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.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (XII)

Rejecting the Religious Right

There is a decided movement within what has historically been called evangelicalism to disassociate itself from the so-called Religious Right. This isn’t totally surprising for a number of reasons, not least of which is that evangelicalism has been moving to the left theologically and politically for a while. In addition, most Christians agree that neither the Democrat nor Republican parties represent Christianity. Unfortunately, there are some Christians that tend to identify being Christian with being Republican, but the two are not identical.

Christians do, however, have to make decisions with regards to certain public policies. For example, as a Christian, do you vote for a candidate that is pro-choice? Do you, or should you, vote for a candidate with poor foreign and economic policies? Is it wise to cast your vote for a candidate who is for big, ever-expanding government? How big of an issue is universal health care? Of course, we discuss these types of things all the time and Christians make decisions regarding them.

I preface my remarks this way because there is, among some who call themselves Christians, an aversion to the politics of the Religious Right. The phrase has almost become anathema in certain Christian circles. As a reaction to the RR, some who call themselves Christians have jumped on the global warming bandwagon, drive a Prius, and are in favor of “flex-fuels,” notwithstanding the fact that it takes a gallon-and-a-half of gasoline to produce one gallon of ethanol. That’s funny.

The reaction to the RR is producing its own brand of political animal under the guise of caring for the poor, destitute, and marginalized. In addition, they have formulated definite views on issues such as illegal immigration, “patriotic idolatry,”[1] drilling in ANWR or offshore, homosexuality, mysticism, universal health care, the death penalty, just war, no tax cuts for the rich, and a host of other matters dealing with the redistribution of wealth. My point here is simply this: These are all liberal, left-wing, typically Democrat Party issues, along with their two other favorites: evolution and abortion. You need to know this as a Christian in your decision-making process about political and economical factors.

A few names need to be mentioned here. In 1972, Eerdmans published John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.[2] Ron Sider has been a fixture in the cause for the poor and Third World countries for a while.[3] In the more recent past, J. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh co-authored The Transforming Vision,[4] Glen Stassen and David Gushee co-authored Kingdom Ethics,[5] Jim Wallis wrote God’s Politics,[6] and has a new book entitled The Great Awakening,[7] with the Foreword written by Jimmy Carter, and Brian McLaren published Everything Must Change.[8] As another point of interest, I would mention the late James McClendon’s first volume of his systematic theology entitled Ethics.[9] Finally, Tony Campolo has written Letters to a Young Evangelical (Basic Books, 2006).

No doubt, young evangelicals will pick up Campolo’s book and find it “cool.” While McLaren, Wallis, and Campolo rail against the Religious Right, I would like to add a disclaimer and postscript to Campolo’s book that reads: Warning: you are being indoctrinated in Socialist/Marxist ideology. You see that is precisely the problem with these compassionate theologians. They demonize the RR without explaining to you that they are truly the RL (Religious Left). In one sense, this is an unconscionable approach. It’s fine to warn against the dangers that they believe are lurking in the RR, but they should be up front enough to be willing to lay their ideological cards on the table while they’re explaining life and their worldview to you.

By his own admission, Campolo desires to bring about God’s Kingdom by “progressive politics” (p. 3). Campolo and Wallis are in league together and Wallis even wrote a blurb on the jacket cover that reveals that Campolo is his favorite evangelist. That’s fine. We all have our favorites as well as those of whom we are less fond. Campolo and Wallis are joined by Sider and McLaren in their efforts. The net effect of the merry band’s “advice” is worse than the cure. If the Religious Right has embraced the Republican Party wholesale, this group has done the same thing with Socialism/Marxism. Unfortunately, in their zeal to demonstrate just how bad the RR really is and to convince young evangelical minds that it is their sworn enemy, they conveniently forget to mention that they are liberal, left-wing theologians whose views definitely have a profound impact upon our current political and economical structures. All of them seem to have let that little tidbit slip through the cracks, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.

Like others in this camp, Campolo ostensibly uses the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) to give us the ethics of Jesus. This is a ploy used by many of these so-called “neutral” theologians/political commentators. One clear example will suffice. Old Mr. Starbucks with Birkenstocks himself, “Good Guy, Bri” gives us an explanation of the Sermon on the Mount that is completely bereft of exegesis, but is big on left-wing creativity. After introducing some select verses from Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, Bri opines that if Jesus were in a conversation with someone about the pervasive human pull towards war—what?—“I think he might say something like this:”[10] (Hold on, because this is going to be a bumpy ride in the imagination of the emergent church! What follows is only an excerpt of the whole page of fabricated words that Bri puts in Jesus’ mouth so that Jesus becomes a charter member of

“My message of the kingdom of God is intended to replace the drugs of nationalism, tribalism, partisanship, ethnocentrism, and religious elitism—and the war addiction they support.”[11] Translation: America really isn’t as great as you’ve been led to believe. Moreover, some Bible-thumping Christians believe that Christianity is the only way to be saved. Finally, America is a war-mongering nation, delirious with the joy of inflicting as much civilian collateral damage as possible—unlike our peace-loving enemies, who go out of their way to avoid such casualties, with the exception of millions who were raped and tortured—, and addicted to building empires for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

But the Jesus of Bri’s imagination isn’t finished yet. He continues, “Instead of resorting to violence for national or other lesser interest, my kingdom invites you to defect from all war making and invest yourselves in peace-making for God’s global interests and the common good of all God’s creations on the planet.”[12] When you stop and think about it, this sounds just like the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? Right. Then WMJS (What Might Jesus Say) ends on this high note: “So replace your craving for security with a passionate hunger and thirst for justice, and you will be immune to the temptation to snort the tempting white powder of war, or shoot the mysterious yellow syringe of war, or swallow the sparkling, bubbling, golden champagne of war.”[13]

Wow. There are only a couple of small, insignificant details that need to be ironed out and this might qualify as an addition to the canon. First, old Bri is already on page 178 and his readers don’t have a clue precisely what constitutes “justice.” It might have been somewhat helpful if Bri would have let us know what he thinks justice is. He could have given us some biblical references, but that would be asking too much because you simply cannot quote Scripture while wearing Birkenstocks. It’s so uncool. Besides, Bri might be mistaken for a Bible-believing fundamentalist, which is a fate worse than death for a theological liberal.

Second, he might have given us some specific information about who, exactly, is the war junkie. Is it the Republican Party? Is it Republicans in general? Does his definition include Democrats who voted for the war? We’re just not sure.

Third, Bri could have explained why when Jesus and the apostles dealt with those in the military that they never told them to go AWOL or otherwise to get out of the armed forces. At the very least, he could have told them to stop snorting and shooting up the opium of “rape, pillage, and plunder.”

It’s stylish to write books to people as if you’re just having a casual, neutral, and non-tendentious conversation with them. Or, like Bri, you can get your point across through a character in your book like Neo. If a person on the RR used such a name as Neo, it would have to be a nickname for Neo-Neanderthal. When Bri uses it, it means Neo-Cool-Cutting-Edge. Campolo’s characters are Timothy and Junia. Listen to what he instructs these two young mushy-brained evangelicals on page 265: “There was no question in our minds that in the struggle for justice, God sides with the poor and oppressed against the strong and powerful. For the first time, these students understood liberation theology, and they supported it—if by ‘liberation theology’ we mean the declaration that in the struggle to end injustice God sides with the poor and oppressed against their oppressors.”

We can only wonder why Campolo found it necessary to mention liberation theology and then try to weasel his way out of it. He could have simply stated that Scripture provides the true liberation man needs, both in terms of the doctrine that the Bible teaches and in terms of the ethics that flow forth out of that doctrine. Instead, Campolo conjures up images of Moltmann and Gutierrez. Their brand of “liberation theology” is thoroughly Marxist and it would take a Junia and Timothy with a lot of discernment to decipher what Campolo really means.

It seems that much of what Campolo writes is mere window dressing and a smoke screen to get unsuspecting young evangelicals, who have little or no spiritual discernment, to believe that all he is doing is unveiling the obvious errors in the RR. He isn’t. He, Sider, Wallis, McLaren and others like them have a definite agenda that pretends to usher in the Kingdom of God via left-wing politics.

[1] That’s Brian McLaren’s term.

[2] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972). The 2nd edition appeared in 1994.

[3] Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 19842).

[4] J. Richard Middleton & Brian Walsh, The Transforming Vision, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984).

[5] David Gushee & Glen Stassen, Kingdom Ethics, Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

[6] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, (San Francisco: Harper, 2005).

[7] Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening, Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America, (NY: HarperOne, 2008).

[8] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, (Nashville: Tom Nelson, 2007).

[9] James W. McClendon, Jr., Ethics, Vol. 1 in his series Systematic Theology, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002). What is striking about the order of McClendon’s work is that before he addresses the doctrines of Scripture and God, he begins with ethics.

[10] McLaren, EMC, 178.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (XI)

The Emergents, Our “Framing Story,” and Reframing Jesus

I could have just as well entitled this section “Hi-ho, Silver! Liberal Theology and the Social Gospel Ride Again!” In 1988, Crossway Books published Carl F.H. Henry’s Twilight of a Great Civilization. Henry warned us in that work that the barbarians were coming. He also predicted that given the sad and dismal state of affairs in the modern Church that ironically the Church and the barbarians were getting increasingly difficult to identify, since they were looking and acting nearly the same.

Rather prophetically he wrote, “We are so steeped in the antichrist philosophy—namely, that success consists in embracing not the values of the Sermon on the Mount but an infinity of material things, of sex and status—that we little sense how much of what passes for practical Christianity is really an apostate compromise with the spirit of the age. Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God’s will, to the power of His redemption, and to the authority of His Word. For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift relapse to paganism.”[1] That was two decades ago. What, if anything, has the modern Church learned in the interim? The short answer is: Nothing.

It is far more accurate to speak of a pilgrim’s regress. For whatever reason, the modern Church and many of its pastors cannot fathom the truth that the Word of God is sufficient. While people such as Russell Kirk (Enemies of the Permanent Things) have lamented the disintegration of institutions that have existed for more than a millennium and wonder whether the whole fabric of civilization can survive the present rate of economic and social alteration, the modern Church has been strangely, deafeningly silent on the matter.

Henry opines that “Institutional Christianity has dropped the last barricade to the return of the pagan man; preoccupied with the changing of social structures, it muffles the call for a new humanity, and in doing so forfeits a mighty spiritual opportunity at the crossroads of modern history. The organized Church that ought to have been burdened for the evangelization of the earth has been too busy either powdering her nose to preserve an attractive public image, or powdering the revolutionaries and reactionaries who need rather to be remade in Christ’s image.”[2] Once the Church drops the ecclesiastical barricades a flood of neo-paganism comes rushing in and physical and spiritual barbarism is bred in the Church.

In fact, Henry warned two decades ago that in the modern Church:

…a whole generation is growing up with no awareness of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, a species without clear ideas about sin and sacrilege, a race for whom God and the supernatural are virtually eclipsed, individuals with no interest in the imago Dei, no eternal concerns. The forerunners of these half-men are being nourished wherever a pulpit no longer preaches the commandments of God and the sinfulness of man, the ideal humanity of Jesus Christ and the divine forgiveness of sins, and the fact of saving grace. Obscure the vitalities of revealed religion, detour churchgoers from piety and saintliness, and in the so-called enlightened nations not only will the multitudes soon relapse to a retrograde morality, but churchgoers will live in Corinthian immorality, churchmen will encourage situational ethics, and the line between the Christian and the worldling will scarce be found. Even in the church barbarians are breeding.[3]

He had no idea how accurate his pronouncements would be. In general, Henry was referring to the deleterious effects of the mega-church movement, its bad theology, and its lack of a spiritual legacy to pass on to the next generation. The truth of the matter is that now with the addition of the emergent tribe and their silliness and the morass created by the mega-church, less that 10% of those who call themselves Christians possess a Christian, biblical worldview. This is the spiritual legacy that these two movements are passing along to their adherents. Are we surprised, though? The mega-church spun off into psycho-babble, feel-good theology, and tawdry entertainment that passed for worship. The emergent chit-chat had no substantive theology to begin with, but what little it had, old Bri has chipped away at it until he has no place left to go theologically except into the arms of the worn-out social gospel. And that is precisely where his latest book ends up.

Eschewing such troublesome doctrines as penal substitutionary atonement, the sinfulness of man, and the commandments of God, Bri wants to move his non-following following to a reframing of Jesus, our global crises, and a revolution of hope. Contagiously thoughtful Bri can’t seem to grasp that doctrine is practical, and practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help or use at all. Foregoing doctrine, Bri wants to get on to the practical aspect of ethics. His problem, of course, is that he is attempting to build the second floor before the foundation is poured and the first story is built. The net results are disastrous and hazardous (spiritual HazMat) for those embracing the Emergent church movement. To parody an old Beatles song: it holds you in its arms ‘til you can feel its disease.

Bri is simply powdering the revolutionaries and reactionaries who need rather to be remade in Christ’s image. Given his theological methodology—and make no mistake his direction is intentional even though he would have the naïve believe that he is simply taking a pleasant, wandering theological stroll—he has landed in nothing eternal, but rather must focus solely on the secular, the here and now of saving the planet. He’s a quasi-Christian version of Al Gore. In a work that purports to be about ethics, it’s not until you are deep into the work that the word sin even occurs from Bri’s Starbucks stained pen. Rather than Bible, he gives his readers large does of Babel, which is different from babble. Instead of presenting biblical truth, Bri is more concerned about “the suicidal machine” and earth’s ecosystem. In point of fact, the entirely of this latest work contains precious little biblical truth, but is chocked full of revolutionary and reactionary drivel, putting words in Jesus’ mouth, and inane questions called “Group Dialogue Questions.” They are as tendentious as Bri’s biased writings. They’re also very funny. McLaren is a worse ethicist than Jim Wallis, although their conclusions are often quite similar: liberal theology, grossly distorted biblical hermeneutics, and a left-wing political agenda.

Historically, this is where these types of theologians have landed. The Bible really isn’t their standard for doctrine and life, so they seek profundity in caring more about the war, the poor, and sounding contagiously thoughtful. That is not to say that questions about the war, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the Christian family aren’t important, but they demand a truly biblical answer if you claim to be a Christian and you’re purporting to write a Christian ethics. A little Bible would go a long way. With both Wallis and McLaren, however, the texts are twisted and distorted to serve their purposes.[4] There is little or no exegesis either. Apparently for these two geniuses exegesis is a waste of time.

Here’s the deal: Ezekiel 33:1-9 paints a vivid picture of Ezekiel as appointed by the Lord to be Israel’ “watchman.” As such, he is to warn God’s people of impending danger. If they choose to give him the universal sign of peace and prosperity, so be it. He has done his God-given duty and warned them. If, however, he sees a danger coming and keeps his mouth shut, then God will hold him accountable for the death of that person. That’s a chilling thought and modern pastors—all of us—would do very well to heed those words.

In our next installment, we shall, Lord willing, begin to dissect this non-exegetical ethics book that supplies fodder not for Christian maturity, but for a secular opinion on a gaggle of social issues. It is little more than secular clap-trap with a quasi-Christian sauce thrown over it. I mentioned above that according to the “stats jocks” less then 10% of those who claim to be Christians possess a biblical worldview. Add the following to that fact: 66% of “born again” Christians assert that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Only 40% of those who claim to be Christians say that they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith. 44% of churched youth believe that human beings are capable of grasping the meaning of truth. That means the majority of Christian young people surveyed believe that truth cannot be grasped. One can only wonder how they were able to grasp that truth could not be grasped. 85% of churched youth agreed that what is right for one person might not be right for another person in the same situation. 85%! Finally,62% of churched youth agreed that nothing can be known for certain except what you experience in life. This is why reading and agreeing with theological liberals like old Bri and Jim Wallis is detrimental to your spiritual health, growth, and maturity.

[1] Carl F.H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization, The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988), p. 15. Italics mine.

[2] Ibid., 16-17.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] For example, in Wallis’ book, God’s Politics he tortures texts in Isaiah (Isaiah’s Platform) and Amos (Amos and Enron) to suit his agenda. He does the same in his section “When Did Jesus Become Pro-War?” Asking “When Did Jesus Become a Selective Moralist,” without providing a shred of biblical support, Wallis concludes that Jesus was against capital punishment, even though YHWH prescribed it in the Old Testament.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Keepers of the Peace

The Berkeley, California City Council and the United States Marines

On May 15, 1993, Ronald Reagan spoke these words to the graduating class of The Citadel: “Some continue to think of the world’s best military as a laboratory for social experiments. Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. We are at peace today and we have that peace through strength, and you, our military, are the providers of that strength. Most importantly of all, you are not wagers of wars, but keepers of the peace.”

I can openly state that I am a better person for having graduated from “El Cid,” even though I there were times I hated what I was going through. I learned an inexplicable amount of self-discipline and the meaning of service. Upon graduation, I served my country in Armor in the United States Army. I am a better person for having served in our military and a better patriot. I am proud and thankful that I had the privilege of protecting the great and unique freedoms of America. I loved my country when I entered The Citadel and I loved it even more when I left the military. I learned essential lessons of life at both places that continue to serve me well today.

That is why it is unconscionable for me that Mayor Tom Bates and his city council in Berkeley, CA recently passed a resolution that labeled Marines operating a recruiting station in that city as “uninvited and unwelcome intruders.” To Mayor Bates’ mind, military recruiters are “sales-people known to lie to and seduce minors and young adults.” Moreover, the council’s declaration requested Berkeley’s residents to “impede, passively or actively” the work of military recruiters wherever possible. To bolster their act of utmost ingratitude and near treason, the council went so far as to grant special parking privileges in front of the recruiting station to the ultra left-wing anti-war group, Code Pink. One can only gleefully imagine what would have happened if the city had granted similar privileges to Code Pink to disrupt the work of a mosque in Berkeley.

Strangely, and yet thoroughly predictably, the ACLU has remained silent, showing once again where their allegiances lie. To use a cliché, the silence is deafening. It is beyond comprehension that these elected officials would fly in the face of and be in opposition to one of the finest organizations in the United States: the Marine Corps. The Corps has been at the forefront of defending this country and the rights and privileges of its citizens. When there was a need, the Marines were there. It is an organization that, like President Reagan said, aims at keeping peace. For some today—including, apparently, the mayor and city council of Berkeley—the notion of peace is an abstraction or a one-liner on some inane bumper sticker. While Bates and his crew are out “Imagining World Peace,” the Marines are actually doing something to effectuate it, like putting themselves in harm’s way; putting their lives on the line.

It disgusts me to no end to watch the Code Pink feminists and effeminate men act like and state that they oppose the war, but support the troops. No they don’t. If they did, they would support what the troops are doing to protect their little Code Pink tushies. They would be respectful that these troops go days without showers, don’t sleep in state of the art hotels after a long, hard day of actively undermining our troops and giving moral support to our enemies, eat MREs (otherwise known as 3-lies-in-1: Meals Ready to Eat), while Bates, the ACLU, Code Pink, and the other crazies in Berkeley are having chicory salad with creamy vinaigrette and olive toast. No doubt, for a healthy snack they stop into their local trendy snack shop and grab a tofu smoothie. After all, next to the prospect of Roger Clemens having used HGH and having been injected with steroids, second hand smoke and McDonalds are our greatest national security threats.

I’m old school—shoot, at my age, I’m old everything—but I grew up in a household that hunted, held doors and chairs for women, offered women their seats on public transportation, and stood up and greeted women when they entered a room. My grandfather served in World War I. He was from a poor farmer’s family in South Carolina. He served his country in the trenches, living with the expectation that he could get gassed at any moment. Once a month, he told me, he would get pulled out of the trenches and sent to the rear. His head would be shaved, he would be de-loused, his old uniform burned, and then he would be sent back to the trenches. What he was doing was called serving his country.

My father is a former-Marine (former, not “ex-.” There’s no such thing as an “ex-“ Marine!). His parents died when he was nine. He was raised in a Baptist orphanage. In the late 1930s he joined the Marines and served three years in the Pacific theater until the end of WWII. Dad didn’t speak much about what he did in the war—neither did my grandfather—but he did tell me stories of rats crawling across his face while he tried to sleep in his foxholes and of the anguish of losing his best friend. He also insured that I understood that the real heroes in the war were buried on Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Bougainville, the Northern Solomon Islands, and a host of other places, the names of which we’ve long since forgotten, if we ever knew them in the first place.

It was that kind of rearing that prepared me to serve my country when my turn came. I have had the unspeakable privilege of knowing many military personnel in my life. They are not serving their country because they “cannot make it on the outside,” but because they are disciplined, effective leaders, love their fatherland, and are convinced that this is the greatest country in the world and that there are things in life worth fighting for and, if necessary, worth dying for. As much as Berkeley, CA would have us believe otherwise, people are still clamoring to come to the United States—in fact, many do daily, illegally. But apart from the illegal alien problem, many come willingly and go through the legal process to live in this land. They are welcomed as legal citizens. The Marines and other branches of our armed forces shed their blood for them as well.

What has Berkeley done? We all know that it was the hotbed of activism during the Vietnam War and now Bates and his merry band of ex-hippies, who barely survived Woodstock, want to resurrect another type of activism against the Marines, whom they obviously and clearly disdain. They fail to realize that you can have no better friend than the Marines and no worst enemy. But this time, it’s my concerted hope and prayer that America will stand behind the Marines—not that they need it—and let this band of dissidents in Berkeley know that their “resolution” is disgusting, despicable, and unconscionable. While our Marines are training hard to protect us and our freedoms, Berkeley is at the taxpayer’s trough gorging itself on $240,000 of U.S. taxpayer dollars and for what purpose? There is a restaurant called Chez Panisse in Berkeley that is creating gourmet organic school lunches. I am not making this up. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’!

Chez Panisse is one of those trendy places that charges about a $100 a plate for such culinary atrocities as comte cheese soufflé. In case you didn’t get the French connation, comte cheese soufflé loosely translated means, “tastes like it has already been eaten once.” While little Johnny—whose parents are in drug rehab—asks Mary—whose parents know Jane Fonda and actually still have their leg warmers—“What are you having for lunch today?” She answers, “Creamed anchovies and olive toast,” while a Marine in Iraq has been through a long day of combat and saw his best friend get blown away by an IED. Tonight he’ll eat SOS or a MRE.

Yep, once you think about it for a while Code Pink and Bates are correct. Who in the world would want their kids associating with anyone who would train so hard and so long just to protect our freedoms? Who would want their kids rubbing elbows with those who will do the most unnatural thing in the world: run into the face of gun fire, while Bates, Code Pink, and the olive toast crowd runs away screaming, terrified, and traumatized? Who would want their children associating with some man who doesn’t cry at the least inconvenience like not getting his creamed anchovies, but who would cry, carrying an Iraqi child that he doesn’t even know, who lost her life when a terrorist in her country murdered her and her family? Who would want to be forced to watch a Marine that lost a limb protecting our freedoms handing a toy at Christmas to a child that would otherwise have nothing?

If you’d like to drop Mayor Bates a little note, laced with some chicory salad with creamy anchovy vinaigrette and olive toast, he can be reached at I’m sure he’d be glad to hear from you. You might add that their next step after the Marines leave Berkeley might be to ask Code Pink to protect their city for them. Or if a national or natural disaster strikes that city, you might want to remind the mayor that the U.S. military should not be allowed into the city to help in any way. After all, military personnel are known to lie and seduce minors and young adults. You can also call the mayor at 510.981.7100.

Thankfully, Berkeley is not like the rest of the United States. There is a grateful nation that salutes our men and women in uniform. There still exists a part of American society that has not fried its brains on drugs and far left-wing ideology. Some of us still study real, unrevised, politically incorrect history. And any American with a modicum of patriotism in his or her body willingly and freely says, “Thank you, Marines, on behalf of a grateful nation for all you have done and are doing for us. Semper Fi.”

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Matter of Concern in the PCA

I am Woman; I am a Warrior

Over at the Bayly blog (, a torrid discussion has been raging surrounding Ms. Carolyn Custis James, wife of Frank James, President of Reformed Theological Seminary—Orlando. I truly liked Ms. James’ encouragement to women to become better theologians in her book When Life and Beliefs Collide.[1] The first part of her first book was quite good and to the point. The second half read more like a rant by an angry woman and she lost me, but, as I say, the first part was beneficial. If she could have ground her ax and left it at that, we all would have understood. As it stands, however, the rant was longer than her initial point. I still support her thesis that Christian women ought to be good theologians.

Since the time of the release of that book, Ms. James has published and spoken more and has made some outlandish statements, especially about the Hebrew word rz<[ ((((‘ezer) that she desires to translate in the vein of “warrior.” Thus, Eve was not a real “helper” to Adam in the sense that the Church has understood that term, but rather she was more of a “warrior.”

When I first heard this at a seminar led by Ms. James at the Chattanooga PCA General Assembly, I had certain questions that I put to Ms. James that, to this point, she has never answered. In fact, when I asked these questions, Ms. James entered the “spin zone” and danced around the issue until we were out of time. What were the questions I asked? First, I wanted to know which commentary or lexicon she had used to acquire this translation of rz<[ since I have read a number of English, Dutch, and German commentaries that don’t head in that direction.

Second, I was curious why the word “warrior” was necessary for Eve in the pre-fall situation. In short, where was the fight? In contemporary categories, if Eve said to her husband, “I have a dog in this fight!” his response would have been “What fight?”

Third, I wondered why Eve would have been given a pugilistic name and her husband not. Ms. James does not find evidence that the man had to be some kind of warrior as well and one can only wonder why, unless Adam was the prototypical “girly man.” Or, he was willing to let her fight for who knows what while he watched ESPN.

The Growing Trend of Unordained Women Deacons in the PCA

In reality, however, the Carolyn Custis James discussion on the Bayly blog morphed into something else that I want to address now. One participant on that blog site, who is apparently a PCA pastor, commented that there are already women Deacons in the PCA. That’s a very interesting concept as I shall show from the PCA’s Book of Church Order in a moment. This same man went on to say that in his PCA church and his sister churches in the region, they also have women Deacons. His justification for having female Deacons is the following: “This has been a tremendous blessing to our Deacons’ boards and our church members who have been greatly ministered to.”

This is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in the PCA.[2] More and more PCA pastors are thumbing their noses at the BCO and going their own way. It is possible that these men disagree with the wording of the BCO, but there are church-orderly ways of attempting to change the BCO. Until the time that the BCO has been modified, Teaching and Ruling Elders in the PCA are duty bound to adhere to the contents of the BCO, since they have given their word that they would. By any stretch of the imagination, making such a vow carries with it enormous ethical implications and applications.

The pastor’s appeal on the Bayly blog is primarily to a perceived blessing; a nebulous blessing that remains virtually undefined. From there, it is only a short hop to an equally nebulous number of church members “who have been greatly ministered to,” whatever that means. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy; a self-serving argument. But the notion is that if a number of church members were greatly ministered to it really doesn’t matter what Scripture or the BCO says. This is the kind of approach that is finding favor and acceptance in the PCA and for those who want to play by the rules (which, by the way, as I just stated, we vowed we would do, but apparently being “greatly ministered to” trumps vows), this is a disconcerting turn of events.

It should also be noted that we have lost two PCA churches to the “women’s ordination” issue already. City Church in San Fran, under the leadership of Fred Harrell left the PCA for the notoriously liberal Reformed Church in American (R.C.A.) precisely because Fred wanted to ordain women. Fred’s congregation had a similar situation vis-à-vis unordained female Deacons. Most recently, Sam Downing’s congregation in Denver, CO pulled out of the PCA and also joined the R.C.A. You might recall that Sam had a woman on staff with the title of Minister of Congregational Life. Sam swore up and down, left, right, and center that this was not an ordained position and that having a woman on staff enabled him better to relate to the “cultured despisers” of Christianity in Denver. Right. Apparently, the law of “unintended consequences” kicked in along with Murphy’s Law. In case you are not familiar with the R.C.A., it is the professed denomination of Robert Schuller. It is the American branch of the old Dutch State Church (Hervormde Kerk) that was abysmal in 1834.

I won’t even comment on the debacle that the PCA is sponsoring called the “Missoula Project.” When you have a pastor that says, “I don’t trust anyone who won’t drink a beer with me,” then you are in deep, deep ka-ka folks. That’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Even some of the pagans in that “gathering” wonder why the pastors want their opinions on things in what is supposed to be a Christian congregation. It takes a pagan to state the obvious that seminary trained pastors cannot fathom.

In addition, I have been sent “letters” of explanation written by PCA pastors explaining why women are taking more and more of a prominent position in the worship services. Headquarters in Atlanta is remaining strangely silent as this scenario unfurls. It is next to impossible to locate a responsible party there. Supposedly, the ecclesiastical buck stops somewhere, but no one either knows or wants to take the responsibility for something they helped to create. I won’t place the guilt at any one door, but without a doubt the Mission to North America branch has played a role and it appears that our Reformed University Fellowship is slowly following suit. If we have a headquarters in Atlanta—which we do—then someone, somewhere must be responsible.

Did I mention that on the Harrell and Downing church plants about $1.5 million of PCA money was spent? This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The jury is still out on how much PCA money has been lost on PCA plants that have gone “belly up.” Is anyone, anywhere out there in headquarters-land reflecting on why these church plants failed? I have not seen or heard any reports about failed church plants and what can or should be done to correct or revamp the PCA’s approach. In fact, all we see is the Missoula Project, which seems as goofy and loopy as the now-defunct Provo, Utah debacle. Simultaneously, my own Presbytery has witnessed a number of PCA church plants (and they were all “hippy-dippy; happy-clappy. When they died their slow but certain death, not one member remained PCA, if they even knew what it was in the first place. The dirty little secrets are that they were “Presbyterian under the radar” and were loathe to get Elders. You know, the types of experienced, godly brothers that just muck up a young pastor’s vision for his church plant.) It would seem—it would seem—that when a pastor like Harrell or Downing jumped ship as they did that as pastors they would have some ethical compunction about taking the money and then, when it was no longer convenient, expedient, or when the PCA no longer resonated with them, finding a way to pay part or all of the money back. It doesn’t happen.

So the “traditional” PCA churches contribute to the “askings” of the PCA, while the church plants and those who are less concerned about advertising that they are PCA pay little or nothing. Then after those churches squander millions of PCA dollars, PCA headquarters asks the traditional churches to pony up more money because headquarters has a shortfall. There is something dreadfully wrong with that picture. But I digress.

What Does the Book of Church Order Say?

On the matter at hand: What does the BCO say about females as Deacons, even if they have greatly ministered to church members? A common ploy is to assert that Deacons hold their credentials as either ordained or unordained, as if it really doesn’t matter and is simply a preference. One PCA congregation has unordained male and female Deacons; another has ordained males and unordained females; it’s all the same. But according to the BCO, Chapter 9 (The Deacon), it isn’t. In 9-3, here is what we read: “To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men (emphasis mine) of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.” Where might unordained women—or men also for that matter—fit into a Deacon Board? BCO 9-7 settles the matter: “It is often expedient that the Session of a church should select and appoint godly men and women of the congregation to assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need.” This clarifies matters enormously, but apparently for some it isn’t enough.

This approach, although finding acceptance with some, begs a number of questions: If one is not ordained, how can one be said to have credentials? What are the credentials that an unordained Deacon has? This is a “tough sell” for those looking for women serving as Deacons. You could ask the same question this way: What authority does an unordained male or female Deacon actually have? Is the charge to the congregation given according to BCO 24-6.6? Does it matter? Is the right hand of Christian fellowship extended for being unordained into the office of Deacon? Why or why not? Does the pastor declare “that _____________ has been regularly elected, ordained (or unordained) and installed a Deacon in that particular congregation, agreeable to the Word of God, and according to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America; and that as such he (or conceivably she) is entitled to all encouragement, honor and obedience in the Lord”? (cf. 24-6.6).

How does an unordained Deacon function differently than an ordained deacon? That is to say, are there instances in the congregational life where a Deacon might have to exercise (financial) authority? In my experience, the answer is Yes. Does a woman have the biblical right to exercise authority over men, even though some church members have been greatly ministered to by women Deacons? Does it matter?

Do the Scriptures, Westminster Confession of Faith and BCO make this distinction? The clear and simple answer is that the unordained Deacon phenomenon is a man-made product. It is the outworking of the “a woman can do anything an unordained man can do.” Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan write, “Some churches assert that women can do anything that unordained men can do. The proponents of this approach say that since women are mainstreamed into the total ministry of the church, a women’s ministry is irrelevant or redundant. The vulnerability of this position is that it denies the uniqueness of woman’s design and role and leaves men and women susceptible to egalitarianism. Without a biblical apologetic of womanhood, and a mechanism for women to be discipled by godly women, the church will imbibe the world’s apologetic, and this distortion will create confusion and conflict among men and women.”[3]

Theology and Ethics; Biblical Truth and Christian Conduct

When Paul wrote to the Church that she was not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of her mind (cf. Rom. 12:2), he had already laid down a solid foundation of biblical truth in the preceding eleven chapters. Many today want to jettison the doctrinal truth and biblical distinctions between the sexes and in the offices and go straight for the pragmatism of the world and the ideals of our pagan culture. Bruce Ware, for example, has made the following observation: “Today…the primary areas in which Christianity is pressured to conform are on issues of gender and sexuality. Postmoderns and ethical relativists care little about doctrinal truth claims: these seem to them innocuous, archaic, and irrelevant to life. What they do care about, and care with a vengeance, is whether their feminist agenda and sexual perversions are tolerated, endorsed and expanded in an increasingly pagan landscape.”[4]

Every Reformed or Presbyterian theologian worth reading makes an impassioned plea for the inseparable connection between Theology and Ethics; doctrine and conduct. Herman Bavinck, for example, puts the relationship this way: “Dogmatics describes the deeds of God done for, to, and in human beings; ethics describes what renewed human beings now do on the basis of and in the strength of those divine deeds. In dogmatics human beings are passive; they receive and believe; in ethics they are themselves active agents. In dogmatics, the articles of the faith are treated; in ethics, the precepts of the Decalogue. In the former, that which concerns faith is dealt with; In the latter, that which concerns love, obedience, and good works. Dogmatics sets forth what God is and does for human beings and causes them to know God as their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier; ethics sets for what human beings are and do for God now; how, with everything they are and have, with intellect and will and all their strength, they devote themselves to God out of gratitude and love. Dogmatics is the system of the knowledge of God; ethics is that of the service of God. The two disciplines, far from facing each other as two independent entities, together form a single system; they are related members of a single organism.”[5] The Dutch ethicist, Jochem Douma, says the same thing slightly more succinctly: “Dogmatics without ethics is empty; ethics without dogmatics is blind.”[6]

Either way, compromise is occurring in both doctrine and conduct in the PCA at an alarming rate. It is difficult to unravel which compromise is worse: the one where ethical compromise comes first and doctrinal sellout follows or where doctrinal indifference undermines biblical ethics. Both are devastating. To this date, ByFaith magazine, under the editorship of Dick Doster has not run a single article criticizing the manifestly detrimental aspects of the Emergent church movement, but it has run at least two praising it or at least finding leaders such as Don Miller amusing.

There are clearly PCA churches embracing certain facets of the Emergent church movement and we’re still trying to figure out where the proverbial buck stops. If we don’t discover that location very, very soon, we’re going to wake up one morning and no longer recognize the “P” in PCA.

[1] Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).

[2] Without giving an exhaustive list of the PCA churches now moving in this direction, allow me to direct your attention to the PCA web site ( and you can search in the Church Directory to see which churches are following this course of action.

[3] J. Ligon Duncan & Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), p. 32.

[4] Bruce Ware, “Ethics in a New Millennium,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4, No. 1 (Spring 2000): 91-92.

[5] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Prolegomena, (John Bolt [ed.] & John Vriend [trans.]), (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 58.

[6] Jochem Douma, Responsible Conduct, (Nelson Kloosertman [trans.]), (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 2003), p. 41.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Saving the Planet One Left-Wing Position at a Time (X)

Economics, Politics, and Ecology

Now that Bri has fried our puny brains with his complicated graphic, I want to warn you that he is going to add some more arrows and words that will, no doubt, tax the very limits of your abilities to follow complex diagrams. But before we examine this “brain buster,” let’s listen to how Bri opens the 8th chapter of his book Everything Must Change.[1] He states, “A lot of us are very happy to go through life knowing as little as possible about economics, politics, and ecology.”[2] If he had added the words “and God” he could have been talking about Al Gore—who, by the way, failed God in seminary—or any of the presidential candidates. As it stands, however, he’s talking about those of us who struggle with his diagrams.

Bri has a low view of most of us, but remember that he’s used to hanging out with brilliant and contagiously thoughtful scholars and authors and not dullards like you and me.[3] He actually believes that all we’re really concerned about is paying our credit card bills, avoiding going to jail (I’ve been lucky so far), and a cold drink (scotch on the rocks or single malt by itself is fine), we’d rather not deal with the complexities of the societal machinery around us. Since he insists on bringing the presidential candidates into this discussion, I think we should move on to meatier less controversial segments of his book. A less controversial topic for Bri is “how the world works.”[4]

That’s a rather broad topic, but Bri promises, “That’s what this chapter is about.”[5] Wow! This must be a long chapter! Well, actually, it isn’t. It’s only five-and-a-half pages long. Bri, a former English teacher, knows how to write succinctly and compactly. His next book should be How the World Works in Less than Six Pages. Normally, this would be an impossible undertaking by any stretch of the imagination, but don’t forget that Bri has already given us his diagram of “The Societal Machine.”

Clearly, the graph at the beginning of this article is equivalent to thousands and thousands of pages about “how the world works.” It staggers the mind to contemplate the intricacies of this graph. So how do you account for the remaining complexities of life not covered in this diagram? Well, you have to have a little “filler” material if you’re only dedicating five-and-a-half pages to such an expansive topic. Therefore, it will require a brilliant and contagiously thoughtful mind to come up with a supplement to how the world works. Moreover, Bri comments that “The societal machine we introduced in the preceding chapter doesn’t float in a vacuum, suspended in space, hanging in an abstract dimension of ethereal concepts.”[6] Whew! That’s a relief! It’s nice to know that just when you’re on the precipice of how the world works, you’re going to be introduced to something specific, concrete like, say, sewage. Sewage! Hey, they are Bri’s words, not mine. Apparently, when you’re describing the way the world works, sewage is inevitable. After assuaging our consciences that we’re not going to be dealing with a lot of philosophical abstract junk in the next five pages, Bri says, “No, it (the societal machine) exists within the physical, visible ecosystem of planet earth. You can’t think of the societal machine apart from the earth’s soil and rain, photosynthesis and carbon cycle, glaciers and wind, sewage and sunshine.”[7] I’ll bet you thought I was kidding and just being mean to Bri about the sewage. Nothing abstract or vacuous about sewage.

I almost fell out of my chair laughing with Bri’s next comment. After the “sewage and sunshine” line, he continues, “With this new insight in mind, we can expand our diagram in several stages.”[8] Hold on tight, because this is where it really starts getting complicated. Explaining how the world works in five-and-a-half pages is complicated even with diagrams. This new piece of kindergarten work is going to situate the machine in its environment and then clarify how the societal machine “interacts dynamically with the ecosystem, constantly giving, constantly receiving (sewage—my addition).”[9] Now that Bri has prepared us for the new, improved graphic, I ask you to go back to the beginning and contemplate it again. I'll give you a few millennia to digest it.

Now I imagine that you’re experiencing what I did the first time I viewed this diagram: uncontrollable laughter. But I want us to get serious for a moment and try to find a way to understand this highly complex figure. I know you’re starting to understand substantially more than you ever have about how the world works, but there are still some areas that require explanation, elucidation. Bri explains, “Nearly all the energy available to the machine is ultimately solar energy (represented by the two line arrows in our diagram [just in case you hadn’t figured that out yet—RG]), which is the only significant resource entering the ecosystem.” The explanation of how the world works is progressing apace.

I’ll bet you’ve been wondering what the four bold arrows represent entering and exiting The Machine. Bri tells us that they are “critical resources” that we must monitor with special care “because of our dependence on them. The availability of these critical resources is depicted by the complicated and highly complex bar graph in the diagram. Try to stay with him. I know it’s hard, but if you want to know the way the world works, you must persevere. These four bars can represent almost anything—like sewage—but Bri give us his choices: topsoil, oil, swordfish, and timber.[10] Truly a logical selection, especially swordfish. He explains, “Some of these stores or supplies are non-renewable; once we’ve used them, they’re gone forever.”[11] Yeah, that’s kind of the idea behind “non-renewable.”

Ecologically speaking, we can plant more trees (did you know—and I am not making this up—that there are more trees in the United States right now than there were prior to 1920? It’s true.) and farm more fish, but we cannot “create more oil or topsoil—at least not very quickly.”[12] True. In case you haven’t noticed yet, Bri is headed towards oil and alternative fuels, especially as oil relates to global warming. An out of control “Machine” could easily go suicidal,[13] and no one wants that. For this very reason (the Machine going suicidal on us) Bri is convinced that “forward-thinking people are concerned about global warming and our addiction to the carbon-based fuels that contribute to it.”[14]

Clearly, forward-thinking people are those like Bri and the people he hangs with—the brilliant and contagiously thoughtful. To put it another way, forward-thinking people are “a new kind of Christian.”[15] They certainly are not the mental midgets that comprise the angry and reactionary fundamentalist, stuffy traditionalist, crusading religious imperialists, and overly enthused Bible-waving fanatics.[16] No, Bri’s kind of people are more concerned about sewage and swordfish. But even forward-thinking people can have some gaps in their thinking. Allow me one global example. These days we’ve been hearing a lot about alternative fuels and flex fuels. Corn is a key ingredient in many alternative fuels. Did you notice that the price of corn and corn-based products is on the rise? If you are concerned about economics like contagiously thoughtful Bri and the emergent tribe is, you might have noticed that the cost of corn and corn products has increased to the point where Third World countries can no longer afford them.

While it is patently true that we cannot create more oil,[17] we can drill in ANWR and offshore sites. One oil expert told me that there is more oil in Colorado and Utah than in the Middle East. But Bri is concerned about “why the issue of nuclear waste is so alarming.”[18] I’m not certain how we got to this subject, but I’m still trying to figure out Bri’s diagram and am still worrying about sewage. It seems that Bri is leading up to the fact that nuclear energy should not be a viable alternative for man. This is the way the world works. This is enough to shock you right down to your toes. Knowing how the world works has its drawbacks. I read last week that drinking single malt scotch was not only not good for you, it is downright dangerous. I was shocked to the point that I knew I had to take action, so I decided to give up reading.

That was simple enough, but what I am to do in the face of The Machine possibly becoming suicidal? I was at a loss, but Bri came to the rescue with what “most readers—like you and me—would do well” to do in light of the turning engine of our civilization possibly turning into a suicide machine. So get a pen and paper and jot these pearls of wisdom down. Here is what thoughtful people should do: “(a) stop reading and take a walk so they can think about it for a while, (b) call a friend or two with whom to process this chapter over a cup of coffee, or (c) immediately reread the chapter until they feel the wonder of the ecosystem in which we live and the danger of it being destroyed by a suicide machine of our own making.”[19]

And all this time I thought I was living on a planet that God was restoring by grace; a planet on which grace does not destroy nature but restores it, when in fact I’m living on a potential time bomb waiting to self-destruct. I realize that when you set out to write a description of how the world works in five-and-a-half pages you have to leave a couple of things out, but since Bri is ostensibly a pastor, I would have thought he might have left out sewage and saved a few lines for God.

[1] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007).

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Ibid., 52.

[4] Ibid., 59.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 61.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 63.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 2.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 61.

[18] Ibid., 63.

[19] Ibid., 64.