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, August 28, 2008

The PCA and Female Deaconesses (I)

Who is Fueling the Current Debate in the PCA?

Christian Education and Publications of the PCA sold a book at the Dallas General Assembly by Brian Schwertley entitled A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons. This is a timely book for the PCA, since a portion of the assembly was devoted to the subject title of Schwertley’s work. As in all good Presbyterian assemblies, there was a minority and majority report on the matter, the majority report eventually winning the day.

The discussion surrounding the possibility of unordained or ordained male and female deacons in the PCA should be a slam dunk, an open and shut case. But it wasn’t on the floor of GA and still isn’t for some, and precisely therein lies the problem. Why is it that what seems crystal clear to some in the PCA, especially in light of their ordination vows, isn’t crystal clear to others, to all? Every PCA Teaching and Ruling Elder has the same Book of Church Order and the pastors all took oaths that they would uphold the constitution of the PCA. If there are some who have not read the BCO, it would behoove them to do so. PCA Presbyteries do allow for “exceptions” for various theological reasons, but precious few who are advocating “deaconesses” took such exceptions at their ordination. Moreover, if a candidate takes exceptions to the Westminster Standards, then the Presbytery must make a decision regarding whether the exception(s) strikes at the vitals of religion.

At the very least, all this pressing for deaconesses means that these Teaching Elders are in an ethical bind, since they promised to notify their respective Presbyteries of any changes to their views after ordination.[1] If certain PCA pastors have changed their views (allowable) and have not notified their Presbyteries (not allowable), they face a rather serious ethical dilemma; one that they would not allow their congregants to have. If PCA pastors were allowed to transfer from one Presbytery to another or desired ordination in the PCA and it was known that they adhered to deaconesses or unordained male and female deacons, then their respective Presbyteries are in a dilemma as well for violating the clear teaching of the PCA constitution and allowing these men to be ordained.

Why do I say that? In the words of economist, Walter Williams: Let’s look at it. When the PCA describes its officers, according to the Book of Church Order, it does so in the following manner: “The officers of the Church, by whom all its powers are administered, are, according to the Scriptures, teaching and ruling elders and deacons” (BCO 1-4). Yet, some PCA pastors and some seminary professors wanted a commission to study what the BCO is actually teaching. Their question to General Assembly reads this way. “Since the PCA Book of Church Order does not allow women to be ordained as deacons is it appropriate (1) for particular PCA congregations to nominate, elect and commission men and women as deacons, and then (2) not to ordain either these men or women? Does the PCA allow for this practice?”[2]

Why were these questions raised when the BCO stately clearly and emphatically “In accord with Scripture, these office are open to men only” (BCO 7-2. Emphasis added)? BCO 9-3 states the same truth when it says “To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment” (Emphasis added). Finally, BCO 24-1 unequivocally explains: “Every church shall elect person to the office of ruling elder and deacon…keeping in mind that each prospective officer should be an active male member who meets the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1” (Emphasis added). Why were the questions raised and did they come primarily from disgruntled men and women in the various PCA congregations or did they come from pastors? That is an important distinction to make. If the men and women in the PCA are clamoring for deaconesses, then that is one problem; if the men and women in the PCA are not, in general calling for deaconesses, then the question is: Why are some PCA pastors pushing so hard for deaconesses? Moreover, what are the implications and applications of “commissioning” men and women as deacons? What kind of animal is that? Who thought that up? Such wording very much looks like a sleight of hand or an attempted “end run” around what is so patently clear in the BCO.

Dr. Stephen Woods, a pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, has published a working paper entitled “Should Women Be Ordained As Deacons?” that forms a nice companion volume to Brian Schwertley’s work. In addition to these two works, there is a very informative volume by the Roman Catholic, Aimé Georges Martimort, entitled Deaconesses.[3] Each of these works is valuable separately, but they are especially helpful when taken together. Woods reminds his readers that “The question as to whether or not it is appropriate to ordain women as deacons has been one that has arisen in recent decades in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and has been discussed in the courts of other Presbyterian denominations as well.”

Some in the PCA would simply state that they are not in favor of ordaining females as deacons, but merely desire to commission them. In truth, of those desiring more active participation of women in the congregation and with the deacons, the house is divided. Some merely want to commission them (not allowed in the PCA), while others find nothing wrong with ordaining them (also not allowed in the PCA). It should also be noted that even though we “knee jerk” when folks mention the “domino theory,” there are clearly delineated patterns among other denominations regarding women deacons. For example, there is the demise of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Holland, which, geographically, is quite close to the Netherlands. In the 1970s, a near identical movement was afoot in the GK, which now allows female pastors, ruling elders, and deacons as well as male and female homosexuals in those offices.

The Christian Reformed Church followed closely on the heels of its sister church, the GK and during the 1980s went through very similar turmoil that resulted in females in most, it not all, of the ordained offices. The question is this: Did this change occur because of new exegetical findings in Scripture or was it rather spawned by conformity to the culture and the abdication of their God-ordained duties by the men? To help you decide, there were no new exegetical findings. In fact, as the studies of Schwertley and Martimort clearly reveal, even history gives us no grounds for such conclusions.

Schwertley proceeds in his article and says, “The modern debate regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate began in the 1880s, about twenty years after the rise of what has been called ‘Christian feminism.’ During the late 1880s a move to ordain women to the diaconate failed in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) but passed in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). The debate over women deacons re-emerged in the 1980s, about twenty years after the rise of secular and pagan feminism.”[4]

I would add to Schwertley’s comments that the 1880s formed part of the ripple effect of the so-called Second Great Awakening. Under the leadership of the full-orbed Pelagian, Charles Finney, the SGA set out to renew “society as well as individuals.”[5] Nancy Pearcey, in her book, Total Truth, devotes a chapter to how women started the culture war. In 1838, Sarah Grimké wrote an article encouraging laypeople to “think for themselves in matters of religion.”[6] Under Finney’s flawed leadership, “The revivalists…permitted women to pray and speak publicly, and even to become ‘exhorters’ (teaching assistants)…. They began to speak of women as being more naturally religious than men, and urged wives to be the means of converting their more worldly husbands.”[7] This phenomenon has roiled under the surface or has come bubbling to the top to the extent that since the time of the SGA it is not incorrect to speak of the “feminization of the church.”[8] Fortunately, books like Ann Douglas’ The Feminization of American Culture, Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism, Rebecca Jones’ Does Christianity Squash Women, and Mary Kassian’s The Feminist Mistake have attempted to bring a correcting influence to bear on local congregations and denominations. Kassian’s sub-title, “The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture” is quite to the point. We must never underestimate the profundity of that impact.

The late Dr. Gordon Clark wrote the following: “The Protestant Reformation, for all its opposition to Romanism, never questioned the practice of ordaining men only. Now, if this practice has continued from the time of Abraham down to 1960 or thereabouts, those who are innovators surely must bear the burden of proof. The Westminster Confession indeed says, ‘All Synods…may err, and many have erred.’ Therefore it is theoretically possible that the Reformed Presbyterian Church is in error. But when the agreement is worldwide over 4,000 years, it is, I repeat, extremely improbable. Therefore a mountainous burden of proof rests on those who advocate the ordination of women.”[9]

What, according to Woods, precipitated the movement in the A.R.P.? He writes, “There was, of course, a time when such a practice would never have been entertained for a moment in the A.R.P. Church, which has always professed to maintain the infallibility, and the final authority of Holy Scripture. However, some have more recently voiced a desire that the A.R.P. church needs to get more in step with the world, and with sundry denominations which seem to revere the Holy Writ even less.” (p. 5.) Woods goes on to inquire, “Does the ordination of women to the diaconate represent a vestige of liberalism within the ranks of the A.R.P. and other Presbyterian and Reformed denominations which profess to hold to Biblical inerrancy? This question must be answered.” (p. 6.) Indeed, it must be.

Historically, the PCA has answered it unequivocally on more than one occasion, but some within the PCA seem to want it answered again. Unfortunately for the minority report, their request for a study committee failed. The 36th General Assembly went farther and approved the following with regard to women serving as deacons and on diaconates:

BCO 9 is clear that only ordained and elected men can be members of a “diaconate.” The appeal to BCO 9-7 is flawed because 9-7 addresses people appointed by the Session, not members of a diaconate (Board of Deacons, 9-4). According to BCO 9-3 and 9-4, a diaconate may only include men that are elected, ordained and installed…. In addition, this practice, coupled with the minister’s expressed view that he intends not to ordain deacons “until the BCO is amended,” denies qualified men their constitutional and biblical right to be considered for this office.

In light of this decision, these points seem clear: First, men only are to be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. Second, women cannot be elected by a congregation to the office of deacon. Third, women cannot be commissioned (whatever that means) or ordained as deacons. Finally, women cannot serve on diaconates.

Moreover, it is unconstitutional to elect women to office in the PCA and it is equally unconstitutional to elect men to office in the PCA and not induct them to the office by ordination. All of this is quite straightforward. Dominic Aquila puts the matter into exceptionally clear language: “What this provision asserts[10] is that words have meaning and specific definitions. There are expressed provisions without the PCA constitution that direct the definition, use and meaning of titles, phrases, processes, and doctrines. The PCA has chosen to express within its polity certain words and concepts which define and distinguish the nature of the office gifts and those who are qualified to serve in these regular and perpetual offices.”[11]

Are PCA Women Unhappy or Being Spiritually Abused by PCA Men?

As I listen to the stories via the Internet I keep hearing something very, very different not only with a view to my home congregation in Southern California, but in my entire pastoral experience in Holland, Canada, and my native United States. Have there been insensitive men in those congregations? Yes, but I’ve also met my share of insensitive women as well. Have there been men who were linguine-spined? Yes, but there were a few pushy women as well, who acted like they had a chip on their shoulders all the time; in fact, they did.

I must admit that there has been a recurring complaint that I have heard from women in those congregations. It is not that their husband is a tyrant and uses them as a doormat and it is not that they desire to be an office bearer in the church. The number one complaint, far and away, is that their husbands do not lead them spiritually. This is a matter that deserves our full attention, because the husbands of these wives are being derelict in their duties. The remedy, however, is not to attempt to make women feel important or accepted, especially when this involves stepping outside of what Scripture teaches, but rather it is to admonish, encourage, and aid the men in becoming spiritual leaders in their homes. To my way of thinking, this is the task that confronts the PCA today and that needs to be taken seriously. There is a two-pronged negative attack on the PCA: First, there are pastors who are pushing to have women be commissioned as deacons. These pastors are violating their word if they have changed their views and their Presbyteries are violating the PCA BCO if they are allowing/tolerating such an unconstitutional practice. There are church orderly ways to accomplish changes in the BCO. Let the pastors follow those procedures. If they fail to achieve what they desire in terms of changes, then their choices are to stay in the PCA and conform to what they promised or to leave. It really is that simple.

Second, rather than spending time apologizing for what Scripture says, it will behoove PCA pastors to apply themselves to teaching their men to be biblical leaders in their homes and showing the women from Scripture what God requires of them. Who is the Lord that we should worship him? Looking to Scripture to be informed about the nature and character of God will do more to put things in perspective for both men and women than trying to get women to be allowed to do something the God of Scripture does not permit. We’ll continue to look at this, Lord willing, next time.

[1] Book of Church Order, 21-5.2: “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of FaithCatechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will, on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow? (Emphasis added.) and the

[2] Dominic Aquila, “Women and the Office of Deacon in the PCA,” p. 1.

[3] Aimé Georges Martimort, Deaconesses. An Historical Study, (K.D. Whitehead [trans.]), (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).

[4] Brian Schwertely, A Historical and Biblical Examination of Women Deacons, (Southfield, MI: Reformed Witness, 1998), p. iii.

[5] Mark Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), p. 176. Comp. Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), pp. 249-250.

[6] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 326.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[10] Aquila is referring to BCO 29-1: The Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, together with the formularies of government, discipline, and worship are accepted by the Presbyterian Church in America as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice.

[11] Aquila, Deaconesses, 4.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Compare and Contrast

We are conservatives, they are liberals. Their policies fail and our policies work. Choose.” ~ Ronald Reagan

A Call to Christian Groupies, Junkies, and Other Faddists

Ronald Reagan spoke the italicized words above in his presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter. It was only then that voters actually paused and reflected on the Carter years. What had they accomplished? Many young people today weren’t even born when Carter was President, so they don’t understand historically what a miserable failure he was. Interest rates for home loans and other loans were in double digits as were inflation rates. We won’t even begin on the Iran debacle that he completely botched. For those who don’t know better, when Reagan was inaugurated, the hostages were set free that Iran had held for over 400 days. That was a major difference between Carter and Reagan.

My point in using his quote, however, is not to speak of politics, but rather to ask why those who are the Emergent church movement junkies are still with such an unorthodox outfit. But there are some interesting political comparisons to make along the way, however. Conservative columnist, George Will, once commented that Barack Obama viewed the “mainstream” American voter as primitive, superstitious, and bigoted.[1] There are some interesting parallels here with the Emergent church movement.

Old Bri, for example, likes to hang with trendy, “thoughtful leaders” who know how to “go a little deeper, addressing the need to be relevant to culture and to contexualize their ministry to today’s world.”[2] You see, old Bri hangs with the hip, relevant, and culturally contextualized intelligentsia. What about mainstream Americans? Well, according to Mr. Relevant-to-Culture (a.k.a. ole Bri), the overwhelming preponderance of North American church leaders haven’t been “thoughtful” ever since colonization, which, if you’re a history buff, has been quite a while. Bri’s “generous orthodoxy” describes those unthoughtful modernists this way: “Most were preoccupied with other matters—arguments about religious esoterica, fights over arcane biblical interpretations, fanciful escapes into theological speculation, heat and fury over drinking or gambling or playing cards or using tobacco, controversies over whether guitars and drums can be used in worship gatherings or whether only pianos and organs produce holy music, and other matters that—in comparison to racism, genocide, carelessness toward the poor and various minorities, exploitation of the environment, and unjust war—seem shamefully trivial, weapons of mass destruction.”[3]

Here’s the comparison: At a private fund-raiser in San Francisco on April 6, 2008, Mr. Obama’s voice was recorded when he spoke in a derogatory fashion about small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. What exactly did he say? Here’s the quote: “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.” Who in the world would want to hang out with a group of gun-toting, religious fanatics from small town PA or the Midwest, who are xenophobic, when you could spend a lovely evening in San Fran rubbing elbows with the culturally elite?

But isn’t old generous Bri saying pretty much the same thing? Yes he is. Time and time again he references his “thoughtful” and “intelligent” friends, who ask all the right questions and support all the right social issues in all the politically correct liberal social gospel ways. While descrying and demeaning those who pursue religious esoterica, old Bri identifies himself solidly with the theological Left. For someone who is ostensibly writing about how to be generous, Bri falls far short of the mark. Apart from that, however, is the fact that Bri and the Emergent church movement tribe will acknowledge that an issue like abortion is important, but not as important as global warming or poverty. What ethical directives allow The Generous One to make such a statement? Wallis, McLaren, Bell, Pagitt, and others are just as adamant about their exegesis of Scripture and adherence to their perceived truth as the foundationalists they vilify.

What, other than theological and political liberalism, would ever cause a person to make such a statement. And even though Wallis and ole Bri claim that coveted (in the good sense, of course) territory of “neutrality,” in reality they are as liberal as Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Deciding-about-abortion-is-above-my-pay-grade Obama. As Wallis and ole Bri wax eloquent about how bad the war is, they fail to give us even the most fundamental information about the comparison of war related deaths and abortion. To liberals like Wallis and Code Pink Bri 5,000-plus deaths in the entire course of a war in Iraq is unconscionable, but the abortion of approximately 1.5 million babies every year is not as important as global warming (climate change), which is now taking on the moniker of “junk science” by reliable climatologists other than Al Gore and Michael Moore, and poverty. Of course, the Emergent church movement crowd doesn’t want you to think about poverty and recognize that the annual rate of real poverty has remained the same irrespective of whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power. They only tend to bring up “the problem” of poverty, however, when conservatives are in power.

Before we move on, I want to give you a rationale of why I believe abortion is more important than global warming. On the tenth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Ronald Reagan wrote a courageous article to the citizens of the United States, appealing to their morals and compassion. The title of the article is “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation.” President Reagan pointed out that “Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators—not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973.”[4] The President went on to explain that since the inception of Roe v. Wade, just a decade prior, “more than 15 million have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions.”[5] Today, that number exceeds 40 million.

In 1983, when President Reagan gave those statistics, he stated to the American public that 15 million was “over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars.”[6] That means that the number of innocents slaughtered in our country in the name of legislation currently exceeds the number of American lives lost in war almost twenty-seven fold and continues to increase yearly. As the pacifists and anti-war crowd rant about the length of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (do they recall that the Revolutionary War lasted eight years?) and about the loss of life (does anyone remember that in the battle of Cold Harbor, VA, 7,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in half-an-hour?), there is a strange and eerie silence about those who were unable to protect or defend themselves and who died at the hands of those who had sworn to protect their lives.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why anyone who is a Christian could or would support abortion or minimize this blight on our nation’s conscience. If you have merely a rudimentary grasp of the sanctity of life taught in Scripture, you must be vehemently outspoken against such an atrocity. But not ole Bri. He’s too sophisticated and thoughtful to demonize abortion. It’s important, but other issues are more important. Far be it from me to tell someone how to vote, but if I’m talking to a Christian, I would love to hear a biblical apologetic of how any Christian could be in favor of it for two reasons: First, “Our nation-wide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators—not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973…. Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution.”[7] Second, it does not and cannot square with the sanctity of life and the concept of the imago Dei in the Bible. But given the deplorable immorality that runs rampant in the modern Church, what’s the big deal? Ann Coulter is correct when she writes, “No liberal cause is defended with more dishonesty than abortion.”[8] It’s one thing for biblically illiterate politicians to make such assertions about abortion. Democrats are only playing to their base. But for those who are supposedly Christians to make the same assertions makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Another interesting twist and quirk is that repeatedly Bri and the Emergent church movement claim that they are on a journey and that a modernist is quite arrogant to claim that they have or know the truth. But that’s all just a ploy for the emergents. Even if there are some simple souls that have drunk the Kool-Aid and truly believe that you can’t ever know anything for certain, they all certainly act like you can know things for certain, specifically what they know for certain, even if they’re uncertain that they’re certain.

It’s in vogue to wrinkle your forehead, raise one eyebrow, take a sip of your latte that you really can’t afford anymore because gas prices are through the ceiling and Nancy Pelosi is on a five-week vacation and claim that all life is less certain and less absolute than the modernists think. Some theologians like the late Stanley Grenz and John Franke want us to believe that we know what we know about God because it is the expression of our community’s understanding of the biblical message that the Spirit is speaking through the Bible in our called-out community. Yep. That all sounds relevant and contextualized. What are they proposing? It is a form whereby the community informs the Church what it believes and that then becomes biblical.

What irritates me to no end is the disingenuous manner in which the emergents write. If we really and truly cannot know anything for certain, why do old Bri, Pagitt, Bell, Miller, Spencer Burke, the heretic by his own admission (wouldn’t you just love having him teach your teenagers?), and the whole crew bother to write books? Why, does generous Bri still use language and trust that his readers will understand what he means? Why does he expect us to believe him when he tells us that he has discovered the “secret message of Jesus” or when Stephen Chalke is adamant about finding the “lost message of Jesus”? Why doesn’t anyone question the absurd comment of Rob Bell affirming that both heaven and hell are full of forgiven people? (cf. Velvet Elvis, 146.) How can Chalke make the blanket statement that Jesus believed in original goodness and not original sin?[9] Why is there no protest when Dave Tomlinson finds the biblical notion of radical depravity unbiblical, extreme, and profoundly unhelpful?[10]

Why is it that the emergent tribe rejoices in being thoroughly postmodern until they come to crucial points in their talks, writings, and books? Rob Bell spends way too many words and far too much unused—but no doubt recycled—paper to tell us about his loopy journey only to hit us with certainty at the end of Velvet Elvis. He writes, “We need you to join us. It’s better that way. It’s what Jesus had in mind.”[11] That’s really funny and inconsistent at the same time. Are we, is Bell, certain that it’s better that way? Does he know that for sure? It’s what Jesus had in mind? How does Bell know? He just spent over 170 pages telling us what we cannot know and then he tells us in no uncertain, propositionally true terms that Bell knows what Jesus had in mind. I see. We can’t know, but Rob Bell can. Why doesn’t anyone call these clowns on such nonsense? I guess I just did, but I’m not sure.

In his new book on Democratic presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, Jerome Corsi makes the following comment about Obama’s gaff in San Francisco by quoting what Karl Rove said on Hannity & Colmes recently. Rove said, “There is a sense in places like San Francisco that the United States consists of a narrow sliver on the East Coast and the narrow sliver on the West Coast and the rest of the country is uninteresting and unimportant, and that kind of attitude was evidenced in Senator Obama’s comments.”[12] With the necessary changes being made, something very similar is true of the non-leader emergent church leaders.

Are they really concerned about those to whom they refer, generously, of course, as religious esoterists or is their focus on those in the large cities that agree with Bri and the boys? What matters to them, it seems, is the elite and those twenty and thirty-somethings that toe the emergent line. They act like mind-numbed robots gnashing their teeth against anyone they perceive to be modernists and bowing at the altar of Birkenstock and the now-failing Starbucks to the god of postmodernism, at least until the end of the book when they tell you they’re right and everyone else is wrong. But the emergents are the “enlightened” postmodernists, while “the others” (read: uninformed rabble) are the despised modernists, those who love religious esoterica, and bow before the shrine of Enlightenment foundationalism—as if there were no foundationalism prior to the Enlightenment. Not only are the emergents bad theologians, they also have a very low view of Scripture, until, of course, we can prove that Obadiah was writing about Karl Rove.

D.A. Carson warned us back in 2005 about McLaren and the emergents when he said, “I have to say, as kindly but as forcefully as I can, that to my mind, if words mean anything, both McLaren and Chalke have largely abandoned the gospel.”[13] Since Carson wrote those words, we may safely add Pagitt, Bell, and Burke to the list, as well as other lesser lights. The Emergent church movement has entered the downward spiritual spiral into the maelstrom of liberalism. It’s just a matter of time now. Now wrinkle your forehead, raise your eyebrow, look thoughtful and profound and go out and have some brie and a glass of chardonnay and discuss why the murder of over 40 million babies isn’t as important as global warming.

[1] George Will, “Candidate on a High Horse,” Real Clear Politics, (April 15, 2008).

[2] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), p. 32.

[3] Ibid., 21.

[4] Ronald Reagan, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1984), p. 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 15-16.

[8] Ann Coulter, Godless, (NY: Crown Forum, 2006), p. 78.

[9] Steve Chalke & Allan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 181.

[10] Dave Tomlinson, The Post-Evangelical, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), p. 126.

[11] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).

[12] Jerome Corsi, The Obama Nation. Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, (NY: Threshold Editions, 2008), p. 8.

[13] D.A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 186.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Christians and Poverty (II)

Compassion Can Become Sentimentality

In our last segment on the matter of true poverty and the mindset of both the individual Christian as well as the local congregation, we commented that Scripture is clear that we are to be concerned to the point of action regarding the widow, orphan, and poor. What we are asking from an ethical viewpoint is what constitutes true poverty in North America. That is to say, we don’t want to be poor stewards with God’s money and throw it away frivolously on those who claim to be poor, but who, in reality, are simply poor managers of their money.

For example, a man might make a reasonable salary, but squander it by abusing controlled substances (illegal drugs), alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, and lottery tickets. This person isn’t truly biblically poor; he’s simply a poor manager of his money. And while it might be helpful, in some sense, to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, it is not necessarily a badge of honor. Surely, there are those who need subsidized housing, but someone must pay for this and usually it’s the U.S. taxpayer that must pay for government subsidized housing.

From the Emergent church movement and liberal theology (actually, they’re one and the same), the attitude is pretty much the same as leftwing Democratic economic policies, which are basically this: income redistribution. We’ll come back to this in a moment. When I speak with a number of my colleagues—not all mind you—they are, by and large, clueless when it comes to basic economics. This coupled with a misguided notion of Christian charity can be the scam artist’s delight. You see, the intentions are good and admirable, but we are called upon in Scripture to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16).

As I mention last installment, we tend to operate on stereotypes. We see the panhandler at the end of the off ramp of the freeway and we conclude that a large segment of American society is like this. It isn’t. Numbers and stats can be wax noses, but they can also be quite helpful in making good decisions. We noted last time that somewhere between 1-4% of Americans live at the poverty rate. It’s possible that you heard higher numbers and it’s also possible that if you live in Southern California where I live those numbers are substantially higher due to the inclusion of illegal aliens, who are not U.S. citizens and, contrary to popular opinion—even among some in the PCA—they are criminals. They have broken the law. It never ceases to amaze me that when illegals are interviewed on TV they contend that they are not criminals, but rather that they are merely people looking for a better life. The latter is quite possibly true while the former isn’t. It’s more than disheartening that those who call themselves Christians cannot distinguish between legal and illegal aliens; indeed, who do not seem to have any grasp on the word “illegal.” Be that as it may, we do want to delve further into what precisely we know about those who are, ostensibly, at the poverty level in the U.S.

Last time, I criticized the Consumer Price Index because it has not been properly adjusted for inflation. Yet another bias of the CPI is that “it counts only those things that most people are likely to buy.[1] At first glace, the CPI’s method seems plausible until we contemplate that what people will actually buy depends upon the price, “so new products that are very expensive do not get included in the index until after their prices come down to a level where most people can afford them.”[2] In the early days of mobile phones, the handsets were large and the costs were sometimes $8.00/minute for a call. Such a deal! Sowell goes on to explain in his book on basic econ that the CPI is inaccurate for no other reason than “Everything cannot be included in an index, both because of the enormous time and money this would require and because ‘everything’ itself changes over time with the creation of new products and the disappearance of old ones.”[3]

You might be asking yourself at this point: So what does all this mean? That’s a good question, because it goes to the heart of the matter when we’re trying to decide what constitutes true poverty. Ben Stein comments that “Since the poverty rate has never been adjusted for real improvements in our standard of living, it’s a dubious statistic for comparing the poor of today with the poor of yesterday.”[4] In other words, it isn’t always accurate to measure the poverty rate with income. What should be used then? Consumption actually gives us a more accurate picture.[5]

What kind of “snapshot” do we get if we use consumption rather than income as a measure of welfare? Well, as you might imagine, it’s different, but as you might not imagine it’s also eye-opening. For example, “The poor today spend between two and three dollars for every dollar they earn, which is why looking at consumption patterns suggests a very different picture of those supposedly living in poverty.”[6] In dealing both with members in financial difficulties as well as those outside the congregation, local churches should take this into consideration.

The most obvious question at this point is: How can the poor spend so much more than they earn? In a study that you can download from, Robert Rector documents that the Census Bureau’s report on income and poverty in America omits many types of both cash and non-cash income such as Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing. These “perks” add up to approximately a half-trillion dollars of government aid to the underprivileged and elderly. We also need to be discriminatory—in the good sense—and realize that many people that are lumped into the “poverty” category based on income are retirees living off Social Security and their savings or full time students who are notoriously poor.

Nevertheless, from a consumption point of view, the price of “essentials” in the U.S. has dropped rather precipitously, leaving impoverished people with more discretionary income for others kinds of goods and services.[7] Here is where Christians need to be cautious. There are a number of people, who, for various reasons already mentioned, actually have adequate discretionary income—provided that they spend it on essentials and not on luxuries. Part of the task that the modern Church has both with members and non-members alike is teaching people to be good stewards with money. There should be occasions for church members to receive excellent advice on spending habits, savings, tithing, and budgeting. In fact, in all likelihood, even if those who are truly poor were to receive some sound instruction about the practical aspects of using discretionary money, then there would probably be less poverty. It would not be eradicated, but it would be less. This is all the more crucial since it is true that since the 1970s, the proportion of total consumption that poor Americans devote to food, shelter, and clothing has fallen almost 20%![8]

And even though we’re experiencing higher prices at the pump and in the grocery store, we need to keep in mind that a basket of groceries that cost nine hours of labor to buy in 1920 now only takes us 105 minutes.

Is Poverty Temporary or Permanent?

The answer to this question is Yes. It is both. There are some who will be poor perpetually. Our Lord also reminded us that we would have the poor in our midst (cf. Matt. 26:11). For these folks, poverty is permanent and the church should be at the forefront of providing true aid and not merely throwing money at them; the government does that. In fact, I’m fully convinced that a compassionate diaconate with sufficient funds and an effective set of church leaders (pastors and fellow-elders) can do more to truly alleviate perpetual poverty than the government can.

It is also an interesting stat, by the way, that America’s poverty rate stays about the same year after year irrespective of which political party is in power. So the next time a liberal tells you that he or she has done more for the impoverished in America, you can tell them that it simply isn’t so. It does seem, however, that liberals only notice poverty when conservatives are in office.

That being said, we must sadly acknowledge that some people, by their moral and social behaviors, place themselves in poverty-like situations through a series of bad choices. Some, like Stein, would go so far as to say “Living in poverty today is largely the result of specific unfortunate life choices people make.”[9]

[1] Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, (NY: Basic Books, 2008), p. 131.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics, (NY: Basic Books, 2004), p. 301.

[4] Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth, Can America Survive? (Carlsbad, CA: New Beginnings Press, 2004), p. 7.

[5] Both Nicholas Eberstadt (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies) & Daniel Slesnick (University of Texas) believe that there is little basis in solid economic theory for using income as a measure of welfare. Slesnick adds, “As a snapshot estimate of the standard of living, the consumption of goods and services is of paramount importance.”

[6] Stein, CAS? 7-8.

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 10.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Obama, McLaren, & the Christian Left

McLaren Tips His Hand
Yesterday Phil Johnson and the funny guys over at Pyromaniacs had a link to's article, "Obama works to mobilize 'Christian Left.'" He has the support of groups like Matthew 25, which is a political action committee. The name is "inspired by a biblical passage, in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus says, 'For I was hungry and you gave me food, i was thirsty and you gave me drink.'" Just for the record, it's Matthew 25:35, but we really cannot expect anyone at CNN to know that.

Anyway, our friend, ole non-leader, apolitical Bri is now the "informal" adviser to the Obama campaign. Why are we surprised. I'd be willing to bet that even on Jim Wallis, Rob Bell, Don Miller, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, and Anne LaMott are Obama fans as well. It would be safe to wager that all of this non-leader, fully balanced, non-political crew voted for Kerry in the last election and Gore in the election before that; and Clinton before that.

McLaren is targeting what he considers to be a "very, very sizable percentage" (somewhere according to his calculations, between 33-50%, taking "amahoro," the U.S. Suicidal System, the secret message of Jesus [that no one knows except old Bri], and the quasi-socialistic societal machine. Understand? You will once you reframe Jesus. For right now you just need to trust Bri who knows, but doesn't, but wants you to understand and follow what he writes.) "especially younger evangelicals, who are very open to somebody with a new vision." That's very helpful. Anyone who has read McLaren's ridiculous, laughable book "Everything Must Change," will know--sort of, in a modernists kind of way--what I mean.

What might this "new vision" look like. Well, old Bri is not going to get caught up in those silly, traditional social issues that conservatives want to see resolved like abortion and gay marriage. No, by his own admission, he wants to focus on global warming and the war in Iraq. Once again, what a surprise. But this is the so-called "Christian Left." The blood of innocents murdered at the hands of those who took an oath--what does that mean anymore?--to protect and defend life is not as important as global warming, which, by the way, is about on as solid footing scientifically as evolution and the war in Iraq.

McLaren's complaint is summed up this way: "We've watched the evangelical community be led--be misled--by the Republican Party to support things they really shouldn't have supported; the blind support for the Iraq war when it was launched on either mistaken or false pretenses." It never ceases to amaze how old uncertain Bri can get pretty specific and certain at times. It's almost as though he knows.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I really wonder how Christian the Christian Left is. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Kool-Aid drinker for the Republican Party. In fact, I prefer simply to be called a conservative. I've been quite critical of President Bush and many of his policies, but I could never bring myself to vote for a political party that had as one of its infallible shrines the murder of babies, and that, my friends, is the current Democratic Party. I cannot fathom how anyone who has a basic understanding of the fundamental truths of the Bible could support abortion, gay marriage, women in ecclesiastical office, women in combat, and heavier taxation. For those who haven't taken the time to work out how much Obama has promised in terms of a tax burden, let me explain that what he's proposing would not lead us into a recession, but rather it would take us into a full-orbed depression. How can ole Bri come out and endorse a man whose voting record is even more to the left than Senators Kennedy, Kerry, Boxer, and Feinstein? Barack Obama makes Nancy Pelosi look like Barry Goldwater, who, by the way, was a real conservative.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

How Would Jesus Vote?

Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate (Amos 5:15a).

A Christian Perspective on the Issues

Waterbrook Press released a book recently that is co-authored by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe.[1] While the book itself raises very interesting political matters for the reader’s consideration and often makes very good points with each of the issues raised, the title is abysmal. It is as tawdry and ill-advised at the What Would Jesus Do? bracelets. All the title of this book does is to give the left and far-left more ammunition about the so-called Religious Right and its identification of Republican politics and Christianity.

The authors state a number of caveats, but the repetition of the phrase “How would Jesus vote?” detracts greatly from the good that can be found on the pages of this work. In the first place, Jesus lived in a Jewish nation that was occupied by the Romans. He and his fellow-Jews did not have a vote, so this is probably not the right question to ask.

Second, it is presumptuous, to some degree, to relate to the reader precisely how Jesus would have voted in the 2008 election. I say “to some degree” because there is good reason to pause and reflect the many and complex issues that face Americans these days. It is also presumptuous because it smacks of modern liberal theology and its quest for the “ethics” of Jesus. The public would have been much better served by a more general, yet equally applicable, title. I’m not a book editor or the son of an editor, but surely someone could have come up with something a great deal better than How Would Jesus Vote?

A simple title along the lines of Biblical Issues Facing Us in the 2008 Election is, to my way of thinking, substantially better, but probably not cuter. The advantage of the bland title is that it provides Christians the opportunity to examine what the entirety of Scripture says about some of the burning issues facing us in 2008. But by choosing such an inflammatory title, the publisher and co-authors will be vilified by the left. Perhaps they really don’t care what the left (both within and outside of Christianity) thinks, but this title is merely grist for the mill. When all the left wing pundits like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, David Gushee, and their ilk see a title like this. For example, David Gushee writes this about what he finds disagreeable about the “Evangelical Right,” “…there is also much not to like, not from a secular perspective, but precisely from within the evangelical Christian worldview.”[2] What does Gushee not like? “partisanship, agenda, mood, and ecclesiology (understanding of the church).”[3]

Of course, it is an undeniable truth that the Left engages in rank partisanship, just like the Right. Does the Right have an agenda? Without a doubt it does. Does the Left? Yes, it has one also. Does the Right have an attitude? Mood? Yes, but so does the Left. It is perhaps the last item—ecclesiology—that makes the most sense. The Right has been engaged in political matters in a more conservative fashion than has the Left. The Left—including those who call themselves Christians—has strong advocates for abortion, while the Right does not, even though not everyone on the political Right is pro-life—unfortunately. The Left within the Christian faith has ostensibly been for the poor, although what they have actually done is negligible, with the exception of throwing large sums of money or joining the government in throwing large sums of money are difficult and intractable problems. Gushee overlooks an inconvenient truth in his discussion when it comes to matters concerning the poor. What is that? It is simply “that the ‘poverty rate’ stays about the same year to year no matter who’s running the country, yet the Democrats only notice it when the GOP is in office.”[4]

Having made these preliminary remarks, let me restate that I intensely dislike the title of Kennedy’s and Newcombe’s book, but I would quickly add that it raises a number of interesting and provocative points to which the authors give far more biblical responses than do McLaren and Wallis. The work is divided into the parts: Jesus and Politics, The Issues, and Final Thoughts. There is also an Epilogue (Something More Basic Than Politics) and an appendix (Defending Religious Liberty).

The Issues

What is at stake in this election according to Kennedy and Newcombe? They list the following: matters of life and death (abortion, stem cell research, suicide, and euthanasia), crime and punishment (the death penalty), war (is there such a thing as a “justified” war and are we in one now?), education, economics, health care issues, the environment and climate change, immigration and racial prejudice, marriage, and judicial activism. These are all worthy of our reflection and certainly are at play—to one degree or another—in the upcoming election. In fact, they have been issues in almost every election, which makes them all the worthy of our considered reflection.

Once again, however, without being unduly critical, I believe that the book would have been enhanced greatly by a chapter dealing with the U.S. Constitution and its place in every election. After all, doesn’t every President swear (or affirm) that he will uphold the Constitution? It would have been an interesting undertaking to have compared each of the “issues” raised to our founding documents. Which of the candidates have you ever heard mention anything about the Constitution? Our government—at the federal, state, and local levels buries us with legislation and taxes that are nowhere to be found in the founding documents and like a nation of sheep, we submit to it. It would be refreshing to hear a candidate actually have something sentient to say about the Constitution. It would also have been helpful for Kennedy and Newcombe to have commented on the relationship of the Bible and the Constitution to the issues facing us today.

For your reading pleasure, I want to want through these chapters, but I’m going to take the matter of capital punishment first for a number of reasons, known only to me and the Lord.

Can You Be Pro-Life & Pro-Death Penalty?

The answer to the question posed above is: it depends on who you talk to. My answer is: yes, of course. The two are very different issues. One (abortion) involves the violent murder of a vulnerable life that has no way of protecting itself, while the other (the death penalty) involves the execution of a convicted murderer. The scriptures prohibit the former and require the latter. There is a major difference between the two and it both astonishes and never ceases to amaze me that people refuse to acknowledge that difference. Yet, some religious people still believe that capital punishment is wrong.

The authors cite C.S. Lewis to the fact that there must be a connection between punishment and justice.[5] Far too few have seriously pondered that connection. Lewis explains: “It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be [seen as] just or unjust.”[6] In the case of the convicted murderer in both the Old and New Testaments, God pronounced the lex talionis as a punishment fitting the crime. In other words, God himself required the death penalty for crimes he described as heinous in nature and as striking at him through his image in man.

But, it is often asked today, is capital punishment a true deterrent? That is to say, if our nation were to commence actually executing convicted murderers, would that prove to be a sufficient deterrent so that the citizens of the U.S. would see a (precipitous) drop in the murder rate? Such a question truly misses the point of the discussion, however. To ask is prison reforms a criminal or if the death penalty deters future murders by others fails precisely at the point of justice. For many today—both within the Christian faith and outside of it—there is rather mass confusion about the place of mercy in the civil government. According to both our Constitution and Scripture, the government is to be concerned with justice and the Church of Jesus Christ with mercy. Therefore, it is not the place of the state to be merciful, but to execute justice. The question with regard to the death penalty as a deterrent implicitly asks the question: Does it succeed? The clear answer does not refer to others or to possible future murders, but rather to the one being executed. Does the penalty deter him or her from committing such a heinous act again? Of course, the answer is that the death penalty is a permanent deterrent.

Our current system desires to treat criminals like patients. All the criminal needs, so it is argued, is to be lifted out of his victimhood and reprogrammed. After all, he or she was not really responsible for his actions. In my home state of California, inmates on death row die primarily from old age. The second highest cause of death of death row inmates is suicide; at a distant, distant, distant third is actual execution.

It is this chapter where Kennedy and Newcombe engage in a very brief discussion of the Constitution, so I wanted to discuss it in this context. The authors inquire if there is any application of the Eighth Amendment, which deals with “cruel and unusual punishment.” They right point out that a number of modern writers on the subject of capital punishment believe that the death penalty is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. They also point to the Fifth Amendment that presents us with a kind of “exception.” It reads, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless…” Historically, we should understand that the death penalty has been used from the time of our founding documents and before. Moreover, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that Americans even considered whether the death penalty was considered as cruel and unusual punishment.

The authors also cite an interesting article written for World Net Daily (December 12, 2006) by Dennis Prager (“Another argument for capital punishment”). Prager offers a number of reasons why capital punishment should be part of our ethos in America. Keep in mind, Prager is a Jew and carries no brief for the Christian faith. In quick, telegraphic fashion, Mr. Prager rejects the “innocents may be executed” argument against the death penalty. Here is his answer: “My answer has always been that this is so rare (I do not know of a proved case of mistaken execution in America in the last 50 years) that society must be prepared to pay that terrible price. Why? Among other reasons, because more innocents will be killed by murderers who are not executed (in prison, or once released or if they escape) than will be by the state in erroneous executions” (p. 2).

He acknowledges the possibility of a mistaken murder conviction, although with today’s technology it seems more than highly unlikely, but adds that we “often have the tragedy of innocents dying because of a social policy” (Ibid.). To drive home his point—and I am thankful that Prager did this—he cites an example of a murderer who was released from prison by some liberal judge. Rarely—rarely—does the general public ever consider the victim of the murder and the almost always exponentially violent manner in which their life was taken from them, or their family, or the innocents who might die if the murderer is released.

Here’s the story. Ponder it please. In 1982, James Ealy was convicted of the strangulation murders of a family—including a mother and her two children. It took the jury a mere four hours to reach a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The “Ambulance Chasers” who represented him appealed the case, arguing that the police had improperly obtained evidence. Of course, it’s always the police that ends up being on trial. Ealy was released from his life sentence.

On November 27, 2006, Ealy strangled to death Mary Hutchison, a 45-year-old manager of a Burger King in Lindenhurst, IL. Why did Mary Hutchison die? Prager opines, “The woman was killed (read: murdered) because many Americans believe that it is better to let a murderer go free than to convict one with evidence “improperly” obtained” (Ibid.). What does he conclude? “So those who still wish to argue for keeping all murderers alive will need to argue something other than ‘an innocent may be killed.’ They already support a policy that ensures innocents will be killed” (p. 3)

How would Jesus “vote” on the issue of capital punishment? It’s a silly question. We do know, however, that Christ came to do the will of his heavenly Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). That revealed will involved the killing of those convicted of murder (cf. Gen. 9:6; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Rom. 13:1-4). That’s what Jesus would do and that’s how Jesus would think, because God revealed it so.

[1] D. James Kennedy & Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote? A Christian Perspective on the Issues, (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2008).

[2] David Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), p. 47.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth, Can America Survive? (Carlsbad, CA: New Beginnings Press, 2004), p. 9.

[5] Kennedy & Newcombe, HWJV, 62.

[6] Ibid., Citing C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” Essays on the Death Penalty, (Houston: St. Thomas Press, n.d.), p. 3.