December 31, 2012

Ode To Driving In Rochester (repost)

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I wrote this last year, and I still think it is hysterical.  For those who don't know, this is what most drivers in Rochester are like. They have lived with snow their entire lives, and still don't know how to drive in it. So here is my ode (To the tune of "Satisfaction" by the Stones):
I can't get no proper traction
I can't get no proper traction
Though I try, and I try
And I try, and I try
I CAN'T GET NO, I CAN'T GET NO

As I'm driving in my car
And the stones come on the radio
And as the road turns more and more
I completely lose track of my steerin'
And then the car just starts veerin'
I can't get no... Oh no no no...
Hey hey hey, get out of my way!

I can't get no proper traction
I can't got no measly fraction
Though I try, and I try
But I can't drive, how am I alive
I CAN'T GET NO, I CAN'T GET NO

As I'm headin' out east,
And I'm suddenly off the street
And then I look up and see a tree
And when hittin' it causes my engine to smoke
I get out for the life of me
I can't get no... Oh no no no...
Hey hey hey, But I'm still OK

I can't get no proper traction
I ain't got no time for reaction
And I've tried, and I've tried,
But I'll die, so good-bye
I CAN'T GET NO, I CAN'T GET NO

When I'm ridin' around the town
And I'm doin' this and doin' that
And some guy pulls out from nowhere
And as I'm spinning into a record store
I'm lovin' this snow more and more
I can't get no, Oh no no no...
Hey hey hey, that's what I say

I can't get no, I can't get no,
I can't get no proper traction
no proper traction, no proper traction, really no traction

December 24, 2012

Christmas according to John (repost)

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Many believe that there are only two tellings of the Christmas story in Scripture: Luke 3, and Matthew 1-2. But there is a third telling: John chapter one.

In the beginning was the Word, andthe Word was with God, andthe Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him as life, andthe life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. -John 1:1-17
I do not want to take away from the greatness of the other Christmas stories in Scripture, but this is my favorite out of the three, and it saddens me that it is often forgotten. It may not give historical details of his birth, but it says most clearly the heart of why we celebrate on Christmas.

The focus of Christmas isn't that Jesus was once born. I have often asked people why Christmas is important and their answer is that it needed to happen for Jesus to get to Calvary. Well, that is true, but there were a great number of things that needed to happen for that, and we don't celebrate them all.

The reason we celebrate Christmas is the reason that John gives: The Word of God became flesh. The light of God came to men. That the Holy God thought it good to come down to Earth and get His hands dirty with our mess. That is something worthy of celebration.

John 1:1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him as life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
It is very important to contemplate what John means by 'the Word'. The brilliance of it though, is that John means a great many things by 'the Word'. But I believe that its primary meaning is to tell us the primary aspect of the economy of the 2nd person of the Trinity: He is God's self-disclosure to humanity. He is what God has "said" about Himself, and the source of our understanding of Him.

This says a many things about the Word. The Word existed at the beginning of things. The Word was God's means of creating the world. That the Word is distinct from God, but is yet God Himself (hence Trinity).

It also says that the Word is the source of life and light to humanity. Light is a major theme in John's gospel, introduced here. For now, he speaks merely of its strength, and how it can overcome darkness. Like the term "word", light here refers not the concept of goodness, but to the concept of revelation. The light reveals the things in the dark. John will describe this in more detail later.

John 1:6-8
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The introduction of John the Baptist is a curious addition to the story. Its introduction here is to deal with a common Jewish theory at that time, which was that John the Baptist was the Messiah. Here the Apostle dispels that theory, and claims that it was John the Baptist's purpose to point to the Light. The other reason has to do with the Apostle's claim that the John the Baptist himself was sent by God, and to dispel any erroneous thoughts that might suggest. However, this also serves as an introduction to John the Baptist himself, whose role in coming of Christ will later be revealed.

John 1:9-13
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Here is where John goes into more detail about the light. Again, by enlighten it means reveals things. This light came into the world that rejected and hated Him, and was even hated by His own people. But He came anyway, knowing this out of love so that we may become children of God. Those who become children are those that receive Him, those that believe in His name. Even here we have the NT emphasis that salvation isn't just to the Jews, but to any who may believe. Salvation does not merely come to those who it is "supposed to come", but it comes to whoever may believe for God is no respecter of persons.

John 1:14
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And this is what makes this a Christmas story. This is the celebration of Christmas: that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He ate like us, bathed like us, smelled and spoke and walked like us. And now we can know who God is, because we have witnessed the Son and have seen His glory.
However, John's point here of having seen the glory of the Son is to testify that Yeshua truly is the Son of God. John knows that He is the Son of God, for John has indeed seen his glory, being an eyewitness to the Word, and therefore we know this testimony that he is setting forth is true.

John 1:15-17
John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Bearing speaking again of the Baptist gives further proof to John's testimony.

But what is most interesting is the comparison between Moses and Yeshua. The gospel of John is very Jewish, and one of his concerns is to understand the coming of the Son of God in light of the first century Jewish world view. How he, and the other apostles I might add, do this is by recognizing that in Moses we have been given the Law, the understanding of righteousness and God's justice. But in Yeshua the Christ we God graciousness and the fullness of God's mind. For though God is far above us and we cannot see Him, He has made Himself known to us through Yeshua the Christ!

For this reason I say Merry Christmas, and to challenge you to take the time and think about what it means for the Word to become flesh, for the true God of glory to come to us, even when we were yet sinners, knowing full well what the end of His time on Earth would bring.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Amen.

For original post, see here.

December 17, 2012

Double Talk of Compatibilism (repost)

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Compatibilism is the desperate attempt of Calvinists to have their cake and eat it too. It is the claim that humans are still responsible for their sins because they wanted to commit them, but that God still predetermined their actions because He shaped the person's will by molding the internal motives of that person. This way, God has determined sin without being responsible for it, and humans are responsible without possessing any level of causation.

But this doesn't really work. Let us consider a person. We shall call him Quincy. And let us start with a sin. Let us say that Quincy stole a cookie. Now according to Compatibilism, the sequence of events are as follows:
  1. God had decreed before the foundation of the world that Quincy would steal the cookie.
  2. God shaped Quincy's life up to that moment to build in him a temptation to steal that cookie in that moment.
  3. In that moment, God planted a particular desire in Quincy to steal that cookie that would overpower his other desires.
  4. Quincy then decides to steal the cookie based on his inner desires.
  5. The cookie is stolen.

Now we may say that God isn't really absolved from the actions above since He did so much to cause them, but that's not my point. My point is this: according to Compatibilism, Quincy is 100% responsible for the above action and God is 0% because of the way in which he was motivated to steal.

Now let us consider the moment of salvation.

  1. God had decreed before the foundation of the world that Quincy would come to saving faith of our Lord Jesus.
  2. God shaped Quincy's life up to that moment to build in him a willingness to commit to the Lord.
  3. In that moment, God planted a particular desire in Quincy to accept Jesus Christ that would overpower his other desires.
  4. Quincy then decides to believe.
  5. Quincy accepts Christ has his Lord and Savior.

The important thing to note here is that according to Compatibilism, God is 100% responsible for the above and that Quincy is 0% responsible.

So what is the difference between the two modes of action? NOTHING!!! The only difference is that one resulted in evil and one resulted in good but the process of causation was EXACTLY the same. Which means that all Compatibilism does is it makes God responsible when Calvinists want Him to be, and makes the human responsible when they want him to be. However, it is completely inconsistent and resolves nothing.

December 10, 2012

Calvinist Santa: The Movie (repost)

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Calvinist Santa
by: jc_freak


View here for original script

December 3, 2012

Road Rage (repost)

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car-crash.jpg image by chicogarcia_bucket
I've been thinking about the cause of road rage recently. Everyone knows that it happens, but why? Why do we get more upset on the road than we do other places? I think I know the answer: poor communication.

When I was a child, I had a severe stutter, as well as some other speech problems. You wouldn't notice them now unless I pointed them out to you, but back then I had difficulty even getting a sentence out. On top of that, I was an extrovert with a lot to say. However, I was constantly ignored or talked over. According to my mother (since this was before I could remember) the level of frustration from not being able to communicate caused me to get violent.

I think the same thing is happening in cars. Think about our tools of communication: a horn, turning signals, hazard lights, high-beams, and reckless driving. That's really it. Turning signals are overly specific to be useful and horns are too ambiguous to really communicate anything other than frustration.

Here's an example from my life. There is a road here that is 40 mph until a certain point, and then it increases to 55 mph for a significant distance, and has one lane. I would say about 1 out of 10 cars fail to notice that the speed changes, and there is only one marker, so if they miss it, they never correct it. Now I could flash my lights but that tells them really nothing. I can beep my horn or tailgate, but that only says that I want to go faster. That doesn't tell them that they are going 15 mph under the speed limit. I'm at a loss for communication. What do I do? What can I do?

Nothing, and that's angering.

One thing that really used to frustrate me was tail-gaters, because there was nothing I could do about it. What I started to do was simply slow down until they passed me (not the most Christian thing to do). One time I did this, and the person ended up being a cop in a civilian car (oops). He came over and asked me why I slowed down. I told him the truth. He claimed he wasn't (oook) and suggested that next time I put my four-ways on. I've been doing that ever since and interestingly it works. Most people seem to figure out pretty quickly that my issue is that they are tail-gating. And guess what, it doesn't bug me anymore.

There is something frustrating about be trapped in a box moving at dangerous speeds surrounded by people who you cannot communicate with, especially if they do something dangerous which threatens your life. Go figure. And the more often you are unable to communicate, the more it builds up to the point where it begins to carry over to the next day, and the next, and the next.

I wonder if there was something more we could do to communicate on the road. Something more dynamic. I'm positive that it would decrease road rage. It may also decrease cell phone drivers, though I doubt by much. Anyway, just some thoughts.

For original post, see here.

November 26, 2012

Why Are You Defending The Rich? (repost)

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"Why are you defending the rich?" Provocative question isn't it? There are so many little assumptions that are built into that one sentence.

As a conservative, I get asked this question occasionally. Ironically, it is not because I am saying the rich are great, and it is not because I am defending some of the immoral behavior of some CEOs and corporations. It is simply because I disagreeing with liberal economic policy. So why ask this particular question?

So, let us consider some of the assumptions lying behind this, and maybe then we can offer some appropriate answers.

A Matter of Motivation

The first assumption is that what I am doing is defending the rich. People have a very difficult time accepting that the thought process of someone else can be radically different from their own. As such, we often assume that someone's reasons for opposing our beliefs are along the same lines as our reasons for holding them. For instance, some Pro-life people believe that Pro-choice people actually don't mind killing children. Meanwhile many Pro-choice people assume that Pro-life people are sexist. Neither one of these assumptions are accurate, but both are based off of us having trouble separating out our motivations from the motivations of others.

In this case, I do not hold to conservative economic principles because I have any love for the rich. To be frank, I don't care about the rich one way or the other, at least not as a category. It is irrelevant to me. I don't see economic policy as a means of rewarding or punishing people for behavior. I see it as a means of maintaining economic stability for our civilization. That's all I care about.

The reason why someone would accuse me of defending the rich is because they view themselves as assaulting the rich. They may not use or like that terminology, but clearly that is the way they view things. Why else would my opposing their beliefs be considered to be defending a different group?

It's OK To Have A Little Class

Assumption two, of course, is that the rich need to be assaulted and shouldn't be defended. The poor are seen as victims of society, while the rich are seen as hoarders, preventing the poor from being delivered from their economic woes. I am speaking in hyperbole here, since I know no one that would express it this way. Every liberal I've ever met will acknowledge that there are good rich people in existence. But you can tell by the way that some of them talk, specifically the kind who would ask the titular question of this post, that they see these as exceptions.

So, do I disagree with this view? Yes, though not because I think the rich are great mind you. It is because I don't think the rich are monolithic. Some are good, and some are bad. Some of the poor are good, and some are bad. Economic status has nothing to do with moral integrity in my opinion, and I don't target a group simply because of their class. I believe this to be bigotry.

I think we can all agree that those who view the poor as universally lazy are bigoted. I think we can also agree that those who view the rich as the epitome of what it means to be an American to be equally bigoted. Where we disagree is that I believe the opposite to be bigoted as well. And I don't abide by bigotry.

Economic Justice

The last assumption is that the purpose of economic policy is to bring justice to the world by evening out the classes. I've hinted at this before of course, but it is good to address it directly.

I believe in justice and fairness, but I don't think that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. I believe everyone should get the same chances. The law is to treat everyone equal. That is not the same thing as making everyone equal. Whether we like it or not, we are not all equal in this society. I believe we were created equal, but as we live our lives, we go in different directions. Some of us succeed, and some of us don't. While it is tragic to be unsuccessful, it is not necessarily unjust or unfair.

Directly controlling the economic flow simply won't work. People are too selfish, and those in charge of directing that flow will be a higher class than those who aren't. Those who desire to eradicate the classes will merely recast them, and will cause that upper class to have considerably more control over the lower class than the system we have now. Instead of it being the rich vs the poor, it would be the government vs. the people. It isn't an improvement.

Classes are OK. They're not perfect, and it would be better if we didn't need them, but it is a natural result of living in a fallen world. It is the kind of problem that if you try and fix it, you end up breaking the whole system. What is wrong is when we think that being of one class makes you a more valuable human than someone else. That is bigotry as I said before. To some degree there will always be bigotry, and even if we managed to create a society without economic classes, we will still find ways to categorize each other and prejudge one another. We are very creative.

As a Christian, I believe that we are a fallen race. Sin and wickedness are inevitable. I am not going to look to a human system to try and fix the problem because I know it will fail. Instead, I will fight for justice within my own context, proclaim the gospel, and look forward to the return of the Son. That is the lot of the Christian, wherever we find ourselves.

November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day Quote

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Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being thankful and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another.

November 18, 2012

Imago Dei (repost)

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The concept of being created in the image of God is at the center point of many Christian anthropological positions (anthropology is the study of humanity: what makes humans human). My pastor often says that you should never create a doctrine around a single verse. This is an excellent rule of thumb, and I highly recommend it, but ironically when we are talking about being made in the image of God, we have to deal with the fact that this term is actually only used in two passages in all of Scripture: Genesis 1:26-30 and Genesis9:6(though referenced elsewhere). However, Genesis 1:26-30is a rather important passage. It is specifically the creation of man, and as such gives us what I think is a legitimate exception to the general rule.

So what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Well there are several things that it doesn't mean. We aren't ethereal. We aren't a Trinity of persons. We aren't omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omnitemporal, and any other omni for that matter. Indeed, there are a lot of ways in which we actually look nothing like God. So how can it be said that we are made in God's image?

Going to Context

Well, if we are going to look at this question biblically, we need to remember the 3 Cs of hermeneutics: context, context, and context. So let's look at the context:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. -Genesis 1:26-30
It is interesting to note that it doesn't go on to describe any divine attributes. However, what it does do is connect the notion of humanity's creation to humanity's authority over the rest of creation. Indeed, I would argue that this is what the concept of being in the image of God means: we have authority over creation.

Authority vs. Sovereignty

"Hold up! How can we have authority over creation, while God is still sovereign?"

To put it simply, having authority is not the same thing as being in charge. When I was a kid, my sister Calin and I had authority over our younger siblings (Calin exercised that authority to a greater extent than I did, but I digress). However, none of us ever confused Calin and me with Mom and Dad. We all knew who really was in charge.

Indeed, it is this kind of fundamental confusion that has lead me to never take Calvinist claims of having "a more sovereign God" seriously. Being more despotic, doesn't make someone more sovereign. It usually just makes them more of a jerk.

In the case of humans and God, the relationship between the two is essentially that of delegation. God delegates a certain amount of authority over to humanity for us to rule over creation. However, what authority we have is only based on our submission to the source of that authority: the Divine King.

The Race of Representatives

Understanding that our authority comes from God's sovereignty, as opposed to being... well, opposed to it, becomes easier when we understand our authority in terms of imago dei. The Hebrew word for 'image' is 'tselem', which is often used to refer to idols.

Now, I am not saying that humans are idols of God, or anything like that. It is very clear in Scripture that we are not to worship each other, but it is important to understand how the word connects to idol worship.In idol worship, one doesn't believe that the idol is truly their god. Instead they believe that it represents their god, or stands in for their god so that they can interact with him/her in a more tangible way. Thus we can consider 'tselem' to mean representation, or representative.

A story from I Samuel works to illustrate this. In this story, the Philistines have captured the Ark of the Covenant, and God has sent plagues of tumors and mice to punish them. Then, in chapter 6, they inquire of their priests what they should do. The answer is to make images (or tselemim) of the mice and the tumors out of gold as an appeasement to God. Note how the images here are not things to be worshiped, but things to represent the tumors and the mice.

Likewise, we can consider ourselves, as human beings, to be things which represent God in creation. We are His delegates, His representatives, and the only power we have is by representing God Himself. Our power is not of our own, but it is an extension of His.

Going to the Story

Now the Bible tells a story. Theologically, we call this the metanarrative, or the overarching story from which our theology is based. When we imagine the image of God in this manner, we find that it influences the way in which we view God's interaction with humanity through history.

At first God sets up humanity to be His representatives among creation. However, humanity rebels and becomes separate from God, deterring humanity's ability to accurately represent Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular people within humanity to represent Him among humanity. He chooses a single man by the name of Abraham, and sets apart his descendants as the Chosen People, or the Elect. They come to be known as the Israelites. However, at Mount Sinai the Israelites reject God out of fear, and wish to remain separate from Him.

So God sets up for Himself a particular tribe within Israel to represent Him among the Elect. This is the tribe of Levi, and they become the priests of Israel. Indeed, a priest is best understood as someone who represents God to the people, and represents the people to God. If you remember, it was God's original intention for Israel to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). However, because the Israelites rejected this, only the Levites are priests.

Even so, God still continues to show His desire to rule people through a divine representative by establishing the High Priest, to represent Him to the Levites. Therefore, within the OT, you have:

High Priest
/ \
Levites
/ \
Israel
/ \
Humanity
/ \
Creation

Now let's think of the New Testament. In the New Testament, we, the gentiles, are grafted into the vine of Israel, and thus become God's elect as well. However, because of the priesthood of all believers, we manifest God's original design for Israel to be a priesthood to all nations. Thus the Levites and Israel collapse together in the NT picture as the Church. However, we are not grafted in by our own power, but by the power of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection, as the Resurrected One becomes our High Priest. Therefore, in the NT we have:

Christ
/ \
Church
/ \
Humanity
/ \
Creation

Therefore we see that this is how God chooses to rule over His creation. He does not do so through meticulous predestination of all things, though He could. Instead, He chooses to act through people, and He appoints people and peoples for the purpose of representing Him and acting for Him. This is how God manifests His sovereignty.

What Does That Mean for Us?

A few different things. First of all, it means that we are responsible for what we do. We are responsible to God, not just because we are His creatures, but because we have the unique make-up to act on God's behalf. Therefore in everything we do, we represent God as we do it, whether that be consciously or unconsciously. Our sins are not simply bad things that we do, but they are things that besmear God's image, for we are God's image.

Second of all, we have a responsibility. We are supposed to represent God. As humans, we are to represent God in creation and take care of it and nurture it. Do we behave like crazy environmentalists? No. But we treat creation with respect, do what we can to bring out its beauty, but also organize it, and incorporate our own structures within it as any gardener would.

As Christians, we also represent God to other humans. As such, we need to represent Him in both justice and mercy. We don't back down from what God says is true and just, but we behave in a way that demonstrates God's love and affection for humanity. We are delegates of a benevolent king, and we should be benevolent as well. But we are still representing the king, not just some guy with really good ideas.

Third, we need to see that humans are holy: even bad ones and even unborn ones. The way we treat other humans cannot simply be based out of convenience or judgement. People deserve our respect, not because they have earned it, but because they represent God Himself. I would say, biblically speaking, that it is never good to kill a human being (though it is sometimes necessary). Killing other humans soils our hands. Even David, though he fought in God's wars, was too unclean to build God's temple.

Essentially it means that we need to treat humans with respect, not because they deserve it (because we don't), but because they represent God, and God deserves it.

For original post, see here.

November 10, 2012

The Machine-Gun Hermeneutic (repost)

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Since I have been debating on the internet, there has been one particular use of the Bible that I have seen them use again and again. I have come to call it the machine-gun hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the study of how to interpret Scripture, and a hermeneutic is a particular method of interpretation.

I post this as a warning to all those who may see this technique being used. Do not be fooled. It does not demonstrate that an argument is biblical, but instead quite the opposite.
Argument from Verbosity

An argument from verbosity, or argumentum verbosium, is when someone provides an enormous amount of proof as well as a complex line of reasoning, so as to overwhelm the audience. The hearer is unable to examine all of the proof mentioned, or untangle the line of reasoning, so accepts the argument without truly challenging it. However, this does not mean that the proofs were strong (or even relevant) or that the line of reasoning was logical: it just means that there was too much for the hearer to take in and evaluate.
For example, if I wanted to convince you that flying is too dangerous, I could quote you the number of planes that have crashed in the past 5 years, the number of people that have died, and then break down by airline, in the end quoting 25 different stats. Believe me, I would sound convincing. But this wouldn’t change the reality that flying is the safest way to travel because in this case the number of crashes isn’t nearly as relevant as the percentage of crashes. However, I would have quoted you enough stats that you would be unable to actually examine the validity or applicability of those stats. That is an argument from verbosity.
The Machine-Gun Hermeneutic

The machine-gun hermeneutic is essentially an argument from verbosity using Scriptural quotations. I could break down the entire chapter of Hebrews 10, and demonstrate how the entire context, as well as the intention of the entire book, demonstrate that it is possible that a true believer can fall away from the faith. Then the Calvinist responds by quoting 5 Scripture verses, without discussing their context, and then claims victory. I’ve seen this many times. However, those 5 verses usually have nothing to do with the context at hand, or teach something incredibly different than what the Calvinist says. It doesn’t really matter, because I now have to sort through the context of 5 different verses, explain how none of them match up to what the Calvinist says, and my original point gets lost. The Calvinist still ends up winning.

I began referring to this as a machine gun hermeneutic based off a conversation I had once. My opponent essentially quoted 6 or 7 different verses at once, and then insisted I respond to every single one of them. I refused, because I knew it really wouldn’t be effective anyway, since he would ignore whatever exegesis I offered by simply quoting more texts (he had done it before). He claimed that I didn’t respect Scripture. I responded, saying that I believe Scripture to be a sword, not a machine-gun, and it is disrespectful to Scripture to treat it differently than how it was designed.

You see, a sword takes an incredible amount of skill. If you do not angle the sword exactly right, it doesn’t slice, it only nicks. Often even the higher sword masters do not slice every time they connect with the sword. This is not even considering all of the necessary parrying and thrusting techniques.

A machine gun on the other hand only takes as much skill as is necessary to keep the user safe. The techinique is simply to shoot a spray of bullets and to hope that one of them connects.
The machine gun hermeneutic works similar. One simply quotes as many Scripture verses as possible and hopes that the shear volume is sufficient to get a hit. However, this ends up discouraging one from actually reading the Scriptures. The contexts of the verses are never considered. The verses are simply memorized so that they can be quoted when needed.

Now quoting Scripture isn’t bad. It's not that I need to discuss the context of every verse that I quote. But it is the context of the verse which determines whether my quoting it was valid, and that is impossible to determine when I have 6 verses to sort through at once. In the end, the Scripture itself is ignored, but its presence causes the statement to sound offical.
  See original post here

November 1, 2012

Little Saints Day

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Well, today is All Saints Day, and I try to put up a story about a Christian martyr up every year in celebration. However, today is also the day of my son's funeral.

I didn't aim for today. It just happened to be the first day that we could hold it due to the weather. However, I think it is a good day to remember him on, because it reminds me of the kind of company that he is keeping. I know I can't hold him in my arms any more, but now he is being held by Jesus, and that's not a very bad place to be.

He'll be taught how to walk by Athanasius.
How to talk by the apostle Paul.
How to throw by Joshua.
How to dance by David.
How to sing by Charles Wesley.
How to love by Francis of Assissi.
How to work by Jim Elliot.

I imagine him laughing and crying with a great cloud of witnesses around him. It's a nice image to have while I'm saying goodbye. Remember, we cry for our loss, not theirs. I already miss him so much, and when I see him again he'll be fully grown. I look forward to that.

October 29, 2012

...

5 comments
Justin Lewis Glynn
October 16th, 2012 9:00am
to
October 27th, 2012 1:23 am
 
As any of you who have been following my blog knows, my son Justin has been quite sick. He's better now, though Jesus will be raising him instead of me.
 
Justin had a condition called heterotaxy, which means that certain organs in his body weren't in the normal place. Though it is possible to have heterotaxy and be completely fine, it is very common for some of the organs to also be formed improperly. In Justin's case, we discovered his heart was not formed properly while he was still in utero.
 
On the morning of the 26th, they were going to conduct the first surgery to assist his heart. However, there was a lot of fluid collecting in the lungs in the days preceding: more than was expected based on what they knew of his anatomy. The suspicion was that there was also something wrong with the lungs. So the plan was adjusted with them first taking a biopsy of the lungs, to see if anything was wrong with them.
 
Just before the precedure, we spoke to the surgen. Apparently he was next to certain that Justin had Lymphedema, and had been of this opinion even before Justin was born, though this was the first we had heard of it. Lymphedema is the collection of fluid in part of the body due to the lymphatic system being compromised, which is a fluid draining system. After the surgery this was confirmed. Essentially, Justin's lymphatic system in the lungs didn't really form properly. In fact, I got the impression that it didn't form at all.
 
Due to the lymphedema, it was impossible for Justin to be able to survive the surgery. Therefore, they stopped the surgery and sent him back upstairs, and gave us the news. It essentially meant that barring a miracle, Justin would not survive the week. So, we made a decision to let him go. We called our family and friends together, so that they could say their good-byes.
 
At a little after 12:30am on the 27th, Justin's breathing tube was removed. The picture below was taken at 12:36 am.
 
It was just Esther and I in the room at the time. It was the first time we really could see his whole face. We both sobbed for 5-10 minutes straight, though I wasn't really paying attention to time. He stayed with us for a while, but eventually passed away at 1:23, about 45 minutes on his own. He was so beautiful.



Anyway, I won't be posting anything new for a couple of months, though I do have something planned for Thursday. I'll be reposting some of my favorite posts from the past. I'll probably still be on the blogsphere since I find it relaxing, but I'm going to be taking it easy for a while and focus on my family. God bless you all.

October 18, 2012

Justin in Born!

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Justin Lewis Glynn
Born 10/16/12



As I am sure that any who frequent my blog knows, we have been tracking a heart condition for my then in utereo son, Justin. His heart is a single ventricle, and has a single valve going from the atria to that ventricle. This means the his heart is very inefficent at delivering oxygen due to the mixing of blood in the heart. In the past couple of weeks we have continuously recieved bad news on the functioning of his heart, due to rythym problems, ineffectual pumping, and leaking of the atria-ventricle valve. He had amassed a good amount of fluid in his cavity due to these  problems.

However, we have been confident that God had promised us that Justin would live. We never felt that we recieved a promise that he would be 100% healthy, but we do believe that he promised life, and a relatively normal life. These are the promises that we have been holding on to.

Well, he was born two days ago, and since that time, we have only had good news. They put him on 100% O2 when he was born as a precaution, and have been lowering slowly to see what he can handle. As of last night, they were at 30% O2, and considering that room air is 21% O2, he is almost at breathing for himself. As of last night, he was stable enough for me to finally hold:


Also, his heart condition is part of a greater syndrome called hetereotaxy, which can affect other organs. Though his stomach and liver are in reversed positions, they, as welll as the rest of his organs, seem to be working fine. The fluid that was in his body was able to be mostly drained without adverse effects. They haven't gotten a good look at his intestines yet, but has had no problems with... production.

There still is a lot to find out, but it is clear to me that God has kept His promises. We are mostly observing right now, as opposed to trying to resolve things. But God is good, and we remain confident that He will continue to show it.

September 25, 2012

Calvinism In A Nutshell

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If I had to define Calvinism in my own words (that is avoid using the TULIP acronym), I would have to single out two basic beliefs: the central doctrine (i.e. the Calvinist view of divine sovereignty) and the defining doctrine (i.e. unconditional election). I'll start with the latter.

On Election

By defining doctrine I don't mean a belief which forms the foundation for the system, but rather the main doctrine (or doctrines) which distinguishes the system from other theological systems. For Calvinism I would say that is Unconditional Election. If you believe in it, then you are some form of Calvinist.

Simply defined, God chooses who He will save from humanity based purely on His own desire for them, and completely apart from any attribute or accomplishment that they may have. On the human end, it can be understood that the only true difference between the elect and the reprobate is that God chose the elect.

It is important to distinguish this from the idea that we are simply ignorant of God's reasons. While some people may express election in this way, classic Calvinism has always insisted that what makes election unconditional is that there exists no feature of the recipient which is a contributing factor in God's decision.

So how does this election work? Let us take John. John is elect. When John was born, he was born Totally Depraved, just like everyone else. Then at some point, within God's timing, God regenerates him. Regeneration comes as a kind of package with exact features. First it reshapes John's will and eternal make up. Second, it forms faith within him. Third, due to John's faith, he becomes justified, and Christ's redeeming blood is applied to him. Fourth, the Holy Spirit comes within him, and dwells within him. This all happens in an instant.

This is currently my understanding of how unconditional election works.

On Sovereignty

To discuss the specific view that Calvinists have of sovereignty, I would like to take the time to look at Calvinist epistemology (the study of how we know what is true and what isn't). Like all Christian theists, Calvinists define right and wrong, reality and fiction, based off of God's attributes. Goodness, faithfulness, graciousness: they are all perfectly and properly expressed by God.

Where Calvinists diverge from some other Christian positions is the manner in which they define God's attributes. Calvinists believe that to express a divine attribute correctly, it must be emptied of all its earthly referents and understood purely. We can call this an idealistic understanding of the attribute. This is generally accomplished by first simplifying the concept to its most basic understanding, and then insisting that this simple understanding must be expressed in God in the most absolute sense possible.

For an example, let us consider grace. Grace is generally understood within the context of someone doing something which offends us, but we act positively towards them. So if grace is to be understood ideally, we must first strip away this context, and understand it abstractly. So grace is then understood as undeserved merit (so far so good). Therefore, if grace is to be expressed purely, then it must follow that the recipients of that grace are as undeserving as possible. Thus you get Total Depravity, Irresistible Grace and Unconditional Election.

Now let us take Calvinism's central doctrine: God's sovereignty. By central doctrine, I mean that belief that a system is built around in order to protect it, or establish it. Sovereignty means that one rules over a particular domain. In God's case, that is all of reality. So if sovereignty is to be understood ideally, we must first strip away the context of an earthly king, and understand it abstractly. So sovereignty is then understood as control, and the unthwartability of one's will. Therefore, if sovereignty is to be expressed purely, God must control every single detail of what occurs, and nothing happens which God doesn't want.

The purpose of this is I never want to strongly debate something without taking the time to understand the other side. So for all you Calvinists out there, is there anything which I have misunderstood?     

September 17, 2012

Is 4-Point Calvinism Logical?

15 comments
I meant to write a post carefully defining Amyraldism, but I haven't been able to find some of the data I wanted, so I'll have to postpone that until I do.

So the next thing I wanted to talk about is the common claim that Limited Atonement is a necessary corollary to the rest of Calvinism. Anyone who rejects this idea is simply an inconsistent thinker. Is this true?

Well, first of all, I find any Calvinism short of Hypercalvinism to be illogical anyway. So I have to instead ask, is 4-point Calvinism more illogical that Calvinism in general. My answer is a surprising no.

First of all, I think that Amyraut did a pretty good job explaining an unlimited atonement view. In his view, God first designed the atonement, and designed it in an unlimited manner, and then decided to apply it only to the elect. If we strictly look at the nature of the atonement itself, I don't see any difference between this view, and the Arminian view. The atonement was made for humanity, is infinite in its power, and yet is only applied to the elect. For Limited Atonement to truly be Limited Atonement, Christ had to specifically have in made each individual elect person.

All that said, I don't believe that the average 4-pointer thought as carefully about this as Amyraut did. You may remember that I would define a 4-point Calvinist as a less theologically conscience person than an Amyraldian. As such, a 4-pointer is less logical about their belief in the atonement. However, I would consider such a person is no less logically coherent than a casual Calvinist. They simply view the five points as pieces instead of as a theological system. So again, I can't say that they are more logically inconsistent.

So when asked when a Calvinist accepts Unlimited Atonement, are they being logically inconsistent, I would have to say, probably, but not necessarily. In the end though, any logical inconsistency that may come from a rejection of Limited Atonement is irrelevant to the greater inconsistency of a loving God who elects unconditionally for salvation.

September 4, 2012

The Moral Case For Free Enterprise

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I saw this video on Joel's website last week. I thought it was so powerful that I wanted to pass it on.


August 27, 2012

Amyraldism vs. Four-Point Calvinism

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I've been musing about the idea of Limited Atonement, and there are a few posts that I intend to write about it. In preperation though, I would like to make a point about a distinction which I see between what is known as four-point Calvinism and the classic view called Amyraldism.

Both of these views are a form of Calvinism which rejects the Dortian view that the atonement is limited. Indeed, if one merely considers them by what they affirm and don't affirm from TULIP, then they would be considered the same thing, or at least one being a type of the other. However, I think that there is a difference between Amyraldism and what is currently referred to as five point Calvinism.

The distinction lies in the character of the views. Four point Calvinists are essentially people who have been convinced of Calvinism, and embrace the label passionately, but recognize that the doctrine of limited atonement is completely and utterly contradictory to Scripture. So therefore they reject it, and merely affirm the opposite.

Amyraldism though is based on the beliefs of Moses Amyraut, and who had attempted to fully integrate a general atonement theory in with Calvinist teaching. Amyraut felt that he was following the beliefs of Calvin himself, and there are many who believe that Calvin did in fact teach a general view of the atonement.
...it is at least interesting to note that John Calvin himself did not believe in this doctrine [Limited Atonement]. In 1979 researcher R. T. Kendall (b. 1935) published a powerful argument that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement: Calvin and English CAlvinism to 1649. -Roger Olson, Against Calvinist, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 145.
Because of this, we can see a big difference from the common Four-point Calvinist and the Amyraldian: one is a pragmatically formed view which is unconcerned with logical consistency, while the other is a carefully articulated theological view.

This brings us to another distinction. Amyraut integrated a general atonement by use of high decretal theology. I'll explain this fuller next week, but today it suffices to say that decretal theology involves technical theological languages which is not used by the average person. Therefore, for most Calvinist laymen, Amyraldism is rather inaccessible, or at least requires additional intentional study. On the other hand, anyone who understands what TULIP is can appreciate four-point Calvinism. You merely drop the 'L'!

In summary, while one may simply see Amyraldism a form of four-point Calvinism, I think four-point Calvinism can be considered a distinct phenomenon, where Amyraldism is a careful and technical articulated position, four-point Calvinism is a guileless attempt to be biblical while holding to Calvinist teaching. Where Amyraldism can be admired for its sophistication, four-point Calvinism can be admired for its honesty and naivete.

Next week, I'll be looking more exactly at what Amyraldism is, and after that we'll start talking about their true value in theology, and how they relate to Calvinism and Arminianism.

August 20, 2012

Reflections on Fatherhood: My How They Grow

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It is amazing that in only 16 months, Marty has gone from being the size of my head, to being the size of my torso. Where before, we were excited when he learned to hold up his own head, now we are having trouble stopping him from climbing on to the arms of the couch... starting from the floor. He used to only cry. Now we have counted 34 words. It is incredible how fast he is growing.

Now I know everyone always says that, but there's a reason for it! I mean, holy cow in India, where has the time gone?! He is looking less and less like a baby and more and more like a boy. It simply boggles my mind.

I wonder what the passage of time feels like to him. I remember when I was a kid, a year was such a long period of time. Now years pass by the way a month used to. I wonder if the passage of a day for him is like a passage of a month. It would be a similar kind of percentage of our lives.

Anyway, I'm probably just rambling. I really just enjoying watching my son grow.

August 13, 2012

Molinism, Calvinism, and I Corinthians

7 comments
I just finished Dr. Olson's book Against Calvinism (It is really difficult to find time to read when you have a one year old). In appendix 1, Dr. Olson goes over several attempts by Calvinists to protect God's character despite their theology. One particular argument caught my eye: the use of middle knowledge.
Roger Olson explains:
Molinism... is the belief that God possesses "middle knowledge" -- knowledge of what any creature would do freely in any possible set of circumstances. The creature may possess libertarian freedom -- freedom not compatible with determinism and able to do other than it does -- but God knows what he or she wold do with that ability in an conceivable situation. [Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 184]
Molinism wasn't originally conceived to support Calvinism, but Semiaugustian (which similar to Arminianism). However, some Calvinists have attempted to use it nonetheless. Again Olson explains:
In order to assure that the sin God wants to happen does happen without him being its direct cause of responsible for it (in a guilty sense), God simply places the creature in a situation where he knows the creature will develop a controlling motive of his own accord and act sinfully out of it. [Ibid]
None of this is new to me. Olson does a very good job of explaining why this concept doesn't work (essentially no matter how much space you put between the cause and the effect, if the cause makes the effect definite, it is culpable). Still, as I was reading this I remembered this verse:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Corinthians 10:13
This is exactly the opposite of what a Molinist Calvinist claims. According to Scripture, God will never tempt you beyond what you are capable of resisting. According to the Molinist Calvinist, God determines the limits of what you are capable of resisting, and then intentionally tempts you in that exact way, when that sin would be for His glory of course.

I wonder how regular Calvinism would deal with this verse as well. The very fact God always provides a way of escape strongly implies, if not describes, the concept of contrary choice (i.e. libertarian free will): the capacity to have done other than what you actually do. If God forces you to sin (and yes Calvinists, I said "force". Just own it), then how does He also give you a way out? I don't think it makes sense.

August 7, 2012

Valeity

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This week, I am just feeling a sense of valeity about writing something. Sorry.

July 30, 2012

Why Are You Defending The Rich?

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"Why are you defending the rich?" Provocative question isn't it? There are so many little assumptions that are built into that one sentence.

As a conservative, I get asked this question occasionally. Ironically, it is not because I am saying the rich are great, and it is not because I am defending some of the immoral behavior of some CEOs and corporations. It is simply because I disagreeing with liberal economic policy. So why ask this particular question?

So, let us consider some of the assumptions lying behind this, and maybe then we can consider some appropriate answers.

A Matter of Motivation

The first assumption is that what I am doing is defending the rich. People have a very difficult time accepting that the thought process of someone else can be radically different from their own. As such, we often assume that someone's reasons for opposing our beliefs are along the same lines as our reasons for holding them. For instance, many Pro-life people believe that Pro-choice people actually don't mind killing children. Meanwhile many Pro-choice people assume that Pro-life people are sexist. Neither one of these assumptions are accurate, but both are based off of us having trouble separating out our motivations from the motivations of others.

In this case, I do not hold to conservative economic principles because I have any love for the rich. To be frank, I don't care about the rich one way or the other, at least not as a category. It is irrelevant to me. I don't see economic policy as a means of rewarding or punishing people for behavior. I see it as a means of maintaining economic stability for our civilization. That's all I care about.

The reason why someone would accuse me of defending the rich is because they view themselves as assaulting the rich. They may not use or like that terminology, but clearly that is the way they view things. Why else would my opposing their beliefs be considered to be defending a different group?

It's OK To Have A Little Class

Assumption two, of course, is that the rich need to be assaulted and shouldn't be defended. The poor are seen as victims of society, while the rich are seen as hoarders, preventing the poor from being delivered from their economic woes. I am speaking in hyperbole here, since I know no one that would express it this way. Every liberal I've ever met will acknowledge that there are good rich people in existence. But you can tell by the way that some of them talk, specifically the kind who would ask the titular question of this post, that they see these as exceptions.

So, do I disagree with this view? Yes, though not because I think the rich are great mind you. It is because I don't think the rich are monolithic. Some are good, and some are bad. Some of the poor are good, and some are bad. Economic status has nothing to do with moral integrity in my opinion, and I don't target a group simply because of their class. I believe this to be bigotry.

I think we can all agree that those who view the poor as universally lazy are bigoted. I think we can also agree that those who view the rich as the epitome of what it means to be an American to be equally bigoted. Where we disagree is that I believe the opposite to be bigoted as well. And I don't abide by bigotry.

Economic Justice

The last assumption is that the purpose of economic policy is to bring justice to the world by evening out the classes. I've hinted at this before of course, it is good to address it directly.

I believe in justice and fairness, but I don't think that fairness means everyone gets the same thing. I believe everyone should get the same chances. The law is to treat everyone equal. That is not the same thing as making everyone equal. Whether we like it or not, we are not all equal in this society. I believe we were created equal, but as we live our lives, we go in different directions. Some of us succeed, and some of us don't. While it is tragic to be unsuccessful, it is not unjust or unfair.

Directly controlling the economic flow simply won't work. People are too selfish, and those in charge of directing that flow will be a higher class than those who aren't. Those who desire to eradicate the classes will merely recast them, and will cause that upper class to have considerably more control over the lower class than the system we have now. Instead of it being the rich vs the poor, it would be the government vs. the people. It isn't an improvement.

Classes are OK. They're not perfect, and it would be better if we didn't need them, but it is a natural result of living in a fallen world. It is the kind of problem that if you try and fix it, you end up breaking the whole system. What is wrong is when we think that being of one class makes you a more valuable human than someone else. That is bigotry as I said before. To some degree there will always be bigotry, and even if we managed to create a society without economic classes, we will still find ways to categorize each other and prejudge one another. We are very creative.

As a Christian, I believe that we are a fallen race. Sin and wickedness are inevitable. I am not going to look to a human system to try and fix the problem because I know it will fail. Instead, I will fight for justice within my own context, proclaim the gospel, and look forward to the return of the Son. That is the lot of the Christian, wherever we find ourselves.

July 23, 2012

Obama's Big Blunder

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By this point everyone knows about Obama's blunder regarding telling entrepreneurs that they aren't really responsible (or merely partially responsible) for their businesses. Now, I get what the president meant, so please do not try to correct me on that. His point was that businesses are reliant on public services in order to build their business, and are, to some degree, dependant on the government.

However, even with the necessary qualifications, I still am in stark disagreement with the president's point. Not only do businesses and the wealthy already pay more in taxes than other groups in this country (something that Obama consistently ignores in his rhetoric), and not only to non-entrepreneurs have access to the same public services (of the same class of course), but I don't believe that there would be no success for entrepreneurs either without infrastructure.

It is not as if there were no businesses or leadership before the invention of infrastructure. It was of a much different form, but so was success. Infrastructure makes communities larger, and thus adds layers of success, but there was still success. Individuals in nomadic societies still could succeed, and create new positions and ways of doing things. So while the entrepreneurial spirit may use infrastructure, and while infrastructure can encourage it, it does not require the infrastructure.

At least, that's my opinion

July 16, 2012

Billy Birch Is Back

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Billy Birch is a guy whose blog I've been following for some time, and someone who used to be a member of SEA. For those of us on the theological blogsphere, he is very well known. It is also well known that he committed a terrible sin a few months ago, shortly after he had left SEA in fact.

Well now he has a new blog: White Picket Fences. On it he talks about what he had done and why. I think it best if you read his own account. Personally, I find it very encouraging how much forgiveness he has recieved, even the one he hurt.

One important thing is that he idenifies the fundamental reason why he sinned: he kept his temptations a secret. This is incredibly powerful. In his book Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster identifies confession is one of the fundamental disciplines of Christian life. God designed the Christian walk to function as a community where we hold each other up, and defend each other. This includes defending each other from our own sins.

If you are struggling with a sin in your life, don't make Billy's mistake: confess it. Have your brothers and sisters in the Lord hold you accountable for what you do, and what you think. It is the most powerful way to stave off sin.

July 2, 2012

CALVINIST RHETORIC: Jargon
Or "The Obscenity of Obdurate Obnubilating Obfuscation"

1 comments
What I mean by Jargon

If we equate any philosophical debate to battle I would argue that our basic weapons are our ideas and arguments, and our rhetoric is our technique in wielding those weapons. But the battlefield, the terrain of the battle is the vocabulary we use. Therefore, he who controls the vocabulary of the debate holds the high ground.

It is little wonder then that so much of Calvinist rhetoric revolves around controlling the vocabulary of the discussion. It is incredibly common for them to create terms, adjust terms, or redefine terms for the purposes of making their point. To be honest, we should do more of this. Part of being clear is being conscience of the words that you are using, and why you are using them.

With Calvinists, however, they manipulate language so much that they have a language completely unto themselves. This is called jargon: a specialized vocabulary for a particular group, class, or discipline. Jargon is a necessary part of language. It is to make communication easier within that group. However, it also makes communication between that group and those outside of it more difficult. Calvinism has a tendency to become very tribal, and part of that is the key words that they use to distinguish themselves from other Christian groups. I think a lot of times people first get wrapped up in Calvinist vocabulary, and then fall in line with the doctrine.

Jargon in Action

Word Ownership

We are a book-bound faith. A foundational principle of Christian epistemology (the study/understanding of knowledge) is the necessity of revelation from God, and that a specific revelation of God has come to us through the Bible. Therefore everything which the Bible says we need to affirm.

It is important to note that the Bible has a vocabulary. There are certain words (like faith, grace, love, atonement, election, sovereignty, etc...) that all Christians need to affirm. Both Arminians and Calvinists use these terms. However, we understand these terms very differently.

Word ownership is essentially laying claim on a particular word. For instance, Calvinists do this with the term 'grace'. They call their doctrine "The Doctrines of Grace". This is an attempt to own the term. Since all Christians must believe in grace, and Calvinism embodies grace (supposedly), then Calvinism must be the epitome of Christianity, or so the implied logic goes.

This doesn't work very well with the term 'grace' though, at least not when it comes to converting people. This is because grace is a commonly used word, and people can tell that Calvinists are using it in a nuanced way (highly nuanced...). They've done a much better job with the term 'elect'.

Growing up in Arminian circles, I often heard the word 'chosen'. We are God's chosen people, and God would choose us for particular purposes. I didn't hear about the term 'elect' until I ran into Calvinism. 'Elect' and 'election' were political words, and not ones I ran into within church settings. Now 'elect' means the same thing as 'chosen', but certain translations specifically use 'elect'. So when a Calvinist comes along and starts using a "biblical term", people start thinking his theology is more biblical as well. In reality, he's just using a synonym that was more popular in 1611.*

Sinister Synonyms

This was somewhat implied within the last section, but another way that jargon shows up is in particular words which are consistently used in lieu of other synonyms. An excellent example of this is 'sovereignty'.

Again, growing up, I often heard pastors preach about God's authority. Sometimes they would preach about God's majesty. However when I overheard someone discuss 'sovereignty', it generally had to do with local church sovereignty (I was raised Baptist).**

Again, 'sovereignty' means the same thing as 'authority' or 'majesty' (or more a combination of the two). The basic concepts were still there. However, by introducing a distinct new term, a Calvinist can make it sound as if they are introducing a neglected concept. The Calvinist can then hide certain theological ideas, such as meticulous predestination, behind such concepts.

When I am listening to someone explain a belief or idea that they just had, I usually repeat it back to them while rewording it to be sure that I understand it. I used to have a friend, I'll call him Jason; who this would never work with. He would always quibble about the wording, and insist on the wording that he used. Eventually I did an experiment where I didn't understand something that he was saying, but I repeated it back to him using his words. For the first time he thought I understood him.

It is hard to explain how this really works, but one can couch ideas in careful distinctions and often make it sound like there is more to the idea than there really is. Indeed, the distinctions can be so careful as to even fool the person making them. In general, one should be leery of this kind of particular parlance, because it usually indicates a glossy rhetorical veneer over very shabby ideas.

The End Result

Jargon, as a rhetorical technique, generally does at least one of two things. First it can give a false impression of competence, either in the speaker or in the idea. Using unknown words makes people sound smart, and often naming an idea makes it sound more official or accepted.

Second, it can rule out other ideas. By limiting the vocabulary of the conversation to words which they have taken the time to theologically load, they can gain an upper hand. They can make it sound like we are nuancing their idea, which, in reality, we are both nuancing things for the sake of being clear. The more words they own, the more their definitions sound like the "plain and ordinary meaning".

As Arminians we should deal with this using two basic methods. A) Don't be afraid to use "their terms" in Arminian ways. Talk about God predestining things. Talk about election. There is nothing wrong with it considering that they are in fact compatible ideas with Arminianism. B) Use jargon in concert with other synonyms. Interchange 'sovereignty' with 'majesty' or 'kingship' within the same paragraph. Expose that they belong to word families, and the synonyms are just as apt, without being as mysterious.

There are other effects that particular jargonal techniques can have. I intend on going over one of these in my next installment (not necessarily my next post. We'll see).


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*There are, of course, Arminian circles which use the term elect. I do myself now. My point was merely that they didn't in the circles in which I grew up.

** Again, there are plenty of Arminian circles which use the term sovereignty, and, again, I use the term myself now.

June 25, 2012

REFLECTIONS ON FATHERHOOD
The Fathering Instinct

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[This was intended for Father's Day, but was postponed due to my wanting to post on my son ASAP. I think it was worth it]

Often people talk about the mothering instinct. Well, at least the mothering instinct is well known: it is that women have a stronger desire and passion to nurture than men do in general. It isn't that men can't nurture, or that all women are good nurturers, but that most women have a stronger passion to nurture than most men.

So what does that mean? Does that mean that women are just, in general, better parents than men? I don't think so. I believe that God designed both a mothering instinct and a fathering instinct so that the parents will balance each other out raising the child.

So what is the fathering instinct? I think it is that men have a stronger desire and passion to train than women do in general. Not that women can't train, anymore than men can't nurture. It isn't that men don't tend to be more willing than women to see their child a little hurt because we don't care. It is because we want to see the child learn from his/her mistakes.

When I talk to most mothers-to-be, and ask them what they are looking forward to, most talk about holding their people, feeding their baby, and certain milestones in development. When I talk to most fathers-to-be, and ask them the same question, they talk about playing catch with their child, or taking them to work, to teaching them something, as well as certain milestones in development. Those are certainly the things I look forward to.

So let's take the time and really respect the role of the father. We're very important (as are mothers of course). It is best for two to raise a child, and we see what happens when children are raised fatherless. So men, let us train up our child in the ways of the Lord, and be thankful to God for the chance to pass on what we know to someone we love.

June 18, 2012

Prayers for my Son

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Two Fridays ago (6/8) my wife and I got an ultrasound of our second child to determine gender. The good news was that it was a boy, and that his name will be Justin. The bad news is that they noticed a significant congenital heart defect. The rest of Friday, as well as the next couple of days, were mostly emotional recuperation for my wife and me. It was last Tuesday (6/11) that we were able to get an ultrasound with a cardiologist for an actual prognosis.

So I am writing this post for two reasons. First, I would like to ask you for your prayers. And I don't mean simply "I hope everything is OK" kind of prayer. I believe things can change with prayer, and that an outcome can be altered, or even a miracle can occur. These are the kinds of prayers that I am asking for. Please pray that Justin's heart is healed, and that no surgeries would be necessary.

The second reason I am writing this is to better understand what is going on. It helps me to understand something if I explain it. So the rest of this post is an explanation of exactly what is wrong with Justin's heart. I hope that this will also help in focusing your prayers in terms of what needs to be healed.

What Is Going On

Heterotaxy

Heterotaxy is a condition where the organs in the body aren't where they are supposed to be. For Justin, this relates both to his heart and to his stomach, which are located on the wrong side of his body. As of right now this poses no immediate threat, though it is possible that the stomach might get twisted as he develops. As of right now though, this is a minor issue and does not require treatment.

The Heart Problems

The biggest issue is Justin's ventricular septum, which is practically not there. The diagram below shows a normal heart:




The top two chambers of the heart are called the atria. The ventricles are the two lower chambers as labeled above. Deoxygenated blood (blue arrows) from the body flows into the right atria, is pumped into the right ventricle, and then pumped to the lungs through the pulmonary artery to receive oxygen. Oxygenated blood from the lungs flows into the left atria, then pumped into the left ventricle, and then pumped into the aorta to the rest of the body. Between the two sides of the heart, separating the deoxygenated blood from the oxygenated blood is the septa: the atrical septum and the ventricular septum.

Now this is Justin's heart:

The most obvious difference is that the ventricular septum is barely there at all. The two ventricles are essentially one large chamber where both deoxygenated blood and oxygenated blood are pumped into. Therefore, there is blood which already has oxygen being sent to the lungs, and only 50% of the blood going to the body has any oxygen (which is the bigger problem). While the heart still works, it is horribly inefficient.

While that is the biggest problem, it is not the only problem. If you look at the normal heart diagram, the two great arteries (the aorta and the pulmonary artery) are crossed. In Justin's heart they are parallel. This is called transposition of the great arteries, which is a fairly apt name for it. Ironically, given this transposition, he actually needs to have his blood mixed, or else the blood coming from the lungs would only go back to the lungs, and the blood coming from the body would only go back to the body. Additionally, with the septum (the wall between the two halves of his heart) not there, this problem is moot.

The third problem is that the valves going to the great arteries are only one valve. This means that if his septum was intact, the blood would mix anyway. So again, this issue is moot given the problem with the septum.

The fourth problem is the location of the septum, or the septum nub in this case. Justin is still growing, so even though the septum isn't forming, it still could (unlikely, but scientifically possible). However, it is too far to the right. Therefore the right ventricle is smaller than it should be. If the septum never develops, this also is moot. If it does though, it may make the ventricle too small to be operative, or, even if it is operative, it may become too small given operations.

Another thing, which I don't show in the diagram, is the doctor thinks he might have pulmonary stenosis, where the pulmonary artery (the one going to the lungs) is narrowed. However, she is unsure of this, so we'll see. Also, since she is unsure of this, that also means that if it is a problem, it is relatively minor.

Solutions

There are two possible solutions to this problem. The first is surgery.

The most likely scenario, which is also the worst scenario, is that the ventricular septum (that wall dividing the right and left sides) never develops. If that occurs, then there will be a series of three surgeries. The first surgery will be a couple of days or a couple of months after he is born, depending on the severity of his condition. The next two will be, if I remember correctly, when he is five of six years old. The goal of these surgeries will be to separate the heart from the pulimonary artery (the artery from the heart to the lungs) and the venae cavae (the veins running from the body into the heart). The will somehow connect the venae cavae to the lungs.

In essence, they would be removing the need for the right side of the heart so that the whole heart will only be pumping blood from the lungs to the body. The bright side is that there will be no mixing of blood. The negative side is that he would functionally have only half a heart. That said, if all goes well, he still should have a relatively normal life. He wouldn't be a professional athlete or be able to join the military, but the doctor believes he still should be able to run around and even play picnic sports like an average person.

There is another scenario for surgery though. If his ventricular septum does develop, then they could surgically make his heart whole. All of those problems which I said were moot given the septal defect suddenly become the problem, but they might be solved in one surgery: swap the arteries and split the on ventricular valve into two. Now, if the right ventricle is too small, or if the pulmonary artery is too narrow, then they will have to go back to plan one anyway.

This brings us to the second possible solution to the problem: prayer. In my mind, this is the more important one. I believe that God can still perform miracles. The comforts of our society make it difficult for us as a church to live out the faith necessary to see them commonly, but He hasn't changed. God still works in mysterious ways but He could heal him.

So I am asking you all to please pray. Additionally I believe that specificity in prayer helps. So please pray for the healing of Justin's septum. Pray for the healing of Justin's arteries. Pray for the healing of the valves as well. And pray for faith for my wife and me. We have a hard road to travel, but I believe God will be there through it all.

God bless.

June 11, 2012

How Should Christians Date?

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Christian dating is in big trouble. I know so many Christian men who are stranded with no possibilities of even finding someone to date. Why is this? I big reason is that in high school we are trained to only date girls we already know, and are often given strict guidelines on how to be with that girl.

But the problem with these dating methods that are taught in youth groups is that they only work within in the artificial environments of high school and college. Once you are in the real world, there are very places where you are naturally getting to know a group of girls your own age large enough for it to be likely that you can find someone compatible. This is why the church has created on-line dating services, and special single groups to help facilitate these kinds of meetings. Especially since it is evil to go out with someone for one date and to then find out that they aren't Christian.

We need to think about this differently, so that there is an ability to go out there a meet prospects, not just simply wait for something to come your way. The method that I used myself I think is much better than what it currently being taught in youth groups, so I wanted to present it here. It is a four level method of approaching dating:
  1. Dating: The actual dating level for me is setting aside dates on a calendar to do an activity with someone of the opposite sex. The purpose is simply to get to know the person on a one on one level. When actually dating, you are still friends. There is no commitment here. You are just two friends hanging out.

    However, the point is that you are asking in the back of your mind if you want more. This is a contemplative state. You are asking questions, and testing compatibility. Also, you should only need about 4 or 5 dates to determine if you want something more. If you need more than that, then the answer is probably no (or you are just being cowardly). Whether or not you stick to 4 or 5 dates, you should have a maximum number in mind that you hold yourself to. However, you are not considering whether you want to marry her. You are just considering whether you want to court her.

    It is OK to date someone you believes things radically differently than you, especially since part of the dating process is to determine what they believe. Essentially, given availability, there should never be a reason to not ask someone out on a date.
  2. Courting: By courting, I am referring to the classic idea of going steady. At this point, you are in a relationship and responsibilities. There should be some ground rules that the two of you establish, like no sex for instance. This is also the level where you getting to know her family and you are integrating each other into your lives.

    Courting is basically a trial run on marriage. It is testing the relationship before the big commitment to see whether you two really work together. The entire process is about determining whether you want to marry this person. Also I held myself to courting for at least 1 year, which I think was a good number. My wife and I actually courted for 2, but 1 year was only a minimum. There is no need for a maximum.

    You should not court a person who believes radically different things than you though. There should be standards you have about who court and who you don't. You should some of these standards in mind, but as you date and court, you will be able to refine what your standards are.
  3. Engagement: After courting someone for a reasonable period, eventually you'll want to advance to marriage, so you enter engagement. Engagement is a preparation phase. It is for preparing for marriage, not for the wedding. During this time you should be talking about where you want to be in 5 years, discussing conflict resolution, strategizing your finances, exposing past mistakes and regrets, and also talking about sex (just talking though). I highly recommend a pre-marital counselor to help you go over these things.

    I cannot stress the need to practice and talk about conflict resolution. You need to understand not just how you solve problems, but also how your fiance solves problems. How you communicate can be very different than her. You need to respect that, which not only means learning how she communicates, but train her on how you communicate. Communication is the fundamental tool you will have to solve your issues in you marriage. While it won't guarantee a solution, its absence will guarantee failure.

    I also held myself to a minimum of 1 year for engagement. Sometimes wedding plans will cause this anyway, but it is so you can really sort through the changes that are about to happen, and keep the transition smooth.
  4. Marriage: While this is the goal of the marriage process, it is not a static state. Your relationship goes on, and continues to grow and be challenged. In many ways, marriage is the most difficult level, for now you are truly reliant on each, and bound together. I do not believe in divorce, and I believe that all divorce can be avoided if couples sacrifice for each other. Your life is no longer your own, but belongs to your spouse.

    If you are careful in the dating process, then you can be sure you are putting your life into the hands of someone you can trust. After all, trust is the foundation of a good marriage, not passion. Passion fades and becomes forgotten, but trust only grows and deepens. If you keep trust and faith at the forefront of your marriage, and leave your lives in each other hands, instead of trying to control the other, your marriage will last.
For those of you who are single and reading this, I would like to add that I strongly believe in marriage. God gave us marriage as a blessing. But only God can truly unite a man and a woman. Trust in Him, and keep Him in the process, and you will have success. I pray that each of you will find the love that I have with my wife. God bless.

June 4, 2012

REFLECTIONS ON FATHERHOOD:
Being Naughty

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Children are so innocent, aren't they? Well, no they aren't. One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that we are all born with a predisposition to sin. It is very easy to see that as a parent.

Now I've met kids before. I've never been ignorant that kids are sometimes bad. Everyone knows that kids misbehave. What has really been incredible for me is how quickly they figure it out. It is so instinctual.

The first rule that my son learned was to not touch the trash can. Often my wife or I are doing dishes in the kitchen, or maybe preparing food for him or us, and he's running around the kitchen playing. Every once and a while, he was wonder over to the trash can and try and touch it. We would tell him "no" and if he tried to touch it again, we would move him away. Eventually he learned that the trash can was off limits.

However, it is important to note how I knew he knew it was off limits. It wasn't that he started to stay away from it. It was that he started to watch me when he was about to touch it. His first overt act of sin immediately followed when he first became aware of a rule.

Paul says:
Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. -Romans 7:7a-8
When Paul says, "sin lies dead" he does not mean that sin doesn't exist apart from the law, but that sin is inactive with it, for transgression needs something to transgress. We see this in our children, where often the rules we create to protect them and teach them end up becoming the very source of their misbehavior.

So all we can do as parents is to keep trying, and to teach our children that laws are there for a reason. We need to teach them to trust in the laws that we give them, and hopefully they will learn to trust the one from whom all justice and righteous comes.