothes on your back, for there are many who don't have those things who are grateful for what we have.

So this Thanksgiving, give thanks. Know that God is with you and is blessing you. Look at your family and friends and thank God for them.

And one more thing: have fun! God loves a cheerful thanker.

November 21, 2011

Types of Theological Development

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I realized that I have never written on this, and it kind of surprised me. I personally, and this is completely me, see four modes of theological development. By this I mean that a person's or a group's opinion on a certain theological/philosophical matter doesn't simply develop on its own. There is generally some kind of impetus which causes us to think on things, and that impetus influences how our theology itself develops. Because of this, certain theological ideas are based more out of the mode through which it was birthed. I think it is best to see what I mean.

The Four are:


  1. Apologetic: In this mode, a person's theology develops essentially through combat with other ideas. The person begins with a basic belief system, and then engages in other belief systems. That core belief system is then protected through new theological ideas intended to combat or dodge certain criticisms, or new ideas that are designed to demonstrate that system's superiority over other systems.

  2. Irenic: In this mode, a person's theology develops through optimistic comparisons with another perspective. The person begins with a belief system, and then looks at another belief system to see what they have in common. Those commonalities are then emphasized and are considered to be more important. The differences are either altered, or talked about. New ideas result from seeing an idea in the other belief system that the person likes, and then altering it to fit within their own views. Irenic development is not necessarily postmodern relativistic interfaith kind of thinking (though that can be an example of it). It is can also be anytime when two or more groups are trying to unify (Such as the original Fundamentalist movement).

  3. Scholastic: In this mode, a person's theology develops through careful and systemic analysis and meditation. The person begins with a basic belief system, which is then critiqued, analyzed, expounded upon, etc... Scholastic development often results in systematic theologies, and other such tomes. As far as new ideas are concerned, that is the goal of Scholastic development. It is people trying to come up with new ideas.

  4. Pragmatic: In this mode, a person's theology develops by attempting to use one's theology/philosophy to achieve certain objectives. The person begins with a belief system and a goal. The person then eliminates those aspects of that belief system which impedes their goal and adds ideas which help their goal. To be frank, this is the typical mode of theological development in America today, which isn't surprising given our culture.
In the best cases, a person or group should really be employing all four of these modes. If one's theology were a city, then scholastics are the foundation upon which everything is built, apologetics is the wall which protects the city from invaders, irenics is the infrastructure (roads) which keeps the people united, and pragmatics is the industry which keeps things moving.

When any of these becomes over emphasized, things go bad. Scholastics starts dealing with worthless ivory tower nonsense, apologetics causes strife and fracturing groups, irenics makes your ideas wishy-washy and easily ignored, and pragmatics causes you to lose sight of what really matters. It is when the four are in balance that your ideas develop in a healthy manner.

November 14, 2011

A Take on the Republican Field

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I thought I would do a quick little post on my thoughts on the Republican field. Because we are talking about the primaries, I am going to use my friend Chris Bastedo's stock metaphor of buy (someone I think might succeed), hold (someone I could succeed), sell (someone who I don't expect to succeed), and sold (someone who I think is a joke). Also, to avoid bias, Chris always lists everyone alphabetically. Therefore, to flaunt my bias, I'm going to start with who I like least and move to who I like best:
  • Jon Huntsman (Sold)
    Huntsman is a RINO and simply is not going to win. His only chance was if the "establishment" portion of the party backed him, and they are backing Romney. I also don't care.

  • Ron Paul (Sold)
    Ron Paul is a libertarian, and a good man. He cares about freedom, which I like, and pushes small government, which I also like. However, he also has very naive views on foreign policy. While this naiveté makes for an adorable Representative, it doesn't inspire confidence for someone aspiring to be Commander and Chief. In short, I like the man, I am glad he is in Congress, and I hope he stays there.

  • Rick Santorum (Sell)
    To be honest, I have trouble with someone who attempts to make everything about values. Santorum is the kind of guy that I would probably vote for in the 90s when we were confident and comfortable. In those conditions, we usually care a lot about values. But right now we have a strife-ridden Middle East and a failing economy. I want someone practical. I just don't see Rick as that guy. (I also question whether value based voting should have a place in federal elections, but I digress)

  • Michelle Bachmann (Sell)
    I think, for this race, Bachmann has had her day in the sun, but it is now past. Overall, I like Bachmann. However, I have found very little of her campaign differentiates her from the other candidates. She has a lot of slogans, and a lot of anti-Obama rhetoric, but I don't see anything that I can't get from someone else in the race.

  • Rick Perry (Hold)
    Perry is a guy with some really good ideas who suffers terribly from foot-in-mouth disease. I also feel like him and Santorum through the most mud around, which isn't really something that gets me behind someone. What I fear the most is if he goes against Barak Obama and says foolish things which cost him the election. Besides, I think we can do better.

  • Mitt Romney (Hold)
    I am sure many of you are surprised that I am saying "hold" for Mitt. Well, to be honest, a large portion of the Conservative base of the Republican Party is trying to find someone other than Romney, and I think there are better choices. Personally, I would be happy with Romney. He does a very good job. I also think he has a fantastic poker face (is he ever not half smiling?). The guy knows his economics, and he understands federalism (which a lot of his nay-sayers apparently don't). But I also think we can do better. He's a Rockefeller Republican instead of a true conservative, and I think a lot of his economic plans are too safe. The radical economic plans of Cain, Gingrich and even Perry are much more exciting and to my liking. In short, I would be happy Romney, but happier with a couple of others.

  • Herman Cain (Buy)
    First of all, I trust his character a lot more than the persons who are criticizing him. I am also exciting about anyone who wants to implement the fair tax (which his 9-9-9 plan is supposed to be an intermediate step towards). I also love his foreign policy, which is essentially appointing other people who know what the heck they are doing and then trusting them. That is what every president without military and diplomatic experience should do. However, I have a couple of concerns: first I little worried that his 9-9-9 plan will be a permanent intermediate step. In other words, I am worried that he'll pass it, and then his term will end before he can implement the next phase towards the fair tax (in government you always have to keep in mind that others with inherit what you do, and may not do with it what you would want). My second concern is a lack of political experience. Solution: Cain is the VP for...

  • Newt Gingrich (Buy)
    I think Newt is the right man for the job. First of all, seeing as we need someone who is going to work well in both the domestic and foreign environments, it is good to have someone named after an amphibian. More seriously though, this is a man who behind the economic boom in the 90s. Additionally, he has extensive experience in federal politics, not only as a Congressman, but also as a leader. He has demonstrated to have a deep understanding of any issue upon which he speaks. He also rhetorically articulate and aggressive, while seeking fairness on the field with his competitors. Apart from a bit of a tarnished past which he has repented of, there isn't anything I can really say which is negative about him.
I want to finish with one last thought: as Americans, we have a responsibility to make informed decisions. If you want to vote, then get informed. If you don't want to bother to get informed, then don't vote. We have the privilege of living in a country where our opinion matters. But like all privileges, it comes with responsibilities. Don't wait until the last minute to read a pamphlet to hand you your opinion in front of the voting booth. Start looking at the people and the issues now. Remember, it's your future too.

November 11, 2011

WHY IS HOMOSEXUALITY WRONG:
Part III: Applying the Answer

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Is has been posited by me in my last post that the reason that homosexuality is wrong is because it betrays our responsibility to represent God, and that it misrepresents the divine nature of love. OK, that's great. But what does that mean for us as Americans, evangelists, and church goers? How do we as Christians take this theological understanding and apply it socially, politically, and practically?

The State of Unions

The first question that I think will be asked in terms of applying our opinion of homosexuality is whether or not gay marriage should be legal. Here we have a real conundrum. As someone who believes that homosexuality is wrong, I cannot really be for gay marriage. However, recognizing that my understanding for why it is wrong is completely bound in my understanding of God, I cannot really insist that a government which is not supposed to take sides in religious squabbles should be expected to support my position.

Here it comes to a question of how you understand your own opinion as it comes to government. For instance, if you understand our government simply as a representative democracy, then you may believe that it is the politicians role to represent your opinions, regardless of how the government is supposed to be set up. However, if you take such a position, you cannot really be upset when they also take up the cause of your neighbor with whom you so adamantly disagree. In such an understanding, the politician is ultimately going to represent the majority, and we aren't really the majority on this issue.

Fine. Well if you instead believe that we are a Republic, and those politicians are elected to represent not our opinions but our best interests within in the confines of the Constitution, you would then be closer to my own views. However, can we constitutionally justify the government siding with one religious view over another? There is freedom of religion in this country. I know that that often gets abused, but in this case it is legitimate. Even if we just stick within Christianity, the idea of freedom of religion meant that the government couldn't take the side of Baptists and outlaw infant baptism. That was the kind of thing our forefathers meant. Is it really any different about deciding who our church's are allowed to marry?

I don't really think so. Quite frankly, the government, especially the Federal government should just stay out of it. And it is really this view I think we should support. This is something that needs to be fought in the hearts and minds of the people. This battle needs to take place in books, pulpits, blogs, etc... It shouldn't take place in Washington, or even Albany.

This is why I have always supported the idea of civil unions. I don't mean a separate but equal idea, but removing the language of marriage from the law entirely, and replacing with the structure of the unification of property between two citizens, whether partial or complete. This is the principle reason why government is involved at all, so let's just step out of the religious aspect of the issue, and only deal with property rights. This would free the churches to deal with the issue on the ideological battleground.

Church Life

However, one shouldn't run the church like the government. The government is not a moral institution (it is amoral in nature); the church is though.

We still need to be careful though. We need to make sure that we are not treating them differently than anyone else who has a habitual sin in their life. We need to see them as a person who needs redemption. You don't kick someone out of your church just because they have sin in their life. Naturally, someone who is unrepentant in a sin shouldn't be given a teaching position, or a position of authority, but they can still attend service and bible studies. But if they are trying to teach other people that what they are doing is OK, or if they are causing strife within the church, or if they are flaunting their sin, disciplinary measures are clearly required, up to having them leave the congregation. However, this is true of any sin.

For homosexuality in particular, the church needs to be aware of why a person enters into that lifestyle, and offer alternative answers. I believe that a person enters into homosexuality because identity issues: it helps them find their place and role in society. The church can offer that same sense of identity: you are a child of God, made in His image, and represent Him to the world. You are part of God's family, and are love and accepted for who you were truly are (not necessarily who you think you are though).

However, that is a general answer. To truly answer a person's ultimate identity questions, you need to take seriously who they are individually. This isn't something that I can do in this post simply because the precise answer would be different for each individual. Everyone has a place in God's family, and it is part of the church's role to help a person find it.

One On One

"OK Martin, but how do I deal with homosexuals at my job, in the world, and in my life?" Excellent question!

First of all, watch your language. What I mean is make sure that what you are saying reflects your perspective, not the worlds. The world labels men who are effeminate as gay. Don't do the same. This enforces the kind of stereotype which pushes certain males to define themselves as gay just because they are more sensitive or gentle. Indeed, reject the entire label of a homosexual. There are no homosexuals. That isn't a type of person. Just because the world believes that, doesn't mean that you should. If you speak about the issue differently than everyone else, it will cause curiosity, and give you the opportunity to share the truth.

Second, care about everyone. Don't discount a person because of their political or sociological agenda. Recognize them as children of God, and deserving of the respect of divine image-bearers.

Third, be open with what you believe without being overbearing. You don't have to try and convince a person each time you talk with them (especially not the first time). Instead, simply state truth matter of factly, without judgment or coercion. Allow the truth to speak for itself, and only defend it when it is actually attacked. The best offense is a good defense. Perfect your defense.

And one final point before I close: remember that these are people. You don't know why someone is living a homosexual lifestyle. You don't know their life story. Do not interpret their life unless they give you permission. Do not explain their choices and decisions that they have not told. Instead, focus on God, and declare His glory and love unequivocally. Ask questions and don't give slogans. Remember, it is not our job to convert people. It is our job to teach them to listen for God. Let Him do all the hard work. After all, He's better at it.

November 9, 2011

WHY IS HOMOSEXUALITY WRONG:
Part II: What Is The Answer?

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Biblical Texts

There are three main biblical texts that deal with the issue of homosexuality. Romans chapter 1 describes homosexuality, and clearly represents it as a sinful lifestyle. However, Romans 1 uses homosexuality as an example of the culture's sinfulness, and takes the sinfulness of homosexuality itself as a given.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 lists homosexuality among a list of vices. What we can gather from this text is that A) homosexuality is not sin as a special sin and B) that according to verse 11, homosexuality is repentable and redeemable. The fear and hatred that many feel towards homosexuality is therefore not supportable from Scripture.

Finally, we come to Leviticus 18:22. This verse merely says: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." It is a very short verse, and its context is merely a list of other sexual sins. So are we left with no explanation at all?

Abomination

Well, no. Leviticus 18 does give us a clue. It refers to sin as an abomination. What does that term mean? Does it just mean "really, really bad"?

Well, we have to remember that this is a translation. The Hebrew word is 'toebah' (pronounced toe-ai-bah). 'Toebah' is used in two ways: in an ethical sense (essentially meaning something really really bad) or in a ritual sense (it makes you unclean, etc...). In total, it refers to something which God loathes or detests. However, these two senses are not that different since ethical sin is seen as something which itself is ritualistically unclean.

If we set our presuppositions aside, we can consider something which God finds detestable to be wrong, regardless of any other quality it may has. Our hedonistic society would ask what harm it does, but that question is irrelevant if it is something that offends God. It being wrong is not necessarily tied to it being harmful, if it goes against God's design and wishes.

However, even with this, we still don't have much of a reason. Ok, so God finds it disagreeable, but why does He find it disagreeable? It appears that in order to answer this question, we need to speculate beyond what Scripture directly tells us.

Being Made in God's Image

I have spoken here before about us being made in the image of God. I understand the concept to mean that we are representatives of God on earth. This gives us great authority over creation (as delegated by God) and also means that we are holy.

However, being holy also comes with a responsibility. We are God's image-bearers. As such, what we do reflects back on God. Things that go against God's nature are therefore wrong, because we are betraying that fundamental responsibility of our nature. Things, such as violence, coveting, stealing, etc..., go against how God Himself is. In doing these things, we are debasing God Himself.

This is also true when it comes to sex. First of all, sex is a creative act, and God is creator. Furthermore, sex is the creation of human beings, who are holy. Thus the act itself must also be considered holy. This doesn't mean that it must be stoic, or any of that other Victorian nonsense, but it does need to be respected, and understood as a reflection of God's own nature.

When we debase sex, we in fact debase one of God's most precious acts: the creation of humanity. As such, we are debasing God Himself and what He did.

What is important to understand in this, is that sex isn't a game. Is it fun? Yes, and there is nothing wrong with that. But that is not its purpose. It is a holy act of creation. In this sense, sexual sin is very much abominable.

What about Homosexual love?

One may say that since God is love, and since sex is the ultimate expression of human love, then shouldn't sex display God's nature as long as the love between the individuals is authentic?

Well, here we have to challenge some of the world's perceptions of things again. Love is not an emotion. Love is not an impulse. Love is prioritization. You love something if you value it more than yourself, or more than most other things. Just because an emotion may be strong, it doesn't make love valid. Love is valid if you are prioritizing things properly.

There are in fact lots of examples of love which are abhorrent to God: The love of money, the love of someone else's possession, the love of other gods… The validity of the love is dependent upon the worthiness of its object or expression, not the intensity of the love itself.

To be honest, there is nothing wrong with loving someone of the same gender. I love my brother for instance. I love my son and my father. Also, in a very similar sense, I love my best friends. However, the expression of that love is camaraderie. It is very different than the kind of love I have for my wife. That love is different because of the holiness of our marriage and the marriage act, with its expression of God's creative passion. Indeed, my love for my son is tied to my creation of him. He comes from me! It is in that creativity that we find out what God's love is really like, and that kind of love can only happen between a man and a woman.

This is not a simple statement that homosexuality is wrong because it goes against nature. I'm saying that it is wrong because it goes against God, and our fundamental purpose of human beings: to express who God is to the rest of creation. How we treat our children, and how we make our children, is intimately connected to that.

On Friday in part III I'll go over how I think the church should be dealing with this issue.

November 7, 2011

WHY IS HOMOSEXUALITY WRONG
Part I: Why Do We Need An Answer?

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Homosexuality is one of the more controversial topics in America right now, and for good reason. There is an overall question of whether the government has the right to judge the properness of homosexual relations, and whether or not rejection of a homosexual lifestyle is similar to sexism and racism. In a pluralist society, these are extremely reasonable questions.

However, as one who takes the Bible very seriously and one who concludes that the Bible considers homosexual intercourse to be sin, I have to conclude that the homosexual lifestyle itself is something which the Church cannot support. The biggest difficulty is the Bible doesn't give a complete picture as to why, and I have found the Church hasn't really been answering this question well given our current environment. While I find it sufficient to say that it is wrong because the Bible says it's wrong, I think it is foolish and arrogant to expect Non-Christians to be satisfied by such a response.

The purpose of this series is to propose an answer to this question, while remaining sensitive to why our culture has begun to accept homosexuality. I'll begin by talking about what I believe homosexuality means in this culture, and why the Church needs to have a thoughtful response for our society on this issue. Then in the next section I'll move on to why I believe the Bible says that it is wrong. Finally, I will conclude with how we as Christians should deal with this issue outside of our church walls. For the remainder of this post though, I will be dealing with why this issue is important to our culture, and why it is right for our society to at least ask the question: why is homosexuality wrong?

Hedonism

Before anyone can properly discuss why a particular thing is wrong, we need to first address why anything is wrong. I would argue that the general ethic in today's culture is a form of Hedonism. Quite simply, Hedonism is the belief that good is ultimately defined by what is pleasurable, and evil or bad is defined by what is painful or hurtful.

Hedonism often gets a bit of a bad reputation since a common description of it is mere self-indulgence. Indeed, this kind of definition allows many who actually believe in Hedonism to distance themselves from the word. However, most sophisticated forms of Hedonism attempt to define ‘good’ in the general sense, where you are not just seeking your own good/pleasure, but discussing how to increase good/pleasure throughout society. Acts which give others pleasure are equally good as acts which give yourself pleasure. Additionally, acts which cause pain in others are equally evil as acts which cause pain in you.

I think that hedonism is a natural standard of morality given a purely material world (a.k.a. materialism). Indeed, I believe this is why it has become so prevalent within our society. Along with secularization comes a pragmatic tendency to allow materialism to be the grand mediator among the various philosophies in our society. Because of this, even if Hedonism is contradictory to one's particular worldview, one tends to appeal to Hedonism when attempting to justify one's position to someone of a different worldview.

The problem with homosexuality is that it is really difficult, if not impossible, to hedonistically justify its rejection. We can talk about the unhealthiness of those who participate it, but it is incredibly difficult to prove, and most certainly hasn’t been proven yet. If we are to reject homosexuality, we need to appeal to non-hedonistic ethics. This is something that I intend to do in Part II of this series.

Church and State





Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment)
As it currently stands in America, the government is responsible for certain functions of life (such as marriage, income taxes and hospital visits) that require definitions of interpersonal relations. In other words, the government needs to know who is related to whom and in what way. Some relationships are biological and are easily defined. But some, such as marriage, adoption, etc..., are not.

Therefore, it is insufficient for the government to just stay out of the way on this issue, which would be nice. Such questions as "Can homosexual couples get married?" or "Can homosexual couples adopt?" need to be answered by the government.
To be honest, this goes beyond the question of whether or not homosexuality is wrong, mostly because it is not the government's responsibility to determine that. But while we as a society attempt to sift through these issues individually, there are a group of people who believe that they are being unnecessarily restricted due to the religious beliefs of others.

This is not something we can simply ignore as Christians. And we cannot simply insist that the government submit to our opinion either. We need to seriously ask ourselves whether or not our views of morality need to be or should be enforced by the American government. Additionally, if we believe that it should be enforced, we therefore need to be able to articulate why homosexuality is wrong in such way that goes beyond Christianity since this government is not allowed to officially prefer one religious perspective over another. I will address this issue in Part III of this series.

Nature Vs. Nurture

One of the problems of this discussion is that homosexuality means something different to the world than it does to those of us who reject the lifestyle. If you go back and review this post, you will notice that I never use the term 'homosexual' as a noun. Quite frankly, I question the true existence of a homosexual as the world thinks of it. I don't think that one is homo or heterosexual. I believe that what we are is human.

However, that is not the way that the world sees it. The world believes that sexual orientation is something that you are born with, and you are denying yourself if you do not give into certain impulses.

There was one movie on the subject that really angered me. It was called In And Out, starring Kevin Kline. Many may say, "Of course you were mad at it. The movie celebrates homosexuality, and you hate homosexuality." Well, first, I don't "hate it". Second, I knew going into the movie that it was going to celebrate homosexuality, and was still willing to watch it, so it doesn't make sense that that is why it would anger me. It angered me because everyone in this man's life judged him to be a certain way despite the fact that it conflicted completely with this man's view of himself, and yet at the end of the movie they were right and he was wrong. Think about the implications of that: it doesn't matter what you feel, or who you want to be; if you fit the stereotype, then this is what you are. I believe we have choices, and we are not bound to some particular lifestyle just because the world forces it upon us.
However, I don't believe that the common conservative/Christian answer that it is a choice is completely fair either. It is clear that many who participate in homosexuality do so against their will, or at least somewhat. Though I don't believe that anyone is actually born a homosexual, I do think that many are pushed into that lifestyle by social pressures, especially some with certain types of personalities. I argue this more extensively here, but the gist of it is for various reasons people begin to believe that there is something different about them, perhaps even wrong. Homosexuality is offered as an explanation of it, and within the homosexual community they find love and acceptance.

If this is true [and given that I am neither a sociologist nor psychologist that is a big if], simply telling them that what they are doing is wrong is insufficient. We need to understand that what they require from us is superior answers to those questions that brought them into that lifestyle to begin with. And no theological explanation or pat slogan (like "love the sinner; hate the sin") can do that. They need to find love and acceptance for who they truly are outside of the homosexual community.



If the Church is to be such a community to do that within, she requires just as a starting place both a serious reflection on the homosexual phenomenon within modern culture and a robust understanding of why God objects to the lifestyle to begin with. The provision of such an understanding is exactly what this series is all about. This is what I hope to lay out in part II.

November 1, 2011

Christian Memorial Day

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A Blessed All Saints Day to you!

I say blessed, because we in America do not fully understand what it is like to suffer for our faith. This is why All Saints Day is so important for us Americans.

All Saints Day is the Christian Memorial Day, where we remember those who of suffered and died for the cause of Christ. As a nation of comfort and religous freedom, we need to remember that our brothers and sisters across the world do not share our fortune. The gospel costs something. We, who are so afraid to stand up for the name of Christ and the hope that He brings, need to look at those saints who have paid the ultimate price on crosses, stakes, and swords.

This is the day of martyrs, and we have allowed Halloween of all things to let us forget the courage of our siblings in the Lord, and the power that the Spirit of God displays through our weakness.

Here is a story from the Voice of Martyrs website. Let it encourage you to pray for those in other nations, for our fallen myrtyrs:

Somalia: Teenager Beheaded

A 17-year-old Christian was beheaded by al-Shabab extremists on Sept. 25 as he prepared for school. Al-Shabab, determined to rid Somalia of Christianity and Western influence, had carefully monitored Guled Jama Muktar and his family since their arrival from Kenya in 2008, a source told Compass Direct News. “I personally know this family as Christians who used to have secret Bible meetings in their house,” the source said.

The militants arrived at Muktar’s house around 6 a.m. after his parents had left for work.

“The neighbors heard screaming coming from the house, and then it immediately stopped,” the source told Compass Direct News. “After a while, they saw a white car leaving the homestead.” When Muktar’s parents heard about their son’s murder, they rushed home, buried his body and fled the area, fearing the militants would kill them as well. “When the incident happened, the parents called to tell me that their son had been killed and that they feared for their lives,” the source said. “Since then, I have not heard from them.”

After a string of al-Shabab kidnappings in Kenya, Kenyan military forces invaded Somalia on Sunday, Oct. 16, to combat the extremist sect, according to Associated Press reports. Kenya claims that France joined them in an attack on Oct. 23, bombing a town near an al-Shabab stronghold.

The al-Qaida-linked Al-Shabab are masters of suicide bombs, slaughtering Somali civilians, many of them Christians. While fighting the transitional Somali government for control of the country, al-Shabab imposes a strict version of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the area it controls.

October 17, 2011

CALVINIST RHETORIC: Slippery Slopes
Or "Are We Inclined to Decline?"

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What I Mean by Slippery Slopes

Before I begin it is important that I differentiate between Slippery Slope Arguments, and Slippery Slope Fallacies.

Slippery Slope Arguments are a form of inductive reasoning which notes that those who hold to a certain position (hitherto referred to as position A) either eventually come to hold a bad belief (hitherto referred to as position B), or their students/descendants come to hold that bad belief (i.e. position B), or it is reasoned that position A should logically lead to position B. It is then induced that there is some quality about position A which usually or necessarily causes a belief in position B. Since position B is bad, it then follows that position A is also bad (or at least too dangerous to be considered).

The Slippery Slope Fallacy actually takes exactly the same form as the Slippery Slope Argument. The only difference is that there lacks sufficient evidence to link position A to position B. Indeed, this is the problem with inductive reasoning in general, for the very nature of induction merely gives strong support for a conclusion, but it cannot demand it. Even the best Slippery Slope Arguments can only say that position A can/probably will/often will lead to position B. It cannot guarantee it. Once someone either starts saying that A guarantees B, or if one doesn't take the time to establish sufficient evidence for A leading to B, the Slippery Slope becomes a fallacy.

We need to be careful when someone makes a Slippery Slope argument because it is significantly easier to propose a Slippery Slope than it is to truly present one. In order to propose one, all you need to do is to show that A is come how closer to B than your own position. However, showing that Pennsylvania is closer to Florida than New York doesn't mean that I'll end up in Miami whenever I drive to Philadelphia. To demonstrate a Slippery Slope you have to actually show that there is a slope: a cause and effect, as well has sufficient history showing a correlation.

Slippery Slopes in Action

Pelagianism

There are many Calvinists who love to project the Arminianism/Calvinism debate back onto the debate between Augustine and Pelagius in the late 4th century. When doing so, Calvinism clearly goes to the Augustinian side since it really is the Protestant version of what Augustine taught on these matters. However, one has to be either grossly ignorant or malevolently deceitful in order to claim that Arminianism is akin to Pelagius's views (Arminianism is in fact very similar to the Semiaugustinian view which arose in the early 5th century).

For those who are neither ignorant nor deceitful but still want to use the Augustine/Pelagius debate as a Calvinist claim to legitimacy, they resort to saying that Arminianism leads to Pelagian views. Usually, this claim is simply stated in such terms as "on its way to Pelagianism" or "it is the first step towards Pelagianism". What I have never heard is any attempt to explain how a belief in Arminianism would actually lead to a belief in Pelagianism, nor have I heard any examples of Arminians who eventually became Pelagians.

I would also add that I have only ever heard this particular argument from the most extreme Calvinists. Indeed, extremists will often use slippery slopes argumentation to justify why they are so extreme. This is why Slippery Slope arguments are usually specific examples of stronghold type rhetoric.

Mind you, Arminianism is closer to Pelagianism than Calvinism is. However, Arminianism is also closer to Calvinism than it is to Pelagianism. Does it make sense that any Semi-pelagian who comes to believe in Arminianism will eventually become a Calvinist? I doubt it. Like I said in the introduction, Showing that a position is between your position and a heresy does not prove that holding it will lead to that heresy. This is what happens when someone tries to understand topography while looking at a 1st grader's map. Location does not imply inclination.

Arminianism/Semiaugustinianism are indeed middle ground positions, but I have found it to be rare that a middle ground position leads to an extreme. Indeed, what I have usually found is that when one moves from one extreme to another, it is usually by way of a great leap over the middle ground positions. A Calvinist, who believes that they must believe in Calvinism or end up a Pelagain, is far more likely to become a Pelagian due to a sudden disbelief in Calvinism than a typical Arminian.

Liberalism

First, I need to explain what I mean by liberalism. By liberalism I mean theological liberalism, not political liberalism. Theological liberalism states that the Bible was written by humans, and as such it to be understood primarily as their opinions. We then have the right to judge whether or not their opinions are accurate, and do not have to judge our opinions by theirs. This is to be contrasted with conservative Christianity, which understands the Bible to be rule of faith by which we judge whether or not our opinions are on the right track.

Now many Calvinists have argued that Arminianism leads to liberalism. The primary evidence for this is that the Remonstrance church in Holland (which was started by Arminius's original followers) is incredibly liberal. Of course so is Geneva, but somehow that doesn't count...

Here is a video which makes this argument fairly well: "Arminianism: Root of Christian Liberalism?". Now, we can ignore the first part which is a vacuous argument from authority about Arminianism being Semi-pelagian (which consists of putting on happy imagination hats and pretending not only that the Dortians tried really really really hard to properly understand Arminius, but that this, in of itself, somehow makes them automatically right).

Though the conclusion of the argument here is false, what is interesting in this video is that it is an example of a Slippery Slope argument done properly. It gives historical evidence and give a reason as to why Arminianism would lead to liberalism. Now the historical evidence is faulty* and the reason given is based off of a series of false premises**, but the argument itself is presented well.

However, this example is more the exception than the rule. Usually, in my experience the argument is based off of many liberals believing in free will. Well, if Arminians believe in free will, and liberals believe in free will, then one leads to the other. However, even though most liberals today believe in free will, that wasn't always the case. And the only reason they do is because of existentialism, not because they used to be Arminian.

The biggest problem with this argument though is that it just doesn't correspond with history. Both Calvinist and Arminian churches went liberal because liberalism has nothing to do with sotierology. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the percentages were about the same.

The End Result

Slipperly Slope arguments are really a specific form of Stronghold rhetoric, which I have mentioned before. Like all Stronghold rhetoric, Slipperly Slope arguments expose why the arguer holds the stances that they hold.

However, Slipperly Slope arguments are themselves rather dangerous. Slipperly Slope argumentation excludes the middle ground as a serious position. As such, if someone were to lose faith in the "established position" they often leap straight to the bottom of the slope without seriously considering any alternatives.

Perhaps this isn't a fear for Calvinists due to their belief in eternal security, but it is something which bothers me. After all, I have to constantly watch former Calvinists leap right over classic conservative Arminianism straight into the very beliefs that they were trying to avoid. For me, there have just been too many innocents who have worked so hard avoiding a bit of a slope that they've driven right off the cliff.
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* I've already said it a couple of times, but the history mentioned in this video is faulty because Calvinist denominations went just as liberal as Arminian ones. Indeed, I remember reading one Calvinist who said that belief that all which came to pass was by the hand of God is why he believed that he needed to head in the same trajectory of the surrounding culture (a.k.a being liberal).

** The poor premises are:

  1. One does not have to believe that God directly put words into the prophets' mouths in order to believe in the reliability and infallibility of Scripture.

  2. Most evangelicals start with a belief in infallibility and only then start to consider why. There are very few who hold to infallibility as a consequence of their other beliefs

  3. Even if one had to believe that God took over the will of the prophet in order for Scripture to be infallible, most Arminians (including myself) hold that God can and even has overtaken or changed the wills of humans before. We just hold that He generally doesn't, and that He doesn't when it comes to salvation itself.



For series index, click here.

September 19, 2011

Transitions

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Hey everyone. I've recently moved (my home, not this site) and I am being transferred at my job. So I am undergoing a lot of transitions at the moment. I don't even have internet at my house.

My point is that I probably won't be posting here for about a month. Sure, its happened before, but this time it's planned. So I look forward to writing some more soon. See you then.



My son in our old apartment's
living room.

September 5, 2011

CALVINIST RHETORIC: The Stronghold
Or A Mighty Fortress Is Our Theology

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What I Mean by the Stronghold

This is probably going to be the hardest rhetorical analysis that I currently have planned to explain what I mean. It is important for this post that I mention that this is neither a critique on Calvinist theology, nor is this particular anomaly a universal characteristic of Calvinist rhetoric. Instead, this is something that I have noticed experientially as I have talked to Calvinists.

It seems to me that most Calvinists today have become Calvinist to "protect themselves" from something (whether that is liberalism, or Pelagianism, or fear of apostasy, etc...). Because this is a major motivation for believing in Calvinism, it then becomes a major part of their argumentation. However, to prove that Calvinism is a safeguard for something, you need to also prove that that thing is also a legitimate threat. The process of trying to prove that something is a legitimate threat that one needs this belief to protect them is what I mean by the Stronghold. The idea is that you are turning your theology into a stronghold to protect people from some horrible idea or fate. You may recognize it from door to door salesman, politicians, and various alarmist groups.

Despite the name I have chosen for it, stronghold rhetoric is not necessarily bad or wrong. Like much of what I am going to be discussing throughout this series, what we have here is a rhetorical trend, and I point it out only to help others understand how such arguments are made. Indeed, stronghold rhetoric is essentially a form of emotional rhetoric, and engaging the emotions is an important part of all rhetoric, for it is usually the part of the argument that emboldens us to act. I am more likely to do something because I care about it, rather than simply because it makes sense to me. The emotional rhetoric deals with the "why this matters" side of intellectual discourse, and it also is the guide to understanding a speaker's true motivations when dealing with rhetorical analysis (which is what this project is about).

The Stronghold in Action

The most common form of the Stronghold is the Slippery-Slope argument, but I intend to do a separate post on that. So I have two other examples:

Eternal Security

I don't want to say that the Calvinist view of eternal security is based on fear. I actually don't think that it is. The view is based more on logic: if one is unconditionally and irresistibly chosen for salvation, then it stands to reason that they would remain so. It is also innate to the Calvinist idea of "the elect".

The Stronghold comes in when one argues that not believing in eternal security will lead to a constant uncertainty of whether or not you are saved. Here is an excellent example from James White:



Reduce Jesus to the role of making us "savable," and you no longer have the slightest reason to believe that, once a person is in Christ, he will remain there. But strip man of his pretended autonomy, recognize his utter dependence and God's unparalleled power, and accept the truth of the eternal nature of Christ's saving work (and its inability to fail), and you will find a firm foundation*
Even in their thoroughly Scriptural-based treatment of the subject, Peterson and Williams betrays there emotional connection to the doctrine when they say, "What could the biblical writers have said to make our safety in God's care any clearer?"** (emphasis mine)

To be honest, there is a lot of stronghold rhetoric on both sides of the debate on this particular issue. Many Calvinists argue that if apostasy were possible, then one has to be constantly self-criticize and live in fear (sort of like the idea that since falling is possible I therefore must check every step I make to see if a cliff is in front of me). Many Arminians will counter that if the Calvinist notion of a fruit-filled false faith is possible (which is a necessary corollary to the belief of eternal security), then one can never have true assurance that we are saved to begin with.

In truth, Arminians are not in constant fear of falling away from God, and most Calvinists are pretty sure that they are saved. A person taking an idea to an extreme is not sufficient proof that the idea itself is wrong, and people are not bound to believe what we think the logical conclusions of their worldview should be. Indeed, this becomes the basic problem with most examples of stronghold rhetoric: it often doesn't actually reflect how the other side really lives or behaves. However, it remains evident that many Calvinists are very concerned with the fear of falling away, and find a great deal of emotional confidence in the fact that they are incapable of turning their backs to God.

Works

Though I think it was good to bring up in this post, the eternal security example is not really a typical example of what I mean by stronghold rhetoric. An better example is the Calvinist claim that monergistic grace is necessary in order to believe that salvation is ultimately caused by God. There is a fear that if human beings are given credit for anything, that it is tantamount to Pelagianism (the belief that we earn our salvation). Calvinism therefore is seen as a stronghold for God's role in salvation.

The problem is that Arminians do not believe that we are responsible for our salvation and believe that it is totally of God. In order to compensate for this, a Calvinist must argue that Arminians are being inconsistent, or that Arminians are Pelagian and don't know it, or that Arminianism leads to Pelagianism. Such claims are difficult and often impossible to demonstrate, but necessary to make if the Calvinist is going to maintain that emotional tie to seeing Calvinism as a stronghold against works-based salvation.

The End Result

Quite frankly, stronghold rhetoric is the end result. Stronghold rhetoric is the sign which tells us why a person cares about what they believe. When debating with Calvinists it is important to pick-up what they feel Calvinism is a stronghold against. This way, you can understand the best way to talk about Arminianism.

This also goes the other way. Arminians also use a great deal of stronghold rhetoric. There is the present assurance example that I mentioned under "eternal security" above. Also, whenever we say that Calvinism logically leads to a belief that God is the author of sin, or that Calvinism makes evangelism or prayer illogical, we are engaging in this kind of rhetoric. This isn't bad, if it's correct. But we do need to be cautious that we have tested such theories out before we state them, and be sure that we are not simply being emotional ourselves.
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* James White, Debating Calvinism, (Multnomah Publishers, 2004: Sisters, Oregon),p. 406
** Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not an Arminian, (), p. 77


For series index, click here.

August 29, 2011

CALVINIST RHETORIC: Euphemism and Dysphemism
or "Poisoning the well while sweetening the pot"

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What I Mean By Euphemism and Dysphemism

Both euphemism and dysphemism are replacing words in order to make a point. With euphemism, you replace a word with another to make an idea sound better (often to be less offensive). With dysphemism, you replace a word with another to make an idea sound worse.

A great example of a rhetorical use of euphemism is the titles pro-life and pro-choice. Using the prefix 'pro' makes both of them sound like they are for something, instead of being against something. Additionally, it makes opposing the position sound bad (who wants to be against choice? Or life?). Therefore, naming your position can make your position sound better, while making the other position sound worse.

An example of dysphemism would be my calling unconditional election "arbitrary election". The word arbitrary makes the idea sound a lot worse (though I would argue that it is not inaccurate).
Euphemism and Dysphemism In Action

Probably the most obnoxious example of Calvinist euphemism is the term "Doctrines of Grace" which Calvinists use as a synonym for Calvinism. They do this because the word Calvinism is distasteful to some, and it sounds more like a label which isn't very chic. So they give it a new name to hide that it is a philosophical system, and to try and make it sound like they are only defending grace. It also is an attempt to try and own the word 'grace', as if that is a purely Calvinist concept (despite the fact that the defining doctrine in Calvinism is unconditional election while the defining doctrine of Arminianism is prevenient grace).

There are plenty of other examples: sovereign grace for irresistible grace, sovereignty for determinism, effectual atonement for limited atonement, etc...

There are lots of examples of dysphemism as well. For instance, the calumnious use of Pelagius wherever possible. Even the term Non-Calvinist is a bit of a dysphemism, since it paints Calvinism as the only solid idea (very far from the truth).

The End Result*

The end result is a lot of confusion, misdirection, and sometimes outright lies (though I will clarify the lie point at the end). What you usually have is what is known as poisoning the well. Poisoning the well is essentially creating a bias before any real conversation has taken place. For instance, the term "Doctrines of Grace" implies that other theologies don't really promote grace. While most Calvinists do believe this, by renaming Calvinism, one is now forcing the other side to argue against the "Doctrines of Grace" and making it sound as if the person is arguing against grace itself.

This isn't to say that Calvinists are being dishonest (though it has happened). What I am saying is that Arminians should be aware that when we allow this sort of language to happen, we allowing them to choose the battleground so to speak. We need to break much of this language apart, and not allow one side of the argument to own biblical words like sovereignty, grace, and even predestination. We need to understand how these terms relate to Arminianism itself, and keep hammering that home.

About what I said above about lying. There is nothing inherently deceitful about euphemism or dysphemism. Indeed, with the exception of the rampant dysphemistic use of 'pelagianism' or 'semipelagianism' I cannot think of a single example that is universally deceitful. However, it can be easily abused by those who do lie. There is a great article on SEA about Calvinism on the Sly regarding how many Calvinist pastors like to hide their theology until they gain a base, and then subvert the original leadership. This is not something I want to accuse all Calvinists of doing, or even most Calvinists, but it is interesting that it seems to be principally happening from the Calvinist camp right now. I think it is because the rampant use of euphemism and dysphemism by well meaning Calvinists give such power-mongers tools.

To Calvinists out there, I do ask you to be blantent about your speech. Some euphestic terms are of course very legitamate, but you should never use a term for your own belief which is implying something about the other side's belief. That is when you cross the line from honest discourse, into something else.


For series index, click here.
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* This last section I have changed significantly. Please look to the comments to see what was formally written, as well as the reasons for the changes.

August 23, 2011

CALVINIST RHETORIC: Idealistic Abstractions
Or “Plato: Imagination Taking Shape”*

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What I Mean by Idealistic Abstractions
To be abstract means to be “thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.” To put it more simply (at least for our purposes), something which is abstract is something which is not defined by our 5 senses. For instance, love, peace, faith, grace, sovereignty, etc… As we can see from the examples, abstraction is quite important for Christianity. Indeed, it is quite important for life since most subjects deal with abstractions, including science, politics, and even sports.

By idealistic abstractions, I mean the absolute “purest” sense of a particular idea. In practice, the “purest” sense of an idea ends up being the most extreme sense, where no qualification is allowed. Much of Calvinistic rhetoric, in fact, hinges on the idea that the “purest” sense of a particular attribute of God is the starting place for understanding who God is and what He is doing.

This shouldn’t be that surprising for those of us that know a bit about theological history. Calvin based a lot of his ideas off of Augustine, who in turn was highly and openly influenced by Plato, whose rhetoric was strongly based off of deduction from ideals. Here are some very telling quotes from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 1997) in regards to Plato:

“These doctrines are all based on a metaphysic… which contrasts the world of sense and everyday experience with a true and higher world of ‘Ideas’ (or better ‘Forms’).” (p. 1299)
“Of perhaps even greater moment for the history of the Christian theology was the fact that the thought of St. Augustine was radically influenced… by Platonic doctrines… Henceforward the Platonic Forms were regularly reinterpreted as the creative thoughts of God.” (p. 1300)
Now I am not saying that Calvinism is some form of Platonism. It’s not. Nor am I arguing that Calvinism is wrong because it was influenced by a pagan Greek philosopher. That would be a genetic fallacy, and somewhat hypocritical since most of Western philosophy has been influenced in part by Plato and Aristotle. Instead, I am merely saying is that Plato is indeed the source of this rhetorical style and is the reason why it is so prevalent in Calvinism especially.

Idealistic Abstractions in Action

It is difficult to not find a Calvinist argument or even belief which is not touched by a reliance on Idealistic Abstraction. It really is a foundation for a great many of their beliefs. For the sake of brevity I have chosen two examples to show what this looks like.

Sovereignty

I’ve chosen to use sovereignty here because it is a major part of Calvinists’ motivations and entire worldview. However, the Calvinist view of sovereignty is a very strong example of idealistic abstraction.

The word ‘sovereignty’ means that one rules over a particular domain. It does not, in of itself, describe how one rules; it just merely describes one as the ruler. Any argument which states that someone is not sovereign unless they rule in a very specific way is neither basing this on the definition of the word, nor on what the Bible says (which simply describes God as king). It is instead an argument based off of that person’s opinion of what perfect sovereignty should be.

This is how the logic works. You start with an assumption (in this case an erroneous one) that any attribute can be reduced down to some pure simple concept. In the case of sovereignty, we reduce the idea of lordship down to the simple idea of control. Sovereigns control things. Therefore, the purest form of sovereignty is absolute and complete control. We then treat this as the basic definition of the word, and then claim that it must be true of God.

This ignores the fact that no earthly sovereign in the history of the world has ever exacted this kind of control over their domain. It ignores the most common duties of a sovereign as part of the definition: creating a peaceful context in which citizens can live, protecting people from threats domestic and abroad, and exacting judgment between citizens and between the citizen and the state. It ignores that the Bible describes God’s interactions with Israel in precisely these terms throughout it. These are nothing more than “earthly particulars” which merely distract us from what sovereignty “should be.”

Aseity

Aseity means self-existence, or having no source or cause for one’s existence. It is one of those theological words that only describe God. God has always existed, and nothing comes before Him. He does not need anything to exist, and would still exist if nothing else did. This is what we mean by aseity.

The Calvinist argument from aseity is probably the most blatantly Platonic (that is deriving from Plato) argument in their arsenal. Plato and his philosophical descendants held to the belief that God was static: He was completely distant, and did not react in any way (including emotionally) to anything else. They argued that this must be true because any movement of God must either be a move from or toward perfection, and, since God is always perfect, no movement is thus possible for God. This, of course, contradicts the biblical narrative, erroneously attributes all attributes of God, such as emotion, to ontology (the study of existence), and doesn’t take into account movements within perfection.

The Calvinist argument from aseity is very similar. Now, I don’t reject God’s aseity (quite the opposite) in much of the same way that I don’t reject that God is perfect. However, I do reject the Platonic logic that Calvinists like to employ when trying to use it against Arminianism, especially since they make some similar mistakes.

Here is an example from Tim Prussic:
this Arminian notion makes God dependent upon creation for his knowledge. This aspect is exceptionally pernicious. One of God’s attributes is knowledge. This theory says (explicitly) that God knows because of us. We determine God’s knowledge. Don’t you see the impressive violence that does to the doctrine of God, his self-sufficiency, and possibly his immutability?
Josh Thibodaux does a pretty good job dismantling this argument at SEA, so I do not believe that it is necessary to do the same here. It is sufficient, for the purposes of this post, to point out how this argument is very similar to the Platonic argument that God has no emotions, especially in making the same mistake of attributing all attributes of God to ontology. Just like Plato arguing that God having an emotion causes a shift in His being, the Calvinist here is arguing that God’s knowledge is somehow ontologically tied to the thing known (as if my essence would increase as I gained knowledge, which might explain child obesity).

Like the Calvinist view of soveriegnty, this is taking an abstract concept and taking it to an extreme. While it is contradictory to general experience that the subject of a piece of knowledge impacts my capacity to know and be, the Calvinist ideal of what aseity should be apparently says that God can only know that which He causes. Personally, I see this as circular reasoning.

The End Result
There are two major effects that I believe this style of rhetoric has. First, it allows the Calvinist to propose very powerful sounding arguments without the need for things such as proof or evidence. After all, they are arguing from the idea, and as long as that idea can be articulated well, they are going to sound convincing.

Second, it gives the Calvinist a great deal of power in debate. I would say that Calvinism doesn’t hold up as well under long careful analysis as Arminianism does. However, in the middle of a debate, it is not the one who makes the better argument who wins, but the one whose argument can be simply articulated. Platonic rhetoric was designed for discussion (hence why he always wrote in dialogue). Therefore it is unsurprising that a theology steeped in it also tends to do well in similar formats.

As Arminians, we expose this rhetoric by demonstrating what these ideas would look like in real life. Most of these arguments fall on their face when confronted with the real world. And if they are saying that we are defining God based off of the world, correct them, and point out that the Bible speaks out of the real world as well. The biblical authors didn’t separate out God from their tangible experiences. Indeed, that is precisely the way that they came to know Him. If that is how the biblical authors sought to understand God, then how can we do otherwise?

For series index, click here.


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*This is the official slogan of Play-Doh©, from Hasbro. Hasbro does not endorse this post, nor does it encourage the flagrant use of its product’s name to make bad jokes about ancient philosophers, gods of death, former planets, and animated canines.

August 22, 2011

Calvinist Rhetoric: The Series

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This is the index page of a new series that I am planning on doing. As the series progresses, I'll be adding links here to each installment. What distinguishes this series from most of my other ones is that its length is not planned. I'll include new installments as I come up with them. The first installment will be up tomorrow, and will probably be the most philosophically based one.

This series will be engaging in what is known as presuppositional apologetics (or in this case polemics) where the underlying assumptions of a position are considered as opposed to looking at evidence or surface level arguments. While I will be talking about some arguments in particular, that will not be my objective. Instead, I will be trying to assess why Calvinists argue what they argue (even when it comes to decent arguments) based off of how Calvinists tend to argue.

My current posts in this series are:
Each post has three sections: What I Mean By _____(where I explain the rhetorical phenomenon I'm talking about), ____ In Action (where I discuss briefly some Calvinist arguments that use the rhetoric), and The End Result (where I talk about my analysis of rhetoric's effectiveness with Arminians, other Calvinists, and those without soteriological commitments). You may also notice that each post has two titles: one which is silly and one which is serious. This is because I enjoy torturing people with my bad sense of humor. Please indulge me.

This series is meant to be neither comprehensive in terms of discussing all aspects of Calvinist rhetoric, nor to be comprehensive in terms of each post applying to every single Calvinist. Instead, this series is indicative of my experience interacting with Calvinists and is meant to be representative of how, in general, Calvinism is being presented.

August 9, 2011

Harry Potter and the Lingering Controversy

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One of the things that I have often thought to write on is this controversy surrounding the Harry Potter books. I don't really know anyone that really shares my perspective on it so I think it is good to pen it somewhere. For the sake of full disclosure, I'll state the gist of my opinion first which is that the Harry Potter books do not represent real witchcraft on any level, but are quite worldly. While I do not agree with those who put a special ban on these books, I do believe that they should be read with caution and criticism from a Christian perspective.

Witches, Wizards, Warlocks, and Other W-words

The first thing to point out is that real witchcraft is a conglomeration of medieval superstition, pagan ritual, and anything that witches think sound cool. While there is certainly nothing universal about what witches and warlocks believe, in general the basic worldview behind witchcraft is that there are sentient intangible invisible forces which govern the ebb and flow of the natural order of things. Witchcraft religions are mostly a series of rituals to communicate with, barter with, make peace with, or sometimes outright control these forces.


Here is where I take issue with the vast majority of the criticism I hear about Harry Potter. Most complain that it teaches witchcraft: it doesn't. Yet many of these same people of no problem with other works of fantasy. WhileNarnia and Lord of the Rings are indeed legitimate exceptions, since they have no good witches in them and "magic" is understood in relation to an ultimate monotheistic deity, most of them have no problem with The Wizard of Oz or generic fairy tales (like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty). Now some do have an issue with all these works, and those people I respect. My principle complaint is hypocrisy here. If you are going to complain about the book in particular, you need to have complaints that are unique to that book.

Some Complaints That Are Unique to This Book

I personally rather enjoy the genre of fantasy, as does much of my family. Mostly I find the idea of alternate fictional realities to be fun, whether we are dealing with fantasy, science fiction, or comic books. Placing the human being in a completely different kind of context often makes fascinating studies in human nature. (And it's fun watching people turn into newts, and Jedis slicing through stuff with light-sabers)

So when the first Harry Potter book came out, my family was one of the first families to grab onto it. Most of my family, including me, had read the book before it started showing up in the general media. In fact, I had read the book twice before I started to hear Christian leaders telling people that they shouldn't. At the time, I laughed at it because their criticisms weren't based on anything that was true with the book.

As I got older, and especially as Harry got older, I started to notice some things that did bother me, as a Christian, in the books.

First, there is the general theme of rebellion throughout the books. I think that some people are too strict with rules, and when I first read the book, I read that attitude into them. However, I started to notice a general pattern that Harry not only often broke the rules, he seemed to have little regard for them at all. Indeed, they were often in his way of achieving his objectives.

Harry's role models didn't really help much either. In general, when breaking the rules resulted in something poor or wrong, he was generally punished by someone other than his role models. And when his role models did get involved, it was usually after he accomplished something quite good, and was thus only rewarded. This seemed to be justified by the idea of teaching Harry independence and bravery. However, it is also true that he rarely taught how to work within the system to accomplish his goals.

Second, there is certainly a general worldliness to the books. You can tell, especially in the latter books, that while this isn't true witchcraft, it most certainly isn't Christian. I don't think that we should only read things that are Christian, but considering that this is supposed to be children's literature, parents should be aware of what is in the books that their children are reading.

And this brings me to my third a last criticism (at least for this post). The books aren't really children's literature: it is teen literature. J. K. Rowlings supposedly set up the books so that it was targeting the age group that Harry was within that book. So in the first book he is 11, but in the last book he is 17.

That isn't really practical in real life. When a child finishes one book, they are going to want to read the next. And you can't say that we can just make them wait a year, because that is now turning it into a ritual, and I don't really feel comfortable doing something like that with these books. So I would never recommend the 1st book to someone who I don't think is ready to read the 7th.

Recommendations

So where does this leave me? Well, I think this is a matter of what an individual can handle. There are some that probably shouldn't read the books because they can't handle the themes that I mentioned. However, I think for most mature adults and even most teenagers, the books are fine, as long as they are read critically.

If you have a personal conviction against reading any fantasy or anything with magic, then don't read it. If you have a child who is too young to be able to read a book and be critical of that books message, then don't have them read it. If you are bothered by a story where the protagonist in constantly encouraged to break the rules, then don't read it. If you have a conviction not to read anything with worldly or secular themes, then don't read it. Otherwise: enjoy.