Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Illegal Immigration--Again! (I)

The Urgent Need for a Timely Response
Our country needs more congressmen like J.D. Hayworth (R—AZ). In his recent book, Whatever It Takes. Illegal Immigration, Border Security, and the War on Terror.[1] Hayworth touches on what many consider to be one of the Achilles’ Heels of the Bush Administration. Many are quite pleased with the manner in which President Bush is handling the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but less pleased with important matters such as his “Democrat-like” big spending and our porous borders, especially our border to the south.
What is particularly attractive about Congressman Hayworth’s book is the fact that it is a politically incorrect, no nonsense read. I could hardly put the book down. If we had more congressmen and –women like J.D. Hayworth America would begin to look and act more like America. Mr. Hayworth draws our attention to truths that many today do not want to face. Our current problem with illegal immigration goes far beyond simply having our menial task oriented work force taken over by people from another country. That is merely the tip of the iceberg. Victor Davis Hanson has performed a similar service to our country in his book Mexifornia,[2] but Hayworth has built upon Hanson’s excellent book and has provided even more analysis than Hanson did.
For the next while, I’d like to walk you through Hayworth’s book, chapter by chapter, with the hope that you’ll buy it and read it on your own. I’m hoping to reach a wide audience with this series.
First, I’d like very much to convince my Christian colleagues that whereas the Bible calls upon us to care for the alien, we do not have to harbor those who are here illegally. Therefore, churches—Protestant and Roman Catholic—that hide illegal aliens in the basement of their buildings or who otherwise turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the fact that they are in our country illegally do not fulfill the law of love.
Second, I would also like to reach my fellow-countrymen and convince them that illegal immigration is one of the highest priority items for our national security. Our attitudes towards it defy common sense and reasonableness. You have to wonder if it’s actually going to take another devastating strike by terrorists against our country before we will come to our senses. We can only hope and pray that it won’t take that; but if we continue to be as complacent as we have been in the past, that might have to be our wake-up call again.
Third, I hope to reach our elected officials. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired and fed up with contacting our federal, state, and local officials only to get some snippy, snarky bureaucrat less than half my age, answer the phone with a bad attitude. They give you the distinct impression that they cannot wait to hang up. If you disagree impatience is the key word. Or, you get something like the perfunctory “Thank you. I’ll pass that along, sir,” (click!) and you’re thinking No they won’t. Even if they did, they’d say something like, “A Dr. Gleason called this afternoon to say that he doesn’t like your policy on illegal immigration and wants you to vote to tighten up our border security,” the elected official would probably just smile smugly and knowingly and nod as if at a photo-op.
J.D. Hayworth sounds like a man that you can really talk to and get a hearing. (I would add that my own congressman, Ed Royce, is also such a representative.) If our elected representatives won’t let their voices be heard, it’s past time “we the people” did! As we progress, you’ll understand why I say what I’m saying. Let’s begin at the beginning at Chapter 1: Overrun.

Danbury, Connecticut?
Hayworth is from Arizona and is writing about the problems that our border states encounter. So why would he write about Danbury, Connecticut in that regard? It’s because he wants us to know and understand how pervasive illegal immigration actually is. He writes, “And don’t think illegal immigration is a problem only for border states. In the blue-collar town of Danbury, Connecticut, about 20 percent of the town’s population (75,000) is estimated to be illegal.”[3] And as if that were not bad enough, Hayworth goes on to explain, “The situation is so out of control that town officials found thirty cots in the basement of one home, each being rented for five dollars a night.”[4]
What occurs in the sleepy little New England town of Danbury, Connecticut increases exponentially in America’s border states. Hayworth points out that—at a minimum—about 4,500 people cross into Arizona illegally daily! Approximately 1,500 of them are apprehended. Do the math. What Hayworth is describing is tantamount to an invasion. In addition, these border crossings by illegal aliens have “become increasingly violent. In one particularly brutal instance, rival gangs of human smugglers had a rolling shoot-out along Interstate 10 in southern Arizona. Four people were killed and several others wounded.”[5]
In short, the glut of illegal aliens crossing over from Mexico into the United States has, by all estimations, “devastated communities, ruined the environment, and tested the patience and pocketbooks of Arizona’s citizens.”[6] In spite of these truths, who do you think gets the blame for not wanting illegal aliens in the country? That’s right: The concerned U.S. citizen. We are xenophobic, bigoted, and jingoistic if we don’t want our country overrun by illegal aliens. Go and figure.

Most Americans know what an ATM is, but precious few are acquainted with the abbreviation OTM. In Hayworth’s book, he spends time explaining how dangerous this phenomenon actually is. He cites Border Patrol accounts of illegal aliens entering the U.S. who are “other than Mexican.” Where might these people come from? If you’re like me, your initial response would be somewhere in Latin America. While that is true, in addition to an influx of illegal aliens from El Salvador, Brazil, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, our Border Patrol has also documented illegal aliens coming in from Mexico from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Russia, China, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. That is cause for great and deep concern.
Hayworth cites a Time magazine article that “estimated that in the first nine months of 2004, as many as 190,000 OTMs ‘melted into the U.S. population.’”[7] Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that 50% of these OTMs are nice folks—bad assumption, but for the sake of argument, okay—that leaves us with 95,000 that aren’t. That’s substantially larger than the population of many U.S. cities, including Danbury, Connecticut!
So how much—within a million dollars or so—are these illegal crossings costing the Arizona taxpayer (only Arizona mind you)? The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that “the cost of illegal immigration to Arizona taxpayers comes to about $1.6 billion a year.”[8] The news only gets worse when we delve into the costs to our medical system, education system (that’s funny. I guess old habits die hard. I still call our public school system education!), and our welfare system, all of which we’ll get to later.
American taxpayers are heavily burdened by our ridiculously high tax rates as it is, not to mention the way our bureaucrats squander our hard-earned money on every silly program and welfare hand-out to come down the pike, but now we also have to contend with a further billion dollar a year drain on what is already exorbitant payments. When and where does it all end?
And here is a real bite in the shorts: Hayworth quotes Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security as saying, “Today, a non-Mexican illegal immigrant caught trying to enter the United States across the southwest border has an 80 percent chance of being released immediately because we lack the holding facilities.”[9] The ones who are not released immediately know how to work the system because our Border Patrol allows them to remain—legally!—in the U.S. pending an immigration hearing. A whopping 98% of the 20% never show up for that hearing. They catch a train to Danbury. It is so ridiculous that many of the OTMs wait for the Border Patrol to capture them or even seek the BP out and get arrested knowing that now they are in America “legally.”

The Problems Multiply
Many have already drawn our attention to the clear fact that for an American to hire an illegal alien is a felony. Just from that perspective alone, the problem of illegal immigration is compounded: The person is in the country illegally (read: crime) and a shiftless American wanting cheap labor and none of the hassle of unemployment insurance and taxes purposely hires an illegal alien and pays him under the table (read: crime). Here’s the way this situation shakes out: If illegals work “off the books,” the companies that hire them save a lot of money. For example, if I hire an illegal for $500/week off the books and hire a U.S. citizen legally, the difference is more than $500/week. That is to say, it’s cheaper, although illegal to break the law.
Where are Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi crying out for the “little man” in this context? For the “little man” is the hardest hit. While Kennedy’s belly-aching about outsourcing jobs, he says little or nothing about how illegals are robbing American-born men of jobs and income. Between 1980 and 2000 immigration hit American-born men without a high school education to the tune of a 7.4% reduction. Kennedy then has to audacity to claim that legalizing millions of illegal workers will protect American workers’ right and wages. Does the man ever sober up?
When I think of Mexico my first thought politically is that it is a very corrupt country. Everyone is on the take and if you simply have enough pesos you can do or get just about anything. For the longest time, I considered Mexico’s problems, Mexico’s problems. I first began to think of corruption as part of our problems when Loretta Sanchez beat Bob Dornan for congressperson. There were reports of people voting multiple times and even of dead people voting. I was thoroughly shocked because it never crossed my mind that anything like that would or could ever happen in the United States. I was wrong. It was not so much that Ms. Sanchez won—although I would never vote for her—but the way in which the election was conducted. It reminded me of a Third World fiasco, but not an American election.
Now corruption is being accepted as a part of our way of life by some. And when we know about corruption and do nothing about it, it will spread like a debilitating, necrotizing cancer. Hayworth offers some timely examples of what I mean. In one instance, a Border Patrol agent was doubling as a smuggler. Somebody didn’t do their homework! But there is more. Hayworth writes, “A Border Patrol agent in San Diego was charged with conspiring to smuggle illegal aliens across the border. But the story took an even odder twist when it was discovered that the Border Patrol agent was himself an illegal alien who had used a fake birth certificate to get the job.”[10]
In another example, Virginia police, in a sting operation, arrested “a Department of Motor Vehicles official, his wife, and another man for selling valid driver’s licenses for as much as $3,500 (apparently the going rate!) to illegal immigrants.”[11] I seem to remember something about 9/11/01 and the terrorists all having valid U.S. driver’s licenses. We are left to wonder how they acquired them.
Finally, federal authorities discovered a crime syndicate “specializing in the distribution of millions of phony documents to illegal aliens nationwide (three million to the Los Angeles area alone), including high-quality Social Security cards, resident alien cards, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, marriage licenses, work authorization documents, vehicle insurance cards, temporary vehicle registration documents, and utility bills from both Mexico and the U.S.”[12]
So simply in terms of wasted U.S. tax dollars and corrupt, under-the-table graft the American taxpayer is getting hosed—big time! Yet, illegal immigration brings with it another plethora of problems. Our concern with global warming seems to have left the environmentalist wackos with tunnel vision when it comes to the problem of illegal aliens. When was the last time you heard someone from the Sierra Club complaining about the destruction of our country by illegal immigrants?
Leo Banks, a writer based in Tucson, AZ reports that Americans living in that area have to deal with a large number of highly unacceptable problems. “They find fences knocked down and water spigots left on, draining thousands of precious gallons. And then there’s the trash: pill bottles, syringes, used needles, and pile after pile of human feces…. One rancher told me about illegals who rustled one of her newborn calves. The intruders beat the twelve-hour-old animal to death with a fence post, then barbecued it on the spot.”[13] The Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in southern Arizona, tribal leaders approximate that illegal aliens crossing over into America and onto their reservation leave behind six tons of trash daily![14] Where is the outrage and the outcry? I’m willing to bet that few would have known this without people like Hayworth informing us. Why don’t our elected officials tell us these things?
Illegals also pose a threat to our military training. In 2004, the U.S. Marines lost more than 1,250 hours of training time because illegal aliens—who had lost their way—wandered in their training facilities. Fifty precious days of training were lost because these people were meandering through the desert! Since we are losing so much time and with all the talk from Jesse Jackson about restitution, perhaps we should demand that Mexico make restitution to our military for lost time. Yeah, right!
Merely in terms of social expenses attached to illegal immigration a Bear Stearns study believes that approximately five million jobs are now part of what we euphemistically call “the underground economy” (read: illegal jobs). In terms of health care, retirement funding, education costs, and law enforcement, illegal immigration is costing us conservatively $30 billion a year.[15] Couple this with another $35 billion that comes from the U.S. foregoing income tax collections (remember: illegal immigrants and those who hire them illegally use cash) and you’re talking serious change. Now add to those two figures another $17 billion a year that is sent to Mexico’s economy by illegal workers here in the states and the amounts are astronomically high. In fact, in terms of actual economic growth, “Illegal immigration is…Mexico’s only growth industry.”[16]
Another $29 billion goes to educating children of illegal immigrants: $12 billion for illegals and $17 billion for the U.S.-born children of illegals.”[17] It’s really starting to add up. Now, do you know how much the U.S. government sends to Mexico in foreign aid? It’s $71 million per year.Are you convinced yet that we’re dealing with a serious problem?
[1] J.D. Hayworth, Whatever It Takes, Illegal Immigration, Border Security, and the War on Terror, (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2006).
[2] Also compare Hanson’s article, “Illiberal Aspects of Illegal Immigration, Tribune Media Services, June 13, 2005.
[3] Ibid., 2. Italics mine.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 1.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 2.
[8] Ibid., Emphasis Hayworth’s.
[9] Ibid., 3. Italics mine.
[10] Ibid., 7.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Leo Banks, “Minutemen Are People, Too,” Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2005.
[14] Hayworth, WIT, 13.
[15] Ibid., 18.
[16] Ibid., 19.
[17] Ibid., 19-20.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Depressed Parents?

Parents: Are they blue?
The Life section of The Orange County Register (Wednesday January 18, 2006) carried an article written by Jenifer B. McKim that could qualify as “the profound thought of the day.” In short, it was an exercise, by and large, in whine and the self-absorbed lifestyle of far too many of today’s parents.
In a sidebar, the quotation reads, “Study says parents are more depressed than other adults and having kids won’t make you happier.” Really? It must be true because the Journal of Health and Social Behavior carried an article last month says so. One of the co-authors, Robin Simon wrote, “We romanticize parenthood. It’s difficult and it is expensive.” (Register, Life, p. 1). I fell down laughing. I’m the father of six. Do I need a study to tell me that being a parent is difficult and expensive? I don’t think so. I’ve done it.
Simon’s study also “revealed” that parents are more depressed than adults without kids. What? Which planet are these people from? Are they part of “me first” crowd? I tend to think so. In fact, I get disgusted by parents who still think that it’s about them. Ms. Simon—who knows who she is or what her views are?—offers, “We believe the costs associated with the role overshadow those benefits.” (Emphasis mine.) Oh, I got it. We’re depressed because having kids isn’t cost effective. Is Ms. Simon’s trying to tell parents that bringing children into the world, teaching them values and virtues, and providing a spiritually healthy atmosphere is expensive and can lead to depression?
I’ll tell you what makes me sick: In the history of this country there is a rich heritage of parents who worked hard, scrimped and saved, and cobbled together a life for themselves and their offspring. They lived in mean conditions yet were a happy family. Modern conveniences—maybe not even non-modern conveniences—weren’t available, but they raised young men and women with values and characters that would put modern man to shame. I’m reminded of our great heritage where young men were the first in line to volunteer when their country needed them. They weren’t looking for something in return. They understood the concepts of duty and sacrifice. They were willing to serve without expecting something in return.
It turns my stomach how soft and self-centered many Americans have become. We don’t need some study from the JOHASB to tell us the obvious. Next to my relationship to God, marriage and parenting are the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in life. Are they challenging? Of course! But the benefits far outweigh the down sides. Have I worried about my kids? Yes. Have I prayed for them and their futures? Yes. Have I been depressed because parenting isn’t a walk in the park? Absolutely not! It has been an honor and a privilege to raise each one of my children and I also love participating in the lives of my grandchildren.
I will not be lectured by Ms. Simon or anyone else about what I have or have not done about parenting. It’s hard to “romanticize” parenthood when you’re dealing with it every day! The last thing I need is some pinhead telling me what I already know. I am outraged by Ms. Simon’s insinuations.
But I wonder why the study pulled up short and just described parents. What about marriage itself? Isn’t it hard too? Are married people more depressed than others? Maybe some of the academic pinheads are, but I am married to an awesome woman and have been blessed with great kids that are just kids—difficult at times and expensive. But that is what my wife and I signed on for when we had children. Don’t get me wrong: I am not some jealous person who didn’t get to finish his education. I have an undergraduate degree in Economics, a Master’s degree (magna cum laude) in Theology, a Drs. degree from a European university, and I earned a Ph.D. as well so I consider myself academically aware. This kind of “bovine scatology” from academia is sickening, however.
Being a true academic from Florida State University, Ms. Simon has our well being at heart. She’s convinced from her study that almost every parent is a basket case needing industrial strength doses of Prozac just to get through the day. According to her, marriage and employment “help your emotional well being” (read: self-esteem), but having children doesn’t (p. 10). Ms. Simon is an associate professor at Florida State University and the mother of two. Another academic pinhead raising children. I can only hope that her children don’t read her study. It might very well damage their emotional well being knowing that mom thinks their the reason she’s depressed and penniless.
But Ms. Simon didn’t come to these conclusions alone. She had help—maybe even government funding for this informative study. Ranae J. Evenson and Simon analyzed data from the National Survey of Families and Households, based on 13,000 U.S. adults. Impressive? Hardly. Statistics are wax noses. How old were these whiners? What were their religious backgrounds? From which parts of the country did they come from? What were their family backgrounds? What were their ethnicities?
So why are these 13,000 depressed? McKim offers, “The researchers surmise that part of the problem is that parents in the United States get little institutional help…. Child care can be difficult to find and unsatisfactory” (p. 10—Emphasis mine). It appears that these two geniuses, while working at their profound research, haven’t considered that some moms might actually stay at home and might not have to worry (become depressed) about day care. Which brings up the question: how many of the 13,000 were stay-at-home moms? Gasp!
Now here comes an important caveat: Both Simon and Evenson admitted that “they studied symptoms of depression—rather than a clinical diagnosis of depression” (p. 10—Emphasis mine). Oh. Why bury that near the end of the article? Why not put it up front? There is a huge difference between an observed, possible symptom of depression and a clinically diagnosed depression. In other words, you can have a self-absorbed, it’s-all-about-me parent who thinks they’re depressed when actually they’re only having to put themselves aside for the well being of their children.
Want another caveat? McKim reports of the co-author’s study: “Those symptoms include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, and sleep and eating difficulties. They did not get into people’s feelings toward meaning or purpose in life” (p. 10). Feelings? Just feelings? What about things like privileges, responsibilities, character, and integrity required of parents? I suppose that would damage their fragile little emotional well being. Please!
But wait! There’s still more! Newport Beach psychologist David Stoop wasn’t surprised by the findings. He offers us this gem: “There is a lot of guilt. I see a lot of fatigue in parents trying to do everything” (p. 10). Everything? What parent can do everything? Parents get fatigued? Really? Do you mean that moms who are breastfeeding a new born actually lose sleep? We need another study for that! Do you mean that some parents, who spend time involved in their children’s lives sometimes get tired? Shazam!
Maybe Stoop has touched on something though. Since when do parents have “to do everything”? Don’t parents have the common sense to get perspective in life and realize that we all have limitations? If modern (California) parents are so immature no wonder the children are so messed up and the parents are depressed. I’m convinced that common sense left America in the 1700s, but it can be regained if parents begin to act like parents and treat their children life children. It isn’t rocket science, but it is substantially more important than rocket science.
I only wish that McKim had begun her article with the quotation of Orange, California mayor, Mark Murphy, who said, “From my own perspective, I cannot think of anything more of a joy in life than having children and seeing them do well” (Ibid.). The voice of reason in the midst of self-absorbed cacophony.

Foreknowledge According to Arminians

God is the Author of Sin
We are examining George Bryson’s book The Dark Side of Calvinism.[1] Before Bryson asks: Is Calvinism the Gospel? in the next chapter, he has some introductory remarks. By way of warning, I will point out that both the Introduction as well as the first chapter both imply that Calvinists are not Christians. I understand that Bryson does not go that far and I respect him for that. But his Introduction states that Calvinists make God the author of sin and in chapter 1 he wonders if Calvinism is the gospel.
It sounds as if Bryson thinks Calvinists are, at best, well-intentioned dragons and, at worst, so deluded in their understanding of the Bible that they are actually lost. His opening salvo in the Introduction is a little confusing, but we’ll try to follow him. He begins, “Despite formal denials from some Calvinists and documents such as The Westminster Confession of Faith, John Calvin and the system of theology he championed, does ‘…assert that God is, in himself, the cause and author of sin. …’ According to Calvin, it is all happening according to the perfect plan and purpose of God.”[2] Did you follow all of that? I certainly didn’t. Allow me to make a couple of comments.
First, Bryson leaves us only to guess where the quotation comes from. Typically, generally, when you make such an accusation (“…assert that God is, in himself the cause and author of sin. …”), I expect a footnote. Where did Bryson get that quote? He leaves the erroneous insinuation that either Calvin or The Westminster Confession of Faith or both teach that God is the author of sin. Neither, in fact, does.
As an example of what I mean, this is what the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 5.4) says: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all others sins of angels and men; and that not by bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (Emphasis mine.)
It is a gross and crass misrepresentation that either Calvin, the Westminster divines, or any truly Reformed person would teach that God is the author of sin. It is both irresponsible and unconscionable that Bryson would level such a charge at the Reformed community.
Second, I’m still puzzled at what Bryson means when he writes, “According to Calvin, it is all happening according to the perfect plan and purpose of God.” What is it? Conceivably, he means that God is the author of sin, but Calvin nowhere teaches anything even close to that. Does he mean that God works from a divine plan and is unfolding it in the course of human history? Christians affirm that he is. Bryson adds to his enigmatic statement: “Everything is as it should be.”[3] I certainly hope so! What kind of world would it be if God had a plan and everything wasn’t as it should be? Now we’re talking culpability for God!
Bryson takes us to Calvin’s Institutes and excises a quotation that suits his purposes: “God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.”[4] Please allow me to give a little bit of a context to what is going on here. Calvin begins the section in question with an appeal to Scripture, namely Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” So far; so good. Those against whom Calvin is arguing say that man “had free choice that he might shape his own fortune, and that God ordained nothing except to treat man according to his own deserts.”[5]
He continues, “Yet predestination, whether they will or not, manifests itself in Adam’s posterity. For it did not take place by reason of nature that, by the guilt of one parent, all were cut off from salvation…. Scripture proclaims that all mortals were bound over to eternal death in the person of one man [cf. Rom. 5:12ff.]. Since this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is perfectly clear that it has come forth from the wonderful plan of God.”[6] Calvin rightly ties foreknowledge and foreordination together when he says, “Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree. If anyone inveighs against God’s foreknowledge at this point, he stumbles rashly and heedlessly. What reason is there to accuse the Heavenly Judge because he was not ignorant of what was to happen?”[7]
In other words, as we shall see, Bryson opts to deny true biblical sovereignty and to work all things to his good pleasure. Rather, Bryson (and Chuck Smith and David Hunt) have robbed God of being God and have substituted a saccharine sentimentality regarding love and a misinterpretation of what John 3:16 actually says and what it actually means in its immediate context.
We return to what Calvin has to say on the subject that Bryson quoted. The quotation reads: “And it ought not to seem absurd for me to say that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his descendants, but also meted it out in accordance with his own decision.”[8] Bryson selected only the part of the quotation that suited him and his needs, for Calvin goes on to say, “For as it pertains to his wisdom to foreknow everything that is to happen, so it pertains to his might to rule and control everything by his hand.”[9] Or, wisdom is to foreknowledge as might is to sovereignty. What is wrong with that? If God is not sovereign, then we are left with the alternative that man is. Ultimately, in consistent Arminian theology (and make no mistake that Bryson, Hunt, and Smith are clearly Arminians), man is sovereign.[10]
That is to say, in Bryson’s system—and he definitely has one—God’s love cannot be redeeming love, since man must have the final say in either rejecting or accepting God’s offer. What are some of the practical implications of this kind of thinking? James White puts it succinctly when he states, “Hence, God must love everyone equally, and try to save each one equally, and fail with regularity to do so. Indeed, we must conclude that God will be eternally unhappy, since He will love those in hell with the very same kind of undifferentiated love He has for the myriad redeemed surrounding His throne.”[11] This is important to point out since Arminian/Biblicists like Bryson won’t tell you things like this. This is one of those “logical consequences” of the “God-loves-everyone” mentality. Most don’t or won’t take matters this far, but in reality, this is where you end up.

Arminians and Biblicists (read in Bryson’s case: Arminians) have a particular view of foreknowledge that they believe does an end run around predestination. Their view goes something like this: God looks down through the tunnel of time and those he foreknows will have faith, he calls his “elect.” As often as not, this is coupled with the “John 3:16 obsession.”
I preface my remarks this way because Bryson is about to present us with yet another quote from Calvin. Bryson says that Calvin understood “sovereign control” and “divine direction” in the following manner: “…some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of those ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.”[12]
Now Bryson could have explained a number of important aspects of 3.21.5 in the Institutes, but he only chooses to cite this snippet. First, he could have pointed out that Calvin was arguing against Albertus Pighuis’ work De libero arbitrio (The Free Will) and the way Pighuis described foreknowledge. Listen to the manner in which Calvin opens that section: “No one who wishes to be thought religious dares simply deny predestination, by which God adopts some to hope of life, and sentences others to eternal death.”[13]
Well, what precisely does Calvin understand by the word “foreknowledge”? He writes, “When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things always were, and perpetually remain, under his eyes, so that to his knowledge there is nothing future or past, but all things are present. And they are present in such a way that he not only conceives them through ideas, as we have before us those things which our minds remember, but he truly looks upon them and discerns them as things placed before him. And this foreknowledge is extended throughout the universe to every creature.”[14]
Bryson arguably might agree with that definition, but has ineluctable problems with predestination. Before I give you Calvin’s definition of what predestination is and how it differs from foreknowledge allow me to give a simple illustration. Let’s take a fictitious man named Joe. Follow me on this. God’s foreknowledge is most often explained by Arminians or “balanced-approached” (so-called Biblicist) theologians this way: God looks down through the “tunnel of time” and foresees that “Joe” will become a Christian. After all, doesn’t God know everything? Indeed, he does. Anyway, God then elects “Joe” on the basis of his foreseen faith. I would suppose that this is the view of the majority of evangelicals today. I believe it is a fallacious view, however.
I’ll explain why I believe it to be incorrect from two standpoints. The first has to do with “foreknowledge” and the second will flow out of our explanation of “foreknowledge.”
First, God’s foreknowledge is spoken about in Scripture (Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2). The rub comes when Christians believe they can speak of God’s foreknowledge apart from his electing grace. Let me explain what I mean. If we ask the question: Does God foreknow who will come to faith and who will not? I trust we would all answer by saying, “Of course!” Ah! But how does he foreknow? Well, what kind of question is that? It’s an important one. Does he foreknow infallibly? Yes. Does he foreknow absolutely? Yes. Does he foreknow the event in such a way that it cannot happen any other way? Yes. And to answer, Yes, to all those questions is to embrace unconditional election.
To answer any of those questions in the negative is to deny the truth of God’s revealed will summarized throughout Scripture and taught in Deuteronomy 29:29, which is that God foreknows the future exhaustively and that he has created the world knowing—exhaustively and comprehensively—what the future will bring.
But, I said there were two explanations, so let me hasten to the second one. If God knew before the foundation of the world that “Joe” would become a Christian or that he would make a decision to become a Christian, what does this mean concretely? Think along with me for a moment. If God foreknew the future exhaustively then, before “Joe” was born, God knew of his “free” decision. This means that even before time, “Joe’s” decision was inevitable.
Why was it inevitable? Well, certainly it wasn’t because of “Joe’s” free will, was it? He had not been born yet. Since God knows—foreknows—exhaustively, the decision is inevitable. The trouble now is with that word, inevitable. If “Joe’s” choice is not because of God’s unconditional election of him, it would seem that the choice then had to come from some source other than either “Joe” or God. Certainly no one in his or her right mind would want to admit that! Where did it come from then? Scripture is clear that foreknowledge is related to predestination as well as the other aspects of salvation by grace.
For this very reason, Calvin rightly combines foreknowledge and predestination in the section of the Institutes in question. He explains, “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[15] Here you recognize Bryson’s quote. What is instructive is what he chose to leave out. He simply allows the citation to “hang in the air” as it were. Bryson also manages to omit the fact that this particular section under question is chocked full of Scripture to support what Calvin’s saying.
Bryson completely fails to mention that Calvin’s argument about predestination is based on God’s choosing of the Old Testament people of Israel and that God chose them simply because he loved them (cf. Deut. 7:7-8; 10:14-15; 23:5; Ps. 47:4). Calvin comments that in Isaiah 41:9, God “emphasizes the ceaseless course of the remarkable generosity of his fatherly benevolence.”[16] Calvin’s point is that God not enters into intimate relationship with those he chooses by sovereign grace to be his covenant people.
By his own admission, Bryson opposes Calvinism as a theological system.[17] That’s fine. It’s been done before. Like many before him who did not understand the doctrines of grace, Bryson is convinced that Calvinism says some pretty disturbing things about God.[18] Interestingly, once that assertion is made, you’d kind of expect a list of some of the most disturbing of the most disturbing things.
Perhaps one of the disturbing facets of Calvinism to Mr. Bryson is a quote he uses from the late Edwin Palmer: “The apparent paradox between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man belongs to the Lord our God and we should leave it there. We ought not probe into the secret counsel of God.”[19] On the other hand, I cannot understand why this is so disturbing. It is simply a reiteration of Deuteronomy 29:29. But Bryson wants to know, “Are these conflicts in Calvinism really only an ‘apparent paradox,’ or are they hopeless contradictions, with absolutely no hope of reconciliation in this life or the next?” Will Bryson give us the correct interpretation that has no contradictions—apparent or otherwise—and (absolutely) no inconsistencies? We shall have to see.
What is the most disturbing thing I’ve read thus far in this book has nothing to do with God but with the following statement from Bryson: “It is the contention of this writer that the Calvinist is saddled with the double burden of being under a system which is both contradictory and unscriptural.”[20] That’s a serious charge, especially the part about being unscriptural. If Calvinism is unscriptural, why is it that the Church of Jesus Christ has never pronounced it to be a heresy like it did, say, Pelagianism? If the system is both contradictory and unscriptural you have to ask why it would have any adherents, let alone some of the greatest and keenest minds and preachers in the history of the Church embracing it.
What Mr. Bryson wants us to believe is that what he’s going to be discussing in his book is salvation and damnation.[21] Yet, by his own admission the “system” hangs together or falls as a whole. Simply because he wants us to believe that he’s only dealing with a sub-sub-section of theology he can make the ridiculous statement that “Calvinism amounts to Theistic Fatalism.”[22] Again, a serious, serious charge. Why? Precisely because if true Calvinism is much like the philosophical determinism of Islam. Even though theistic fatalism supposes some kind of deity, much like the so-called theistic proofs for the existence of God, it does not posit the personal, covenantal God of Scripture.
So in summary, Bryson contends that Calvinism is unscriptural and is akin to theistic fatalism or determinism. He cites Arminian Lawrence Vance probably because they are both Arminians and Vance agrees with him: “Although Calvinists go out of their way to distance themselves from fatalism, they are in essence teaching the same thing. When a philosopher believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called determinism. What a stoic believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called fate. When a Moslem believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called fatalism. But when a Calvinist believes ‘what is to be will be’ it is called predestination.”[23] To Bryson’s mind, it is all of a piece.
But what does Bryson understand by the word “fatalism?” He cites Wayne Grudem’s definition, even though Grudem is a Calvinist. “By fatalism is meant a system in which human choices and human decisions really do not make any difference.”[24] Clearly, Grudem does not think that Calvinism is fatalism, but Bryson doesn’t bother to give us what Grudem thinks the huge difference is between biblical predestination and philosophical fatalism. He merely adds, “I have never read a better description of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination than this.”[25] Or, “Theistic Fatalism…perfectly describes Reformed Theology.”[26] The words “sheer nonsense” describe Bryson’s description!
Mr. Bryson must not be very well read if this is what he thinks predestination actually is. Even a cursory reading of the Bible would require substantially more that theistic fatalism when one encounters words like “predestination,” “election,” and “foreordination”—and make no mistake: those words are in the Bible.
[1] George Bryson, The Dark Side of Calvinism, The Calvinist Caste System, (Santa Ana, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004).
[2] Ibid., 15.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., Citing the Beveridge edition of Inst.3.23.7. I’ve already said that I thought this translation is inferior to the Battles’ edition.
[5] Inst.3.23.7, p. 955 (Battles).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid., 955-956.
[9] Ibid., 956.
[10] There are several examples of this and Bryson, Hunt, Smith, and Missler fall into this category. Missler, in fact, has written a booklet entitled The Sovereignty of Man. (Chuck Missler, The Sovereignty of Man, (Coeur d’Alene, ID: Koinonia House, 1995).
[11] Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004), p. 18.
[12] Inst.3. 21.5.
[13] Ibid., 926.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid., 928-929.
[17] Bryson, TDSC, 16.
[18] Ibid., 17.
[19] Ibid., 19. Quoting Edwin Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), pp. 85-87.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid., 20.
[22] Ibid., 21.
[23] Ibid. Italics mine.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid., 22.
[26] Ibid.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Government Wage-Hike Plans

Government Wage-Hike Plans
I’m not certain when or if we’ll ever learn the lesson that paying a minimum wage is bad for a number of reasons. In the first place, the government intervenes into the free market—once again—and sets a mandatory wage for wage earners. On January 12, 2006, The Orange County Register carried an article entitled, “Wage-hike plan may have minimal impact” (Business, p. 1).
The article opened describing Jesus Nunez, who works as a polisher for motorcycle parts in Santa Ana, CA and earns the minimum wage of $6.75 per hour. We won’t even delve into whether or not Mr. Nunez is in the country legally. That’s a different subject and we’ll simply assume that he is.
What is particularly interesting is that Mr. Nunez is 36 years old. No doubt innumerable factors have played a role in Mr. Nunez’s current situation. The article by Andrew Galvin leaves a number of important questions unanswered. Was this intentional in order to slant the article or did Mr. Galvin merely overlook them? For example, readers might have wanted to know the answers to these questions: Did Mr. Nunez finish high school? Why is he not attempting to better himself, if he isn’t? Could he not do better with different skills? Are there grants to a trade school that would give him a higher take home pay? The Register doesn’t tell us.
We are only told that Governor Schwarzenegger plans to raise the minimum wage by $1 over the next two years. That alone would be incentive enough for me to start looking for something new and different—very quickly! The dicey part of the article states that Mr. Nunez is paid in cash, which means that he’s not certain that his employer would raise his pay even if Schwarzenegger’s proposal becomes law. I suppose that there are still employers who pay in cash and keep meticulous records and issue W-4 forms at the appropriate time for tax purposes.
It would seem that someone like Mr. Nunez would be moving on to something more lucrative, especially in light of the statistical fact that the purchasing power of California’s minimum wage—adjusted for inflation—has fallen 33% since 1968 (p. 10).
Galvin provides us with two other examples to ostensibly make his point. The first is Jessica Gonzalez, who is 20-years-old and works at the counter at Taqueria Guadalajara also in Santa Ana. She believes the money will help her family “which includes her 1-year-old daughter” (Ibid.). Is she married? Does her husband or “live-in” work? Are there more children in the picture? How many? Is she living at home with her parents? Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada.
Galvin’s final example is Elizabeth Beltran, 18, who was not impressed by the governor’s proposal and responded, “It’s not much” (Ibid.). Is she also married? Does she have a child? Is she in school? Is she living at home with ma and pa?
Providentially, Galvin’s article appeared on the same page as Jonathan Lansner’s, which is entitled, “O.C. job growth rate 5th best in U.S.” Lansner points out that job creation in Orange County California was “more robust last year than previously estimated.” In short, 32,500 new jobs were added in 2005, almost 11,000 more than projected. That sounds like good news.
It never ceases to amaze me how often we have to come back to the subject of minimum wage to understand basic, elementary concepts of economics. First, young people are not expected to earn huge salaries. Most are still in school and are earning spending money and learning the value of a dollar. These are great lessons, but typically you don’t start as a CEO when you’re young. You tend to get “entry level” jobs. Some jobs, like being a waiter, waitress, or valet might pay the minimum wage but also include tips, which bolsters the take-home pay.
Second, forcing a businessman to pay a minimum wage might very well reduce the number of people he can actually hire for “entry level” jobs. All too often, we tend to look at this problem from the perspective of the employee—us—and not from the standpoint of the employer. Let’s do that for a moment going on the assumption that many young workers won’t stay at the entry level forever.
When I was a lot younger, I used to think that the idea of a “minimum wage” was a good idea, but not I know that it isn’t. Why did I want my employer to have to pay me a minimum wage? The answer was simple: I wanted more money. In reality, I didn’t think beyond that point. I had just joined the work force and was experiencing some of the freedom that comes when you earn your own money. I had things to do and people to meet and all of that cost money.
Maybe you think about the minimum wage now the same way that I did “back in the day.” What I want to do in this article is to try to get you to see that the minimum wage is a bad idea and not a good one.
In order to help you understand this, I’m going to use some very simple examples. Let’s say that you own a business and the government tells you that the minimum wage is now $9.00/hour. You need to hire someone to work for you cleaning up and doing the kinds of “entry level” jobs that young people tend to have to do. So you hire a person and after a week of analyzing your business you discover that the person you hired at $9.00/hour is only giving you $4.00/hour in actual benefits. In essence, your business is losing $5.00/hour because you hired this person.
If the government had not set a minimum wage and you offered the same person the same job for $3.50/hour he or she might have said “No.” He also might have said “Yes” because he needed some spending money and the job was simple and didn’t require much thinking or education. Maybe you could have come back to the employer and said, “$3.50 is not enough, but I will work for you for $4.00/hour.” He might have counter-offered with $3.75/hour and then you both shake hands and agree. You’ve got a part-time job and he’s got an employee at a price his business can afford.
Now a lot of people in our modern society want everyone to have the same opportunity, irrespective of their abilities. Again, let me explain. This time, I’m going to use an example using meat. If you go to the grocery store and want to buy the best steak available, you’ll probably pay around $5.00/pound. If you want to buy hamburger, you might pay just $1.00/pound. Obviously, there’s a price difference based on the quality of the meat.
Pretend that meat could talk and that the hamburger complained that he was getting passed by on the shelves because more people wanted to eat expensive steak. Never mind that steak tastes a lot better, hamburger feels disenfranchised. In order to “level the playing field,” the grocery store manager raises the price of hamburger to $5.00/pound. Guess what happens. People still don’t buy it. Why should they when they can get stead for the same price? So the manager drops the price for both hamburger and steak to $1.00/pound. What would you buy? Well, everyone still buys steak—and the manager loses a lot of money in the process. The plain, commonsense truth is that hamburger and steak are not equal. Trying to make them equal by fixing the price is an exercise in futility—it won’t work and it doesn’t pay.
By now you’re figured out that the same principles apply with human beings. Anyone in his right mind is not going to make the price of hamburger and steak the same. There are obvious glaring differences. Facts are stubborn things, so here are a few to nail this down. Most low-wage workers do not have a family to support. In fact, fewer than one out of five minimum wage workers have a family to support. What some of the liberals in America today want you to believe, however, is that those people needing a “living wage” have a family of four to support. The plain fact is that this isn’t true.
Fact: studies have shown that in countries where wage laws have been imposed, actual jobs have been lost. In short, the minimum wage/living wage kills and lessens jobs.
Fact: as imposed wage rates rise, certain people are eventually made “unemployable.” Everyone has his price and all of us would eventually price ourselves out of a job if we kept asking for more than we’re worth. The minimum wage continues to raise the bar and ask Mr. American Businessman to pay more and more for less and less.
Besides, when the government makes businesses pay a certain wage, they actually hurt young people. How? Well, again, it’s pretty simple. If Mr. Businessman wants to hire two young people at $3.50 each/hour, but the government says he has to pay $9.00/hour/person—well, as you can see there is a definite problem there. Do the math. Somebody isn’t getting a job. Remember that the next time you hear people talking about the virtues of having and giving a minimum wage.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Poor & Poverty (I)

A Christian Response

Jesus, the Poor, & Poverty
Two successive articles in yesterday’s and today’s The Orange County Register caught my attention. On January 3, 2006, Jay Ambrose wrote a column entitled, “Hate the rich, hurt the poor” (Local, Opinion, p. 7). Apparently in a previous column Ambrose had put the idea forward that “…it seemed to me a misreading of the New Testament to suppose Jesus favored socialism, as some contend.” What was Ambrose’s reasoning in that previous article? He tells us: “I certainly urged that people care for the poor, I said, adding that it struck me as ludicrous to suppose he was also advocating an economic system that actually made people poorer.”
He goes on to say that a woman—with a theological degree no less—emailed him saying that he must be rich. Obviously, they didn’t teach logic where this woman got her theological degree. Why should someone jump to the conclusion that the author must be rich simply because he’s stating his position? There are a number of people who are not “rich” who hold to the same position. Of course, there are also reasons why this woman wrote what she did. You can, for example, hold that Jesus was a quasi-socialist because you attended a liberal theological seminary that taught that in its “Ethics of Jesus” course. Such a conclusion could be the result of faulty exegesis. It could be that the woman is a left-wing Democrat, Greenie, or Loopy that despises Bush and his tax cuts for the rich.
What we need to look at, however, are just a few of the distortions that some Americans have about the rich. Unfortunately, a portion of the hatred is derived from the endless demagoguery that one hears on the radio or watches on TV. There are, no doubt, rich people who are greedy and despicable people, but that can’t be the real reason for disliking them because poor people can also be greedy and despicable. Another way of looking at the “rich” is that they got where they are either by inheriting a ton of money (Paris Hilton), bilking others through scams, or getting rich off of insider stock trading (former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe).
The mantra today, however, is that the rich just keep on getting richer and the poor just keep on getting poorer. But is that true? When I ask that question, I’m not looking for an emotional response, but a factual one. Even some of my colleagues as pastors fall into the trap of being overly concerned about the poor without getting the facts first. It’s an easy trap to fall into because as a pastor who are supposed to be willing to give anyone money anytime for almost anything. This is why some make a living on going from church to church to get money. The stories are oft-repeated and predictable. “I’m from out of town and my car broke down and my wife and kids got nothing, man!” “My phone has been shut off and I just need $50.00 to make the payment.” “We’re living in a cheap hotel and my kids need food.”
Don’t get me wrong: I know there is real need in the world and I also know that the Church of Jesus Christ has an important role to play in caring for the destitute. My questions in this issue are: 1) what constitutes destitute and 2) what are the facts about poverty today. I ask these questions for a number of reasons not the least of which is that the modern Church and liberal theologians (i.e., Jim Wallis) are making pleas for us to go into the inner cities, to have compassion on the down-and-out, and to think about “global” poverty. Okay. Those are legitimate areas of concern, but we must not run off half-cocked and simply throw money at the problems like the liberal Social Gospel tribe did.
So if we’re going to address the issue, let’s do it right. Let’s get the facts and put emotive statements or distortions on the back burner.
Fact number one: cutting taxes stimulates the economy.
Fact number two: the wealthy in this country pay the lion’s share of the taxes. Consider this following information: The Top 50% pay 96.54% of All Income Taxes The Top 1% Pay More Than a Third: 34.27%. ( CBO Report: Effective Federal Tax Rates Under Current Law, 2001 to 2014.)
As you can clearly see, the top 50% of American taxpayers contribute almost 97% of all income taxes. That’s significant.
Fact number three: the wealthiest in this country provide the jobs for those who are poorer. In other words, the wealthiest are the entrepreneurs that provide the jobs for those in the work force. When was the last time you saw one of the teenagers in your neighborhood offering jobs?
Fact number four: The poor in America aren’t actually getting poorer despite what the ideologues want us to think. This is where some are going to knee jerk, but before you start name calling or thinking me to be insensitive, consider some hard facts.
This brings me to the second newspaper article. In The Orange County Register of January 6, 2006, one of my favorite economists, Walter Williams, wrote a column entitled, “The poor aren’t getting poorer” (Local, Opinion, p. 7). (For those who have had very little in economics or find it “boring,” please allow me to suggest that you buy, read, and devour books by Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams on this topic.) Williams begins, “Despite claims that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, poverty is nowhere near the problem it was yesteryear—at least for those who want to work.” (Emphasis mine.) The caveat is: for those who want to work. Note well, because that tends to be a problem often overlooked when we’re talking about poverty.
Williams is correct when he observes, “Talk about the poor getting poorer tugs at the hearts of decent people and squares nicely with the agenda of big-government advocates, but it doesn’t square with the facts.” (Emphasis mine.) If you are not concerned with those who are truly destitute, then you don’t have a pulse. However, our concern must be tempered by fact. What facts does Williams offer to support his position?
First, he mentions a book co-authored by Dr. Michael Cox (economic advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, TX) and Richard Alm (a business reporter for the Dallas Morning News) called Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We’re Better Off Than We Think. Williams points out that the authors analyzed data from the University of Michigan Panel Study of Income Dynamics (sounds like a exciting group, doesn’t it?), “which tracked more than 50,000 individual families since 1968.” It was an “on-going” study from 1968-1999.
They discovered that only 5% of families in the bottom income quintile (the lowest 20%) in 1975 were still there in 1991. That happens. But their next discovery is also very noteworthy: “Three-quarters (75%) of these families had moved into the three highest quintiles.” (Italics mine.) During that same period, a full 70% of those in the second-lowest income quintile moved to a higher quintile, with 25% of them moving to the top income quintile. That’s significant, but you rarely hear anything like that from Jim Wallis, liberal theologians, the liberal political Left, or on CNN.
In addition, the Bureau of Census reported that the poverty rate in 1980 was 15% and in 1990 it was—want to guess?—15%. What makes this more significant is that “for the most part they are referring to different people.” Cox and Alm’s findings were supported by the U.S. Treasury that found that “85.8% of tax filers in the bottom income quintile in 1979 had moved on to a higher quintile in 1988—66% to second and third quintiles and 15% to the top quintile.” Shazam! How did that happen? Was there some pixie dust? Did someone wave a magic wand? Did a welfare program come into effect that bolstered their incomes? Nope.
History has demonstrated that at every juncture there have been rich, poor, and those in between. There are those who are permanently rich and also those who are permanently poor, but Cox and Alm concluded that the United States constitutes something of an exception. “The percentages of Americans who are permanently poor or rich don’t exceed single digits.” Do you find that hard to believe? Why? Is it because we drank the Kool-Aid? Did we incredulously believe everything we saw on TV or heard on the radio or read in the newspaper?
The cry to overcome poverty in America needs to be tempered by correct information. This means that we have to think a little—which might be a rare undertaking for some. Let’s say a particular group of people is “poor” in 1980, but by 1990 they are no longer considered such. Why might that be? A simple explanation is that someone who is a student at the age of 20 in 1980 is now 30 in 1990 and has a different, steady job. He’s no longer flipping burgers, but he has a steady job after completing college or a trade school. Would anyone today be surprised to read “stats” that 30, 40, or 50-year-olds earn more than a 20-year-old? I certainly hope not, but some don’t think this far.
Williams offers more for us to think about: “Households headed by someone under age 25 average $15,197 a year in income. Average income more than doubles to $33,124 for 25- to 34-year-olds. For those 35 to 44, the figure jumps to $43,923. It takes time for learning, hard work and saving to bear fruit.” (All emphases mine.) And for a number in the U.S. today, this is precisely where the major rub comes in. One of the problems we face in America is that many of our young people are spoiled rotten and would rather hang out at the mall talking on their cell phones or playing video games. There are also some who would rather receive a welfare check than to work for an honest day’s wages.

No-Brainer Behaviors
Williams concludes his insightful article with some handy tips. First, The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that “Households in the top income bracket have 2.1 workers; those in the bottom have 0.6 workers. In the lowest income bracket, 84 percent worked part time; in the highest income bracket 80% worked full time.” Moral: Get a full-time job!
Moreover, “Only 7 percent of top income earners live in a ‘nonfamily’ household compared with 37 percent of the bottom income category.” Moral: Look for a good husband or wife and get married.
Finally, when the FRB did its survey the unemployment rate in McAllen, TX was 17.5% while in Austin, TX, it was 3.5%. Moral: If you can’t find a job in McAllen don’t sit on the pity-potty of life. Get off your duff and move to where the jobs are. What do you think the people did that manufactured buggy whips when Ford invented the horseless carriage? Lay-offs happen all the time. Take charge and do something positive.
So the FRB-Dallas concluded the following: “Little on this list should come as a surprise. Taken as a whole, it’s what most Americans have been told since they were kids—by society, by their parents, by their teachers.”
That was in 1999. Today, however, I’m not so sure the conclusions reached by the FRB are still valid. In principle, they are, but society doesn’t encourage people to strive harder. In fact, a good case can be made that a number of our leaders would love to have America be a socialist state. Welfare keeps people dependent on big government and wards of the state. Socialism—in whatever form is, in the words or Hayek, the road to serfdom.
What about parents and teachers? We are in a crisis with regard to parents being parents and teachers are more ideologues than teachers and rarely allow a fair exchange of ideas in the classroom. Just try to write a science paper on Intelligent Design or against Islam and watch the reaction. But there is hope. This can all be turned around. There is a definite, clear biblical answer to this dilemma as well. In future issues we’ll delve into what the Bible has to say about work and welfare.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Rob Bell & "Velvet Elvis" (II)

ECM’s & Rob Bell’s Method of Interpretation

We are constantly busy with interpretation. Day in and day out we interpret a wide variety of differing impulses, facts, and things that present themselves to us as facts, but which aren’t. In this section of this article I want to give you some more insights into Rob Bell’s method of interpretation—and the ECM as well. Granted not everyone in the ECM is exactly the same, but there is a definite “family resemblance.” In this issue, then, we’re asking the question: when Rob Bell looks at Scripture, how does he interpret it? It’s essential for us to know this since the science of interpretation (hermeneutics) has been in the forefront for quite some time now.
To begin, it’s more than just a little odd that Mr. Bell has rejected “proof-texting” as a viable way of speaking to people about the Bible. We need to remember, however, that once an ECM member makes such a statement he’s more than likely to either forget it or ignore it as it applies to him/her, or both. I’ll illustrate what I mean by a few examples.
In John 11, the Bible relates the narrative of the resurrection of Lazarus. Mr. Bell particularly likes the KJV’s rendering, “He stinketh.” He applies this verse is a profoundly exemplaristic manner. Totally disregarding what Jesus was doing in terms of manifesting himself to be the Messiah of God and displaying his power over death, Mr. Bell takes us on this excursion: “And this phrase continues to swirl around in my mind and my heart. Where is there death in my life? Where am I dying because of decisions I’ve made? Where do I ‘stinketh’?”[1]
Is he “proof-texting?” Clearly he is without telling us that he is. In addition, notice how Bell carefully avoids the “s” word: sin. There’s death in his life and he’s dying because of decision he’s made, but he never tells us why. Those who are conversant with Scripture know the reason, but Bell avoids using the “s” word in such an egregious fashion.
In addition, Bell also has a very low view of what the Bible says about marriage. He informs us that some friends of his asked him to officiate at their wedding ceremony. In his words, “They had been together for a while and decided to make it official.”[2] In my words, they were shacking up (fornicating is the biblical term) and had no clue what marriage meant, let alone what Christian marriage meant. They decided to make it official? Please! Give me a break! Good afternoon, sports fans, today we’re going o discuss official sex, as opposed to the non-official variety. Why can’t he be up front and simply tell us that they were living in sin—oops! Bad word. Why does he feel the necessity to sugar coat what they were doing?
Anyway, what they envisioned was a huge weekend party (read: bash; party hardy, dude!). Their stipulation was that they didn’t want “any Jesus or God or Bible or religion to be talked about.”[3] That seems perfectly fair and reasonable. And it’s very easy to accommodate that request. Simply refuse to do the wedding. They did, however, want Mr. Bell to do that thing he does and make it “really profound and deep and spiritual.”[4] Right.
On the day of the ceremony—he actually agreed to do it—Bell informs us that the wind “was blowing the tops of the trees way up above us, the sun was coming through in yellow-and-white beams, and at one point an eagle flew overhead.”[5] Where is John Denver when you need him? Well, we actually have a good idea where Mr. Denver might be. The country roads have, indeed, taken him home. Bell comments, “Something holds this all together.”[6] Good job. Yet another profound thought of the day. I don’t know how we can keep up with these profound insights!
Bell’s hermeneutic also leads him to conclude that the Bible teaches that “to be a Christian is to do whatever it is that you do with great passion and devotion.”[7] So as long as we shack up with great passion and devotion, we’re good to go? I would have kind of thought that he might have cited 1 Corinthians 10:31 where we’re told that whatever we do we are to do it to the glory of God or Colossians 3:17 that says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever. To Bell’s mind, “Music is already worship.” All music? He doesn’t tell us, but simply makes a blanket statement (“Music is praise. Music is sacred. Music is good.”[8]).
The quantum leap that Bell makes is to jump from music to Jesus blessing food. Don’t ask me how he gets there, he just does. This is fairly typical for the ECM tribe. Reading Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy follows a similar pattern. McLaren will cite texts that have nothing to do with what he’s talking about. It’s a postmodern thing. Anne Lamott is in a league of her own, although Bell admits that she’s one of his favorite writers.[9] Bell “proof-texts” Paul—again without mentioning that he’s proof-texting—, “For everything God created is good,” to make the point that “This is why Jesus wouldn’t have blessed the food before he ate. He blessed God for providing the earth, which provides the food. The food is already blessed…”[10] How helpful. How would Pastor Bell explain Luke 24:30 in this context? It was precisely because Jesus was in such intimate communion with the Father that he would have blessed and did bless the food.

The Hermeneutic of Straw Men
A “false dilemma” hermeneutic appears when Bell states, “If we only have a legal-transaction understanding of salvation in which we are forgiven of our sins so we can go to heaven, then salvation essentially becomes a ticket to somewhere else.”[11] Bell is referring to justification by faith, which is a legal term in Scripture. Maybe I’m missing something here, but who in the world teaches what Bell just described? Again I ask: What Christian denomination has ever taught such a one-dimensional concept of salvation? We might disagree about which comes first regeneration or faith (it is regeneration, by the way), or the nature of adoption, union with Christ, and glorification, but I’m not aware of any Christian fellowship that teaches only justification; a legal-transaction understanding of salvation. In fact, they all teach the truth that justification (legal) and sanctification (moral) must be joined. Yet another straw man.
This type of (non)-thinking led to Dr. David Wells writing these words rather recently: “Regardless of whether evangelicals want to see it, this emptiness is a growing reality and with this emptiness has come a loss of boundaries, both theologically and morally.”[12] This sentence, in a nutshell, captures the dilemma that evangelicalism faces today both in its mega-church as well as in it ECM form. What is historically known as evangelicalism has given in to novelty, “creative” innovation in worship, experimentation, and an obsession with cultural awareness. Again Well is right on the mark when he comments, “It is surely a great irony that what evangelicals have most surrendered in the hope of becoming culturally relevant is what , in fact, now makes them culturally irrelevant.”[13] Reminiscent of Goethe’s Faust, a deal has been cut by the modern Church with the culture and Christians have all but lost every intention to be countercultural. The next result of this approach is that “The church is therefore awash in strategies borrowed from psychology and business that, it is hoped, will make up for the apparent insufficiency of the Word and ensure more success in this postmodern culture.”[14]
With that last quotation Wells has pinpointed one of the (many) egregious faults of 21st evangelicalism: while formally holding to the authority and infallibility of Scripture, the real weak link in the chain is at the point of the total sufficiency of the revealed will of God for all of life and doctrine. And without the Church’s countercultural influence (cf. Matt. 5:13-16) our immoral, relativistic, narcissistic, and nihilistic culture will continue to rush headlong into the destruction. As if that were not tragic enough, without the Church’s clear concept of antithesis vis-à-vis the culture, she will be left with nothing to say—and she’s almost already there. But now let’s return to Bell’s hermeneutic.
Possibly one of the most egregious errors—showing how bankrupt ECM theology is—in Bell’s book—and they are legion—is when he says, “Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for.”[15] This might play for a group of biblically illiterate postmoderns, but Mr. Bell should be a little more concerned about theological precision and truth. The consequences of such statements about Hell and God are overwhelming for any thinking person.
What kind of God would send a forgiven person to Hell? Certainly not the God of Scripture. In addition, it’s clear that Mr. Bell doesn’t have the foggiest clue about one of the key doctrines of the Bible: justification by faith. A biblically ignorant audience will just nod the mind-numbed nod, but those conversant with Scripture will realize just how bad this stuff is. Is God’s forgiveness conditional? Are we saved today and destined for Hell tomorrow? What does all this say about God’s covenant promises? About the work of the Holy Spirit? Does God finish what he begins (cf. Phil. 1:6)? But the point here is that Rob and the ECM ostensibly care little for tradition, traditional orthodoxy, or theology, but they teach very clear doctrine and theology on every day of everything they write. The example I just gave you is a classic case in point.
If Bell believes that Hell is full of forgiven people, he has fallen into basic Arminian theology, which he and the ECM have been in all along, so this is really nothing new. If man is sovereign and can choose for God today, he can just as well choose against him tomorrow. This might be entertaining and acceptable to the second generation of untaught Christians, but it verges on being a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:8-9). Of course, this has been a real danger in both the mega-church and Emergent Church movements. It’s time we woke up, recognized it, and acknowledged it.
Another area of life that intrigues Bell—and the ECM—is social justice. I applaud them for their concern. It’s legitimate. Christians, above all others, should be concerned with biblical justice across the board. It is also an area in the Christian Church that, in my estimation, has not received the attention it deserves. My concern, however, is the manner in which people like McLaren, Lamott, Bell, and Wallis go about trying to effectuate it.
For example, Bell’s hermeneutic persuades him that Rwanda, poverty, injustice, and suffering are all hells on earth.[16] As much as I agree that Rwanda was horrific and that poverty, injustice, and suffering all need biblical answers—and they are available—they are not hells on earth. There are other apt words to describe them. Biblically, it is Jesus who speaks the most often about hell. His descriptions and observations mean substantially more to me than those of Mr. Bell, especially since the Bible makes it patently clear that hell is comprised of unforgiven sinners in the presence of the true, holy, and living God of Scripture eternally. As bad as Rwanda, Katrina, rape and torture chambers, hunger, and other difficult circumstances, there is still opportunity to repent and believe.
Of course, it doesn’t help that people like Rick Warren and Tony Campolo want to remove God from any and every disaster. Not once have I heard either one of them cite Amos 3:6 in their explanation. Warren is as eclectic as they come, hanging around with New Age and ECM gurus, while Campolo has just gone over the deep end accepting almost everything. It part, Campolo’s theological demise was due, in part, to his association with Open Theism proponents. God cannot possibly foreknow anything because that, to his mind, would strip man of his sovereignty. So when disasters strike—9/11, Katrina, etc.—God cannot foreknow that these things will happen. All he can do is—impotently—sit in heaven wringing his hands trying to decide how to remedy these disasters. A God like this makes FEMA’s inabilities during Katrina look like a minor inconvenience. In fact, this looks very much like no God at all.
Mr. Bell is also concerned about our responsibility as a 21st century Church. He explains, “It is our turn to step up and take responsibility for who the church is going to be for a new generation. It is our turn to redefine and reshape and dream it all up again.”[17] Again, just a few comments are in order. We have already been given the responsibility by virtue of our redemption in Christ. “Who the church is going to be” for this or any other generation is already defined for us in the Bible. As was mentioned earlier, the Word of God is sufficient (cf. Rom. 1:16-17). In my particular tradition we call this the regulative principle of worship. Our Lord did not leave it up to our imaginations or creativity, but prescribed how he will be worshipped. Those who want to be innovative would do well to consult Leviticus 10:1-3. Didn’t Bell preach through Leviticus? Surely, he pointed out the death of Aaron’s sons to his congregation—didn’t he? The point is: it is not our turn to redefine, reshape, or dream it all up again. It is our responsibility to do think God’s thoughts after him, to worship him in the manner he has prescribed, and to walk in obedience to his Word.
In closing, I must admit that I am growing weary with the whole ECM topic. Much has been written on the subject and, no doubt, much more will be written. To my knowledge McLaren and his lieutenants (read: non-leader tribe members) continue to refuse to answer simple, crucial questions that are put to them about their core biblical beliefs. To my mind, that speaks volumes. More books will be published in the name of the Church of Jesus Christ being culturally aware and relevant, innovative, creative, and dreaming up new nonsense.
Whether we writing about a velvet portrait of Elvis, plastic pink flamingos in the front yard, or singing redneck fish on the wall we have but one rule so that we can glorify God and enjoy him forever: the Word of God, contained in the Old and New Testaments. If I could give any advice to the ECM non-leader, egalitarian leaders it would be to spend more time in exegesis of the scriptures and to study the history of Christianity more carefully. Are there challenges facing us in the 21st century? Absolutely. Our relevance is in the Word, however, and from there we must preach, teach, and witness.
It seems like a long time ago now that I promised to finished writing my analysis and criticism of Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy and I will. I will also continue to put Anne Lamott’s drivel on one or another blog site. But the time has come to take on a substantially more important task. Evangelicalism is in free fall. Both the mega-church and ECM are part and parcel of that free fall, but there are other components that must be looked at honestly and—here comes the creativity—prescribe a better way; a scriptural way of dealing with what evangelicalism has refused to deal with or has dealt with in a hugely superficial manner.We shall deal with the Church in the 21st century from the standpoints of theology, ethics (morality), and worldview. Evangelical theology is in the toilet. Its demise began around the time of the Second Great Awakening and it’s been downhill since then. Statistic after statistic makes it clear that morality among those who call themselves Christians. My aim is to redefine, reshape, and dream up evangelicalism into what it used to be. As I undertake this, all molding, defining, and shaping of the theology, ethics, and worldview of the Christian will be according to the authoritative and sufficient Word of God.
[1] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 61.
[2] Ibid., 75. Italics mine.
[3] Ibid. 76.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 84.
[8] Ibid., 85.
[9] Ibid., 54.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 108.
[12] David F. Wells, “Foreword,” in Gary Johnson & R. Fowler White (eds.), Whatever Happened to the Reformation? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2001), p. xvi.
[13] Ibid., xviii.
[14] Ibid., xix.
[15] Bell, VE, 146.
[16] Ibid., 148.
[17] Ibid., 164.

Rob Bell & "Velvet Elvis" (I)

When is a Joke Not a Joke?

I was doing a radio show recently and the host commented that she had just read Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis and that when she read it she thought it was a joke. Funny, I thought, that was the same impression I had. Unfortunately, both of us were wrong. So the short answer to the question posed in this heading is: when a supposedly reputable Christian publishing house decides to publish nonsense. Don’t get me wrong: Zondervan has published some excellent material over the years, but they really blew it with this one!
Zondervan jumped at the opportunity to publish a book by the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Rob Bell. Allow me a few moments to give you some background on Mr. Bell and his church. In November 2004, Christianity Today (or Astray) carried an article on the Emergent Church Movement.[1] The author, Andy Crouch, focuses the article on the Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids and Brian McLaren. For our purposes, we’re only going to focus on MHBC.
Crouch describes the ECM as “Frequently urban, disproportionately young, overwhelmingly white, and very new…”[2] The worship style is “startlingly improvisational” affecting “everything from worship to leadership to preaching to prayer.”[3] What struck me as odd in Crouch’s article was his comment that Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, is the only pastor to have begun a mega-church-planting career with a sermon series from the book of Leviticus. That’s not odd; Leviticus is part of the canon of Scripture and our Lord reminds us that he is to be found in the entire Old Testament (cf. Luke 24:25, 27, 44-45). In Crouch’s article, he describes his experience at Bell’s worship service as “more conventional” since Bell was preaching on “the story of Jesus rebuking Peter for drawing his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane.”[4] How could a writer for CT find preaching from the Old Testament “unconventional?” The implication is clear.
Bell told Crouch that “after launching Mars Hill in 1999, they (Bob and his wife Kristen) found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church.”[5] At this point I must admit that I don’t have the foggiest clue what the word “uncomfortable: means in that context. What possible significance can it have that I am “uncomfortable” with church? One scenario could be that the pastor is preaching sermons that convict me of my sin and therefore I rightly feel uncomfortable. That’s a good thing; a very good thing.[6] In keeping with the ECM mode of talking, wife Kristen remains vague about her feelings of being uncomfortable. Here is her description: “Life in the church had become so small. It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working.”[7] What in the world is that supposed to mean? It worked? You got a good feeling, high, or your self-esteemed skyrocketed off the charts? How did it work? This is one of those modern terms that smacks of pragmatism. At best, the term as used by Kristen Bell is vague; at worst, it’s useless. What happened to church? Did it go on strike?
Whatever happened, the Bells did the unthinkable: They “started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself.”[8] Uh-oh. This is like playing the Sesame Street game of “What Happens Next?” The Bells began looking at “the Bible as a human product…rather than the product of divine fiat.”[9] Surprise! Surprise! Rob explains, “The Bible is still the center for us, but it’s a different kind of center.”[10] No further explanation? That’s it? A “different kind of center” is like a square circle. The Bible is in the center, but it isn’t. It’s the sound of one hand clapping—in the center that’s the center except that it isn’t the center. Got it?
Continuing to equivocate Pastor Rob says, “We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.”[11] I’m guessing that he means the mystery of the Trinity or predestination. Yeah, right. In the ECM a lot is made out of the concept of “mystery.” Granted, there are things in Scripture that remain mysterious and defy absolute definition. Nonetheless, as Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us, the revealed things of God are sufficiently clear that we can comprehend what is being said. Moreover, Scripture makes it clear in Deuteronomy 30:11 that a number of truths in God’s Word are crystal clear (comp. Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8; Ps. 119:1-2; John 14:21, 23; 15:10).
Bell has set up a false dilemma: either we embrace mystery or attempt to conquer it. What if “conquer” is not part of the equation? We can and should embrace the mysterious as it comes to us and when it comes to us in Scripture, but we should also embrace what God has clearly revealed.[12] (Please read the preceding footnote because it is important!) What is equally disconcerting to me are the comments made by Bell’s wife in the CT interview.
Kristen had a “lucid interval” in her thought processes and gives us this profound thought of the day: “I grew up thinking that we’ve figured out the Bible, that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it’s in color.”[13] What a helpful statement for a pastor’s wife to make! One can only imagine what pearls of wisdom she’ll be rolling down the floor to the younger women once she’s older. Try this scenario: Our guest speaker this morning is Mrs. Kristen Bell, our beloved pastor’s wife. She’ll be addressing us on the topic: We Have No Idea What Most of the Bible Means. The NBC peacock shows up (I’m dating myself. Most postmoderns have no idea what the NBC peacock is!) and announces that the talk will be given in living color. Enough of this, let’s move on to a brief description of the contents of Bell’s “book.”

Velvet Elvis
Bell’s “book” is divided into seven “movements.” Quaint. I placed the word book in quotation marks because part of my disbelief about Zondervan publishing this thing has to do with the waste of paper and triple spacing. If the editor had taken the time to excise the blank orange pages containing only a small white “+” sign in the top left-hand corner and had used normal spacing the book would have been less that one hundred pages. They could have also foregone the pages at the back of the book reserved for notes. Notes? You’ve got to be kidding me! I laughed myself silly when I saw that.
The seven “movements” are entitled Jump, Yoke, True, Tassels, Dust, New, and Good. The four-page Epilogue contains two blank orange pages and two pages of whining. Bell confides, “I am like you. I have seen plenty done in the name of God that I’m sure God doesn’t want anything to do with.”[14] I wonder: did it ever cross Bell’s mind that God might not want to have anything to do with someone who questions his Word or who just throws theological spitballs at things he doesn’t like of feels uncomfortable with?
I shall critique Bell’s book under the following heads, refusing to delve into depth on each silly chapter like I did with Anne Lamott and Brian McLaren. You can only take so much of this stuff! In order, I’ll discuss Bell’s apologetic and epistemology (how do you know?), his hermeneutic (method of interpretation), and his view of Hell. There could be much more regarding his theology at large, but that would take far too long.

Apologetic & Epistemology
The name of Bell’s congregation suggests that he is undertaking an effort to defend the faith, since this is the place that Paul argued with the Greek philosophers in Acts 17. Rather than defending the faith, however, Bell is more of a critic. Typically—and I don’t want to get into the debate concerning either the so-called “classical” or presuppositional method of defending the faith, though I’m a presuppositionalist—those engaged in the apologetic enterprise have spent a great deal of time clearing up distortions to and answering questions about the Christian faith.
Apologists throughout the history of the Church have taken that approach. It’s understandable that people have questions about Christianity. That has pretty much been the case since day one. Allow me to illustrate Bell’s lack of apologetic from his “book.”
My first example is taken from his explanation of God’s command to Joshua to eradicate men, women, children, and livestock in Jericho. Bell asks, “God was with Joshua when he killed all those women and children?”[15] but never answers his own question. You’d think an apologist would be prepared to give a good answer to the question. Bell, however, believes that the narrative concerns the “slaughter of the innocent.”[16] That speaks volumes about his theology, but let’s continue. Bell asks, but again doesn’t answer, “Is God really like that? What does a thinking, honest person do with a story like this?”[17] And the answers are: Yes, God was really with Joshua when he put those people to death under God’s command (cf. Josh. 6:27); yes, God is really like that; and a thinking, honest person should tremble at all of God’s Word (Isa. 66:2b).
Bell gives us another example from 1 Corinthians. You have to go to the footnote to find out it’s 1 Corinthians 7:12. Helpful. It’s a big book you know. What are we to derive from Paul’s statement, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)…?” Bell actually seems to believe that Paul is writing to a group of Christians and he’s just giving his (non-authoritative) opinion—kind of like Bell and Lamott do. Of course, this would alter—severely—what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but that seems to matter little. Rather than answering what’s going on there, Bell asks another question: “So when a writer of the Bible makes it clear that what he is writing comes straight from him, how is that still the word of God?”[18] No answer. Great apologetic for the Christian faith. With this kind of approach to Scripture Bell, being the pastor of a rapidly growing congregation, is more of a liability than he is an asset.
He could have pointed out that in that same chapter (7:10) Paul wrote, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)…” This is an important key to understanding the flow of what the Church is being told. The apparent dilemma can be answered this way: in the 7:10 passage, we have a clear indication that the teaching Paul is about to give is fully grounded in the Old Testament. It has been a perpetual piece of doctrine since antiquity. In light of the current situation in Corinth and answering matters that the congregation there raised to Paul, the 7:12 passage can mean that we’re dealing with a teaching that is has no precedent in Scripture, but because the apostle Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this word is on an authoritative par with the other writing of Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-17).
Rather than answer any of the questions he’s raised Bell simply comments in his inimitable apologetic style, “…sometimes when I hear people quote the Bible, I just want to throw up. Can I just say that? Can I get that off my chest? Several hundred years ago people used Bible verses to defend their right to own slaves.”[19] The slave issue is a crucial one for the ECM. Some of the non-leader leaders seem to have forgotten that we actually fought a war about that. I’m not trying to defend the people that misinterpreted the Bible on that point. I do suggest two things, however:
First, take a few moments and read Thomas Sowell’s chapter “The Real History of Slavery.”[20]
Second, it will be interesting for someone eventually to write a critique on modern evangelical pastors who have basically kept their mouths shut about abortion for fear of losing their non-profit status. History will judge the modern Church on her lack of scholarly critique as well as her unwillingness to put herself on the line regarding abortion. In short, all people at all times have their shortcomings, Rob.
I understand that there have been misuses of “proof-texting.” That misuse does not, however, disqualify a proper use of various texts of Scripture to support a particular viewpoint. What else would you really want to use? The key is usually the text properly. This will come as a surprise to Bell and his ECM cohorts, but there was a history of the Church prior to the ECM and the Christian scholars got a lot of things right. Sometimes when I hear people who are pastors criticize the Bible and God’s people I want to throw up too.[21]
Bell also—and this comes as no surprise—has major problems with the biblical concepts of female submission.[22] I’ll forego his non-exegetical argument, for it doesn’t exist. Ready for a straw man? Bell reminds us of this little known factoid: “Nazis, cult leaders, televangelists who promise that God will bless you if you just get our your checkbook, racists, people who oppress minorities and the poor and anyone not like them—they all can find verses in the Bible to back their agendas.”[23] Thanks, Rob, but I think we already knew that.
Finally, Bell gives us yet another story to make the point of how narrow-minded the moderns are and how open and tolerant the postmoderns are. Someone recently told him, “As long as you teach the Bible, I have no problem with you.”[24] As a pastor, I would take that as a compliment. My response would be, “I understand—totally.” Bell, however, is offended by such a statement. He reads into the person’s words the worst case scenario. This “person” sound very much to me like a concerned Christian, desiring his or her pastor to preach the Bible. Here is what he ascribes to his interlocutor: “What that person was really saying is, ‘As long as you teach my version of the Bible, I’ll have no problem with you.’ And the more people insist that they are just taking the Bible for what it says, the more skeptical I get.”[25] What is ironic/funny is that throughout the “book” Bell is precisely telling us what he thinks the Bible says. Touché.
What really cheeses me off is when Mr. Bell asks, “Is the Bible the best God can do?”[26] He upbraids someone for saying that as long as Bell preaches and teaches the Bible there will be no problems, and this asks this crass, blasphemous question. Ostensibly, matters have begun to emerge more clearly when Bell began “to understand what Jesus believed about the Scriptures.”[27] This is one of the oldest liberal tricks in the book, as if what Jesus taught is different from what Yahweh taught in the Old Testament, what Peter, Paul, John, Isaiah, Ezekiel or anyone else in the Bible taught. This is yet another ECM ploy attempting to pit Jesus against the rest of the human authors of the Word of God. In addition, when it comes to two key recurring issues—hell and homosexuality—ECM non-leader leaders don’t want to hear what Jesus view of the scriptures was. Why? The answer is: according to Bell, “the Bible is open-ended.”[28]
From what we’ve seen thus far, it’s evident that Bell is walking in lock-step with the rest of the ECM non-leader leaders. This means, among other things, that he embraces the notion that man cannot know anything with certainty. Of course, the caveat is that Bell has to employ the dictates of reasonable, rational sentence structure (certainty) to convince us that we cannot possess certainty. In addition, this type of epistemology leads to the conclusion that man can never know anything with certainty because what is required—to their mind—is omniscient certainty for certainty to the valid. This means that man can never know anything because he cannot know like God. This notion is patently absurd. We can know adequately and sufficiently without knowing omnisciently Moreover, the Bible speaks repeatedly about man’s ability to know and comprehend what God has revealed, but the ECM constantly turns a deaf ear and a blind eye to this truth. This is a glaring deficiency that, to this point, no one in the ECM has addressed sufficiently. Next, we’ll look at Bell’s hermeneutic.
[1] See
[2] Ibid., 2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 3. Italics mine.
[6] Both Scripture and key confessional statements make this clear. See, for example, Romans 3:9-10; 1 John 1:10 and Q/A 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
[7] Ibid. Italics mine.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] See Heinrich Bornkamm, μυστήριον, in Gerhard Kittel (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Geoffrey Bromily (trans. & ed.), Vol. IV, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), pp. 802-829. Bornkamm makes the repeated point that when the word μυστήριον (mustérion) is used in the New Testament it almost invariably refers to something that was hidden before, but now has been revealed, made known to us by God. Moreover, you could get the impression from the ECM authors that virtually everything in the Bible is a mystery. That simply is not the case. In the ECM it’s simply a cop-out for learning the content of Scripture. In point of fact, the word μυστήριον is used quite infrequently in the Bible in comparison to other words.
[13], 3. Emphasis mine.
[14] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 176.
[15] Ibid., 41.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid., 42.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., 42-43.
[20] Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005), pp. 111-169.
[21] A case in point is found in Bell, VE, 43: “Recently a woman told me that she has the absolute Word of God (the Bible) and that the ‘opinions of men’ don’t mean a thing to her. But this same woman would also tell you that she has a personal relationship with God through Jesus. In fact, she spends a great deal of time telling people they need a personal relationship with God through Jesus. What is interesting to me is that the phrase ‘personal relationship’ isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Someone made up this phrase and then said you could have one with God. Apparently the ‘opinions of men’ do mean something to her.” This is trite, ridiculous, and thoroughly non-pastoral. Giving this woman the benefit of the doubt, we understand what she means. I’d love to see Bell hold his cohorts in the non-movement ECM to the same standard! Confessions throughout the history of the Church have used similar language and we all understand. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith 1:10 states, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. We also understand the terms Trinity and sacrament, neither of which is found in Scripture. Bell needs to be less tendentious and more forgiving/understanding with “traditional” people who use language that we all comprehend.
[22] Bell, VE, 44.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid., 46.