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, May 28, 2009

A Life and Death Issue: Universal Health Care (III)

A Scarcity of Doctors

You’d probably never think that the United States has or ever could have a shortage of doctors. In America, you make an appointment to see your family physician and, bingo, you’re there. But when America’s top health insurers and providers met in early May at the White House their real aim was to sabotage our current health care system, which is the best in the world.

The present administration believes that a kinder, gentler, more socialistic system should supersede what we have. That is why when Mr. Obama was campaigning he kept repeating this phrase: “America is the greatest country in the world. Help me change it!” Huh? If it’s the greatest country in the world, why would we want to change it, especially if that “change we can believe in” entails socialized medicine?

Mr Obama and the health insurers vowed to save $2 trillion over the next ten years with this new plan. That was very interesting and certainly some were enthused and encouraged by the thought of a $2 trillion savings. The question that no one seemed particularly interested in asking was: How are you going to save the $2 trillion? The short, common sense answer is by cutting doctor’s fees and Medicare fees. This is the way it’s been done in other countries that languish under universal health care and the U.S. will be no different. As I write this, Congress is attempting to find a way to cut Medicare fees by 21%.[1]

“How does this translate into poorer health care coverage?” you might ask. That’s a good question. The intent is to cut doctor’s fees and to regulate medicine to the degree that doctors cannot make the kinds of decisions doctors are supposed to make because of bureaucratic red tape and hyper-control of resources. This is already true in countries like Sweden, Holland, Britain, and Canada and accounts for why many in those and other like countries are opting out of the socialized medicine and are heading towards privatization. It’s more than just a little bit ironic that while all these countries have lived through the baneful effects of socialized medicine, are starting to turn the corner, and are longing for privatization, America wants to give socialized medicine a shot? What! Are our elected officials really that stupid? Sadly, the answer is Yes and, we should add, greedy into the bargain, for they believe they stand to make more money on this abortive (no pun intended) undertaking.

Here’s how things work in the real world: Congress cuts Medicare by say, 25%, which brings about a concomitant cut in doctor’s fees, which, in turn, means that the doctors earn 25% less money. I’ll touch on how this works out in the practice later. The net result, however, is that these cuts discourage people from entering the medical field. As Dick Morris rightly observes, “The limited number of doctors and nurses in the United States is the key constraint on the availability of healthcare.”[2] The U.S. currently has about 800,000 doctors for a population of 300,000,000-plus. The average rate of growth in our physician cadre hovers around 1% annually. If that drops, coupled with an increasing retirement rate, it is going to be next to impossible to take these limited resources to treat the almost 50 million new patients that will join the ranks of the insured if universal health care is implemented in the United States.

Let’s compare these facts with what is occurring in the U.K and its National Health System (NHS). The press over there reports that twice as many bureaucrats now join NHS than doctors and nurses, and that 858,000 Brits were on a waiting list for an operation at the end of 2004, some of whom had been on the list for more than a year![3]

Personally, I think the 47 million without health care is a bogus number in spite of what President O’Bama, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton say. Nancy Pelosi cannot be trusted to get a simple story straight about when she was briefed—or not briefed; or misled, lied to, and bamboozled—by the CIA. If the woman cannot get a simple story like that straight, how in world did she get to be Speaker of the House? Anyway, all three of them toss around the number of plus/minus 47 million without insurance in the United States. Isn’t that awful? Well, no and that is for a number of valid reasons.

In 2006, the Census Bureau “reported that there were 46.6 million people without health insurance.”[4] So at least we know where the numbers come from. The next logical question is to ask: are these numbers reliable, accurate? Do you remember that then-Senator O’Bama campaigned on the right for everyone in America to get universal health care? He did and that number included all those in this country illegally. Now if Americans were to deny health care to those here illegally (known in the kinder, gentler PC world as “undocumented workers”) that number would drop by about 12 million, which is a substantial number. We also know that there are about 17 million more who lived in households that earn more than $50,000 per year who, for whatever reason, do not want health care. It’s a free country and they can make that choice. No problem. Nevertheless, they comprise 17 million people. Bang, Bang. Now the total number of uninsured in America has dropped precipitously by 29 million warm bodies.

Another large chunk of the 47 million comprise the eighteen to thirty-four age bracket and believe they’re healthy, if not indestructible, and have opted out of health care. They would prefer to spend their discretionary income on drugs, X-boxes, video games, DVDs, movies, clothes, and the like. Another group are those unemployed, but the caveat is that 50%, which is almost half, got jobs and health care within four months of the survey. So why don’t Mr. O’Bama, Ms. Clinton, and The Confused One, Nancy Pelosi, tell us these facts. Rest assured they know them—perhaps Ms. Pelosi heard them, but wasn’t certain what they really meant. And if the CIA gave them to her, we all know that they intentionally misled her.

Since our President is insisting that we include the illegal aliens in the mix, our limited supply of doctors and nurses will have to contend with a sharp increase in patient load in the future. So, once again, here is how things work in the real world: “The only way to save money on the scale projected is to ration healthcare services.”[5] But our meds will be free! someone might object. No, not really. By this time, adults should be keenly and acutely aware that there’s no such thing as a free anything and if something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. In the very least, it’s not nearly all that was promised. Universal health care is a system that simply cannot deliver what it initially promises.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples. “Forty-four percent of the drugs approved by the Canadian health authorities for use in their country are not allowed by the healthcare system due to their high cost.”[6] In addition, “Obama’s pretension that nobody will find change in his or her current health insurance plans except for a magical reduction in their cost by $2,500 a year is a fool’s proposition.”[7] Why is this a ruse? The answer is to be found by looking at the health care management systems of other countries. Generally, here is the way things shake out. Insurance plans are governed and managed “by government healthcare planners who will approve treatments, limit drug use, hold down medical incomes and bring their cost-cutting programs to bear. Inevitably, their ax will fall on the oldest and the sickest among us.”[8] The net result of all the promises will be that “A crucial part of our quality of life—the best healthcare in the world—will be gone forever.”[9]

If you don’t believe me, Bill Gairdner, or Dick Morris, let me refer you to the Canadian Fraser Institute’s ( “Waiting Your Turn. Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada (2008 Report, 18th Edition). The study documents the extent to which queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures are being used to control health care expenses. The report chronicles that the average waiting period in Canada for a CT scan is approximately five weeks. Moreover, “the total wait time remains high, both historically and internationally. Compared to 1993, waiting time in 2008 is 86 percent longer.”[10] In 1994, long after Canada’s system was in place and up and running, “Statistics Canada showed that over one million Canadians felt that they needed care but did not receive it, and that approximately 30 percent of these people were in moderate or severe pain.”[11] Just a few years later (2000-2001), “Statistics Canada data showed that an estimated 4.3 million Canadians had difficulties obtaining routine care, health information or advice, immediate care for minor health issues, and other first contact services, and approximately 1.4 million Canadians had difficulties gaining access to specialist visits, non-emergency surgery, and selected diagnostic tests.”[12]

Canada has attempted to remedy their problems by spending more (taxpayer dollars) on health care, but with undesirable results. A study from 2000-2003 “found that increased spending was actually correlated with increases in waiting times unless those increases in spending were targeted to physicians or pharmaceuticals.”[13] This truth led the researchers of this Report to conclude: “This grim portrait is the legacy of a medical system offering low expectations cloaked in lofty rhetoric” and “the promise of the Canadian health care system is not being realized.”[14] Is this what Americans want, because this is precisely what Mr. O’Bama wants to give us? Our health system is currently the best in the world. If the U.S. goes the route of socialized medicine there will be no country where those in lousy health care systems can flee to get treated, illegal aliens will be in the endless queues before Americans, and we will be forced to participate in something we do not want, constituting the loss of yet another freedom.

[1] Dick Morris, “Death of U.S. Healthcare,” ( May 12, 2009, p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Larry Elder, “Newsweek to America: Stop dreaming,” (, p. 4.

[4] Mark Levin, Liberty and Tyranny, (NY: Threshold, 2009), p. 107.

[5] Morris, “Death of U.S. Healthcare,” 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 1-2.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nadeem Esmail, Maureen Hazel, & Michael Walker, “Waiting Your Turn. Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada,” 2008 Report (18th Edition),, p. 7.

[11] Ibid., 10.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 7.


Friday, May 22, 2009

A Life and Death Issue: Universal Health Care (II)

What is Universal Health Care?

Social Gospel peddler Jim Wallis of Sojourners answers the question posed in the heading in the following manner: “To guide our search for more humane and effective health care, we will need to establish some principles: for example, that health should be a human right and not a commodity for sale, and that wealth should not determine one’s share of health in our world. We need to build consensus on principles and priorities if we are to address successfully the enormous challenges of public health in a world of massive inequalities. And until something is done to make universal health care a reality in America, millions of families will remain poor.”[1]

Wallis’ statement contains almost as many errors as words. The quote from his book also raises a number of serious questions. First, who is the “we” that will establish the principles that will guide us in this investigation? Does it include Jimmy Carter, who wrote the Foreword to Wallis’ book? Clearly, Wallis has someone or a group in mind. Who might that be? Will conservatives be allowed to participate, or will “we” comprise only leftwingers?

Second, where and how does Wallis establish the principle that health is a right? For Wallis, it is the principal thought that Jesus healed. The quantum leap conclusion, therefore, is that health is a right. Surely Jesus said that somewhere in the gospels, didn’t he? If, health is a right, as Wallis asserts, then why didn’t Jesus heal everyone while he was on earth and not just the few mentioned in the gospel accounts? Moreover, in this age of the Holy Spirit, why doesn’t the Spirit pick up where Jesus left off and become the divine health (care) dispenser?

Third, Wallis’ assertion that health (care) should not be a commodity for sale, entirely misses the mark. Health care, rather than being given over to the government to run, should be privatized in a free market economy. Mr. Wallis doesn’t want that because his particular brand of the Social Gospel drives him inexorably in the direction of Socialism and Socialism disdains the free market. No, what Wallis and those like him desire is a government run and controlled health care system (read: socialized medicine) that would be similar to the Post Office, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the IRS running your health care according to their rules and on their timetable. Therefore, if you get turned down for a particular procedure, you have no recourse of appeal and nowhere else to turn.

Why do you think so many foreigners that have socialized medicine in their country of origin fly to the United States and have their procedures done? The short answer is: because it is much better and ultimately cheaper.

Fourth, if Mr. Wallis would like to see more charitable giving by United States citizens overseas to rid poverty (how does he intend to do that when we cannot even completely eradicate it in our own country?), then he might want to lobby for the President and Congress to lower corporate and individual income taxes. As far as the “massive inequalities” in the world are concerned, I’m still unclear how Wallis intends to remedy them. They have existed for time immemorial and I, for one, would be keenly interested in how he intends to rid the world of poverty. Mr. Il of North Korea might put a kink in Wallis’ plans by not wanting to cooperate with Mr. Wallis’ plans to provide all North Koreans with affordable health care. Il barely provides them with a sustainable lifestyle, let alone expensive health care!

But there is more to this. Does Mr. Wallis really expect us to believe that the wealthy do not profit from private health care in socialistic countries? Does he really want us to believe that the wealthy and prestigious in countries with socialized medicine actually stand in queues waiting for their turn for health care? That’s almost as silly as Mr. Obama, Mr. Kennedy, Ms. Pelosi, or Al Gore putting windmills on their lawns or driving Smart Cars. Do you think they are going to send their children to government schools? In fact, are we so naïve that we actually believe that they are going to do anything they want us to do?

What Wallis and far too many of our current politicians want is government controlled everything and America is being pushed hard in that direction and needs to muster up the gumption to push back—and soon!

In the last issue, we were listening to Canadian Bill Gairdner as he described the Canadian socialized medicine program. How did Canada get there? Did they always have socialized medicine? The answer is: No. There was a time when Canada’s health care was provided under normal free market conditions. Admittedly, “a very small number of Canadians got caught without insurance. Their remedy was usually the charity of the doctor or hospital, special community funds set aside for this purpose, mortgaging their assets, or assistance from family.”[2] This all sounds quite feasible and hardly grounds for forcing and coercing Canadians to give their hard-earned money to those without health care. Thomas Paine once quipped, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Thomas Jefferson added, “The natural progress of things is for government to gain ground and for liberty to yield.”

Economist Walter E. Williams says that with all that’s going on around us, it’s easy to blame the politicians. But, “Politicians tend to do precisely what we elect them to office to do. We Americans elect politicians to office on their promise to take what belongs to some Americans and give it to other Americans to whom it does not belong. Or we elect them to give some Americans special privileges that are denied other Americans…. Indeed, more than two-thirds of the federal budget is spent for programs that fit the category of legalized theft.”[3] The net result is that every time Congress meets Americans lose another freedom. Again Williams: “Welfare and liberal visions of the War on Poverty haven’t simply been failures. They made whole classes of Americans indolent, dependent, and immune to the traditional cure for poverty—a growing economy.”[4]

Either Wallis has no clue when it comes to basic economic principles or when it comes to issues like poverty, or, worse, he knows and doesn’t care. Wallis claims to be a Christian; to be an evangelical. If he is, it is next to impossible to understand how he could possibly be in favor of creating an indolent, non-productive class in America, or how he could vote for a president that is so “in-your-face” about his pro-abortion stance, not to mention Mr. Obama’s views on embryonic stem-cell research. But I digress.

Gairdner recounts how previously responsible, law-abiding Canadians took care of their health care. Almost imperceptively—freedoms are hardly ever lost all at once; rather, it is a gradual, piecemeal process—the government was creating an atmosphere where it was considered a travesty if there were even one person in Canada without health care. That same perception is being created in the U.S. today. Politicians talk about the huge number of Americans without health care. Hillary Clinton mentioned the number 47 million, which is absurd. Mr. Obama’s promise for universal health care will include every illegal in this country. If we drop illegal aliens from the list—which we should—we’re down to 30 million.

Then we need to ask how many of those 30-or-so million don’t want health insurance right now. They are young and healthy and would rather spend their discretionary income elsewhere. Why can’t they do that in a free country? If you answer, “They can,” I’ll respond with, “For now.” You see, Mr. Obama’s plan, like most of the failed socialized medicine plans requires 100% participation. The idea is if the state sees itself as the public protector (Nanny), then it is government’s duty to require free people to cough up their money to take care of others.

One of the key architects of Canada’s health care program was British immigrant, Tom Kent, who was “the socialist-minded adviser to Prime Minister Pearson.”[5] He was followed by a long succession of health ministers, including Monique Bégin, who penned the book Medicare: Canada’s Right to Health. The title says it all. She and Wallis must have compared notes. But here’s the kicker on Kent. He was an unelected, yet highly influential person, who was an ardent socialist. He pushed socialized medicine on the Canadians and they were so apathetic that they let him. It was Kent’s rabid ideology that Canadians allowed to go unchecked. In essence, they permitted him to quash their freedoms and politicize the medical framework of the entire nation.[6]

In our next issue, we’ll examine more in detail how socialized medicine organizes scarcity and give you more interesting statistics from the Canadian Frazier Institute.

[1] Jim Wallis, The Great Awakening, Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America, (NY: HarperCollins, 2008), p. 123. Emphasis added.

[2] William Gairdner, The Trouble with Canada, (Toronto: General Paperbacks, 1991), p. 300.

[3] Walter E. Williams, More Liberty Means Less Government, (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1999), pp. 51-52.

[4] Ibid., 55.

[5] Gairdner, Trouble, 301.

[6] Ibid., 302.


Friday, May 15, 2009

A Life and Death Issue: Universal Health Care

Rushing Towards Medical Mediocrity—At Best

Some might find it a little dramatic to discuss universal health care as a life and death issue. For those who have lived under universal health care (American politicians, tenured professors, and the general population of the United States), it might appear to be a good idea and to offer advantages over our current system. This is a false notion. I believe I qualify to write on this subject for a number of good reasons, not least of which is that I lived under it for nine-plus years in Holland and then, being a glutton for punishment, another nine-plus years in Canada. This fact alone puts me ahead of the curve for those who want to recommend universal health care to us.

Moreover, I have read widely on this subject and want to explain to those who are willing to listen that it is not merely about health care, but rather this issue spreads its tentacles out to a variety of ethical issues. For example, universal health care has an enormous impact on questions surrounding abortion, euthanasia, and stem-cell research, not to mention economics, free market principles, the government’s take over and nationalization of banks, schools, the auto industry, and health care as well as the broad topic of (real) poverty.

The Obama administration is rushing this country headlong in the direction of Socialism and it just announced that Mr. Obama would like to have universal health care, or some semblance thereof, in place before July 31st. This administration is moving at breakneck speed towards fulfilling Mr. Obama’s agenda, which has already cost Americans more than they, their children, and their grandchildren can repay and the prognosis is that it’s only going to get worse. Even though it’s getting to be a hackneyed phrase, one cannot help but wonder aloud and on paper why the United States wants universal health care, when every country that has ever tried it finds it to be a dismal system that cannot and will not deliver what it promises. Why would anyone want to attempt to implement a system that has failed (miserably) wherever it’s been tried? Almost every morning I wake up these days wondering what stupid thing our elected and appointed representatives have done while I slept. Today it’s universal health care.

In the course of these issues, I want to lay out the numerous reasons why universal health care is a bad choice, in addition to the fact that it’s comparable to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the U.S. Post Office running your health care. Moreover, if this is such a crackerjack undertaking, why don’t Obama, Biden, Pelosi, Reid, Boxer, Feinstein, and Schwarzenegger lead by example and use this program as their only form of health insurance? The short answer is: for the same reason they oppose school vouchers, want you and me to send our children to government schools, and who send their children to exclusive, expensive private schools. It’s the same reason a huge number of public (read: government) school principals send their children to private schools as well. Our government schools receive failing grades across the board and the same is true of every country that has every experimented with universal health care.

Make no mistake: it is an experiment that repeatedly demonstrates unfavorable results. In this preliminary installment, I want to begin by taking a look at the universal health care of our neighbor to the north, Canada, and a link to an excellent video by Dr. Walter E. Williams, an economist from George Mason University in Virginia. Way back in 1991, Dr. Bill Gairdner wrote an excellent exposé on the overall ills of Canada.[1] Chapter 11 of this fine work is entitled “Medical Mediocrity. Canada’s Sick Health-Care System.” Gairdner begins his discussion with a series of newspaper headlines from Canadian papers such as, “Metro wait for surgery forces 100 heart victims to hit U.S.,” “Patients wait in line for hospital bed,” “Second heart patient dies as surgery delayed nine times,” and “No one blameless in rise of health costs, study says.”[2]

After using these headlines as a jumping off point, Gairdner continues, “regular cost overruns, long line-ups for surgery, experts leaving the country, patients dying as they wait for service, lack of equipment, wage clashes between professional staff and hospitals, fee-schedule battles between physicians and government”[3] all add up to a sad but predictable story. It’s sad because I know from personal experience about a congregational member who died waiting for a heart transplant; he waited eight years and his wife found him dead in the living room one morning. It is also sad because in the past when anyone wanted to flee from their abysmal universal health care system, they could come to the United States. If Mr. Obama gets his way, this will no longer be the case. It’s predictable because it was doomed to failure from the outset. Every country that has toyed around with universal health care had the same predictable results. For Mr. Obama, that doesn’t seem to matter because he’s intent on establishing a Nanny State here in America.

Gairdner makes my point that universal health care is, indeed, a life and death issue when he writes, “But the predictable breakdown of our medicare system—yet another of our social-welfare schemes—will eventually confront us all, some in the most heartbreaking way, as we watch a loved one deteriorate at home, or die lined up in the corridor of some hospital, for lack of adequate service, facilities, or equipment.”[4] What makes this difficult for Americans right now is that (1) it’s still an academic question until universal health care finally gets implemented, (2) it sounds good: free medical care, and (3) it sounds compassionate.

But then again, history teaches us that whatever sounds good, compassionate, feasible, etc. might not actually be all of those things. There is an important economic principle involved here. You might have heard—way back when—someone say something about “supply” and “demand.” It is a basic, fundamental marketing principle, but few seem to understand it anymore or have any respect for its validity. I say this because it is germane to the discussion of universal health care. Here’s the overarching principle: The demand for an unlimited free commodity is infinite.[5] This is so obviously true that I’m almost embarrassed to mention it. I mention it though because recently I walked into a store where a young person was singing the praises of Mr. Obama (Apparently, to this young person, Obama is da man.) I asked him what in Mr. Obama’s economic policies he found attractive. He informed me that he had never heard the word “economic” before. Just another 18-year-old product of our government schools. Anyway, the principle is a sound one and applies in spades to every country that has given socialized medicine—that is what universal, government sponsored health care is—a shot.

There is also the adage that there is still no such thing as a free lunch rings true. Nothing is “free.” The government doesn’t pay for all this, the taxpayers do. The government will create yet another gargantuan bureaucracy that will mismanage taxpayer dollars, lose funds, make the politicians and bureaucrats wealthier, and provide, at very best, mediocre coverage for those who used to have good health care coverage.

In our next installment, we will delve deeper into this socio-economic problem, but in the meantime, I want you to contemplate the principle that the demand for an unlimited free commodity is infinite. That is to say, if health care is “free” (socialized medicine is very expensive free health care), human nature will dictate that people will make use of it more frequently, which means long lines and scarcity of medicines, procedures, and doctors appointments. If you have cancer and don’t mind waiting six to eight months for an MRI, Mr. Obama’s plan is just what you’ve been waiting for.

[1] William Gairdner, The Trouble with Canada, (Toronto: General Paperbacks, 1991).

[2] Ibid., 299.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 299-300.

[5] Ibid., 300.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Engaging the What? (XI)

The Autonomy of Man

We ended our last issue with a provocative statement from Herman Bavinck’s Stone Lectures at Princeton in the 1908/1909 academic year. The lectures were delivered in the following order: “The Idea of a Philosophy of Revelation,” “Revelation and Philosophy,” “Revelation and Philosophy (II),” “Revelation and Nature,” “Revelation and History,” “Revelation and Religion,” “Revelation and Christianity,” and “Revelation and Religious Experience.” There were two other lectures that were not delivered: “Revelation and Culture” and “Revelation and the Future” that are included in the book.[1]

We have been examining Bavinck’s views on culture and comparing them to many of the contemporary admonitions to “engage (the) culture” issued by a number of pastors or church staff members. While we believe that Christians should be aware of the various aspects and facets of modern culture, we have also been forewarning that when we engage culture it will engage us back. There is, if you will, a kind of spiritual graveyard that is filled with ill-equipped Christians who got “hammered” by the culture or, worse yet, bought into many of the secular progressive PC aspects of culture and were either badly tainted by it or capitulated to it.

I have also been requesting my Presbyterian Church in America colleagues, who are so vociferous about the need to engage the culture to give a more detailed exposition of precisely what it is that they have in mind. Are we to head down to the local pub and shoot pool as a manifestation that we are genuine, authentic? Of course, Southern California pastors like me only frequent the trendy microbrew establishment, but that is beside the point. Does engaging the culture involve evangelism? How much or how little? Does it avoid head-to-head confrontation, thereby eliminating the clear antithetic components of Christianity to culture? Does it avoid being countercultural? If not, what kinds of confrontations are allowed and which aren’t? Do pastors have to view every movie that comes down the pike and comment on them—particularly in the sermon to show that he’s hip? Does the pastor, like President Obama, have to have a final four bracket interest, or does he need to be a former wrestler like me, who believes it’s better to have wrestled and lost than to have played basketball?

Do you need to be an aficionado of fine wines and Renaissance art or is it okay to get stuck in the Baroque—I’m speaking specifically about Country Western Baroque, of course—and with only select artists? As Bavinck has implied, ought Christians to branch out more into areas of culture that seem less trendy like, say, economics. In fact, a very good case could be made for pastors and youth leaders spending more time on the study of economics in order to be able to combat the ridiculous notions on poverty by “leaders” like Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis. Ridding the world of poverty—or the U.S. for that matter—is not a warm fuzzy feeling, but actually involves some industrial strength thinking, a good view of total depravity, and a thorough grasp of the contents of the sayings about sloth, laziness, a diligent work ethic, and poverty found in the book of Proverbs—not to mention Paul’s exhortation in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Utopic notions of ridding the world of poverty give us tingly sensations, but they do not comport with reality or Scripture (cf. Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8).

We ended last time with a statement by Bavinck that is worthy of our time and attention. He wrote, “The heteronomy of law and the autonomy of man are reconciled only by…theonomy.”[2] Bavinck made that statement as an ethical truth firmly ensconced in theological reflection. In other words, he spoke unashamedly as a Christian, who was willing to bring the truth of Scripture into the public arena. Why did he do that? Well, he understood then what far too many of Christians are willing to concede today as they engage culture, namely that “All culture, whatever significance it may have, just as all education, civilization, development, is absolutely powerless to renew the inner man.”[3] To put it bluntly: Bavinck was not a theological moderate.

There is a debate raging within the Republican Party as we speak that whereby some, such as Colin Powell and John McCain are urging a more conciliatory tone. Other power brokers within the Republican Party are urging other leaders to distance themselves from the divisive issue of abortion. The reasoning is that if the right-wing religious fanatics leave the Party, then Republicans will have a better shot at winning in the next election. That’s really funny, because except for abortion, few Republicans are more moderate than John McCain. If he didn’t win in the last election, what makes the Republicans think that someone similar to him, holding similar views will get elected next time?

Now carry those thoughts over into the “let’s engage the culture” realm. Do I need to be a moderate Christian when I speak with Christianity’s cultured (or highly uncultured and uncouth despisers)? It is necessary for me to use foul language and speak filth to prove that I’m authentic? To do so would make me genuine—genuinely wrong. Do I need to concede truth in order to present the gospel? If Paul was concerned that there was only one gospel, what is it? Is it the Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian gospel? Or, is it the gospel of God’s sovereign grace in the Reformation sense of the words “sovereign grace”?

Bavinck answers these questions when he explains, “Thus the true, and the good, and the beautiful, which ethical culture means and seeks, can only come to perfection when the absolute good is at the same time the almighty, divine will, which not only prescribes the good in the moral law, but also works it effectually in man himself.”[4] Bavinck was a presuppositionalist and so was Abraham Kuyper. Together these two men forged a vibrant and robust reawakening of what came to be called Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands. They were effective in politics because they continued a political party known as the Anti-Revolutionary Party, which was begun by Groen van Prinsterer. Note the title. It was a political party that opposed the tenets of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment and embraced the truths of the Reformation. Bavinck and Kuyper hammered out a biblical life and worldview that they then strove to implement politically and socially in the fabric of Dutch life. It would be one thing if pastors urged their respective congregations to engage culture once each member had been properly catechized and instructed in the biblical foundations of God, man, society, truth, knowledge, and ethics, but it’s quite another thing to send them out ill-prepared.

Moreover, far too few are instructed in the biblical fact that man is totally, radically corrupt and seeks constant autonomy apart from God. We are constantly reminded by statistics that a large percentage of those who call themselves Christians believe that man is basically good. One can only wonder how someone could have even a rudimentary acquaintance with the Bible and entertain such thoughts. In addition, by cutting himself off from God, man can have no consistent basis for ethical life. Without it why was it wrong for Hitler to murder so many people? Bavinck states the matter this way: “Ethical culture…can neither in the source nor in the essence of morals be independent of the metaphysical foundation; and finally much less can it dispense with it in the definition of the goal of morality. As long as it remains diesseitig,[5] it cannot give to the question, What may be the goal of the moral action? any other answer than that this is to be found either in the individual man or in humanity.”[6]

Obviously, individual man or humanity cannot provide the standard of true culture because “Neither humanity nor the individual can have origin or the goal in itself. There was a time when they did not exist; they are transitory, and near their end. In the universe they occupy a temporary, transitory place; they are a means, and not an end, and certainly no final end, because they are not their own origin.”[7] If I may paraphrase what Bavinck is saying, he is alluding to Nietzsche’s endeavor to reverse all the values of Christian ethics.[8] Now Bavinck throws down the gauntlet and challenges culture either to live as Nietzsche’s Übermensch or to recognize and acknowledge that Nietzsche’s nihilism was tragic and to live according to God’s laws (theonomy).

In our next issue, we’ll continue this line of thought.

[1] Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation, (Henry Dosker; Nicholas Steffens; & Geerhardus Vos [trans.]), (Scarsdale, NY: Westminster Discount Book Service, n.d.).

[2] Ibid., 263.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] This German word means specifically those matters that are dealt with in the “here and now” on this side of eternity. As Bavinck employs it, it refers to efforts made “from below” without any reference to the eternal, which the Germans call jenseits. No extra charge for such wonderful enlightenment or, better, Aufklärung.

[6] Ibid., 263-264.

[7] Ibid., 264.

[8] See, Ibid., 249.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Engaging the What? (X)

An Intriguing & Interesting Question

Like it or not, the modern Church is being forced to relinquish her obsession with entertainment and superficiality and is being forced to “put up or shut up.” Some are opting for the latter. In a provocative article in World magazine (April 25, 2009), Tony Woodlief addresses the matter of “Practical atheism” among those who call themselves Christians (p. 54). Woodlief quips, “While the vast majority of Americans claim to be Christian, in other words, a good many of us don’t seem capable of explaining what that means.” (Ibid.) The good folks at Barna Research surmise that of those who call themselves Christians only about 10% hold consistent biblical beliefs. (Ibid.) That is to say, only about 10% of professing Christians hold to the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, biblical justification by faith, and a biblical worldview concerning God, man, society, truth, knowledge, and ethics. According to the Barna researchers, only a small percentage of those claiming to be Christians believe that the Bible should play a big role in their ethical decision-making. This might explain why so many who call themselves Christians voted for a man who is so outspokenly pro-homosexual and pro-abortion. Is it just me, or are those two positions impossible to square with biblical truth?

One of the most trenchant statements in Woodlief’s article reads this way: “The way many churches respond to declining public interest exacerbates the problem. The Christian church grew when its leaders stressed biblical study and fervent prayer, each of which was considered, in the early church, a means of knowing God. The modern feel-good church, meanwhile, de-emphasizes both in favor of ‘messages’ that are ‘relevant to my life.’ (Don’t tell me what Job said about the imponderable glory of God, tell me how to have fulfilling personal relationships.)” (Ibid.) Repeated pleas have been made—to no avail—to have some of our PCA gurus clearly delineate what they mean when they instruct their congregations to “engage (the) culture.” I must admit that I have heard a number of such sermons by church planters and it remains unclear what they mean for the troops to do. The congregation walks out of the meeting place understanding that it is incumbent upon them to engage culture, but unsure just how they should go about doing it. Since I’m PCA, I designate my own church affiliation first, but not with the idea that they are the only ones encouraging (vague) cultural involvement.

In fact, I am all in favor of cultural and political involvement, but since I cut my teeth on Calvin, Bullinger, the Puritans, Bavinck, and Kuyper (just to mention a few) and not McLaren or Wallis, I tend to be more critical of the modern stuff—not because it’s modern, but because it is so deficient in substance. In addition, I am suspect of much of the admonitions to engage because it is virtually bereft of any notions of being counterculture or of the healthy notion of the biblical antithesis when it comes to culture. It’s one thing for a pastor to urge his flock to be culturally aware and to engage literature, music, movies, DVDs, TV programs, and the like, and it’s quite another neither to prepare nor warn them for the spiritual pitfalls if they are not biblically discerning and wise. One of the best recent examples of warning and preparation is Brian Godawa’s book Hollywood Worldviews.[1] Brian does an admirable job of what to look for in the movies and what to watch out for as well.

It is not as if no one besides Godawa has issued any warnings at all, however. James Davison Hunter has written several books, one on evangelicalism, and points to where Christian efforts need to be very circumspect when engaging culture[2]. D.A. Carson has also written many helpful monographs on Christianity and culture,[3] but the most helpful writer that I have found in “our time” is David Wells, from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In his many volumes on the evangelical church, David has issued a clarion call and has sounded a well-documented warning about how the evangelical church is crumbling from within. But few seem prepared to listen and once you’ve started down a particular road, stubborn human nature makes it difficult to admit being wrong. The net result is tantamount to polishing the brass and rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Those who wasted decades in the mega-church tend to hang around still; against better judgment, knowing that something has been and still is dreadfully wrong; dreadfully unbiblical. We’re witnessing the same phenomenon in the Emergent church movement as well. The wheels are coming off, but some of those who have been emerging and conversing for a decade-and-a-half will, no doubt, continue to hang around a spiritually bankrupt undertaking that every day more and more looks, thinks, and acts like the world and the theological liberalism of the Social Gospel movement.

The upshot is that we have those who call themselves Christians attempting to rationalize casting their vote for a President who has a 100% positive rating with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, NOW, and every pro-abortion organization on the planet. These are the same folks that want us to engage culture, especially when it involves universal health care. They want us to buy into the bogus concept of global warming and hug trees and Al Gore and attempt to end global poverty, even though no president, Democrat or Republican, has effectively done so to this point in history. If we cannot solve the problem of poverty domestically, how can we expect to solve it internationally? And, oh, by the way, no European or Asian nation has solved it either in case you were thinking about asking them to help us.

Even though a number of modern day pastors will not openly admit it, deep inside they believe “that Christianity has had its day, and can no longer live with our present-day culture.”[4] Well, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that any real pastor would never concede that Christianity has had its day. That’s fair enough, especially since Bavinck was referring to the manner in which the world thought about the Christian faith often in history. There is a point to be made, however, that the latter part of Bavinck’s statement is applicable to some modern pastors. Something has to give; something has to change in order to make the gospel relevant to modern man, is the thinking. As Bavinck points out in his lecture on “Revelation and Culture,” his day was not the first time people thought Christianity was defunct. What is being suggested by modern church planters today has all been thought, said, and done before. One of the key reasons Christians should not despair is that it is Christ who gathers, protects, and defends his Church, by his Word and Spirit (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Q/A 54).

What is quite often not taken into account is that “modern culture is an abstract name for many phenomena, and forms no unity at all. Not only are there innumerable factors which have contributed to its development, but it is also in the highest degree divided in itself.”[5] What precisely does Bavinck mean? Here is his explication: “Everywhere, and in all domains, in politics, social economy, art, science, morals, instruction, education, there are parties, tendencies, and schools which stand in opposition to one another; the realms of justice and culture, church and state, faith and science, capital and labor, nomism and antinomism, combat each other, and proceed on different principles.”[6]

This being the case, a simple appeal to “engage (the) culture” is insufficient for it flattens the complexity of the matter at hand. Moreover, it provides no specific approach. What could or should it mean to the man or woman in the pew to engage politics? Social economy? Education? Morals? In addition, there is no accompanying admonition to remember that Christians are to be, at crucial times, countercultural or antithetical to culture. Culture is not “monolithic” and an encouragement to engage it without more detailed information can set untaught Christians for getting hammered or worse, absorbed by or enamored of culture. In point of fact, one of the main concerns of pastors today is that their congregants are far too worldly.

Bavinck writes that in his time “There is in modern society a striving after independence and freedom, such as was unknown in earlier times, or at least not recognized in the same degree.”[7] Allow me to put this in a Southern California/American context. Some parents do not function as parents and I’m not just talking about those who live in or near the poverty line. This is a phenomenon that crosses race, gender, and economic boundaries. Many secular—and some Christian—parents are far too interested in, to borrow a phrase from Neil Postman, entertaining themselves to death. What specifically should we do to correct that as we engage the culture? 50% of black males in New York City are unemployed. How do we effectively engage a culture of unemployment? What does it mean for Christians to engage the culture of education and the National Education Association? Does it mean that Christians ought to be leery about sending their children to government schools? Do we engage culture by being in favor of a voucher system? How do we engage a culture whose current President pushed hard for extra hate-crime legislation that favors homosexuality? How do we engage a culture where approximately 50% believe that abortion on demand is their “right,” and the President gets on national TV and espouses a culture of death? How do Christians engage a national debt that neither our children nor our grandchildren will be able to pay? Should Christians accept evolution as a viable option for life, especially since objecting to it might upset Christianity’s cultured—and tenured—despisers. Will capitulating on key doctrines make Bill Maher happy, and is that even an important consideration?

You see, up to this point, engaging the culture meant having classical or jazz music, going to art exhibitions and haute couture in general. Certainly, this can be part of engaging culture, but I’m wondering what, after all this heavy-duty engaging, has changed in culture. Has American culture changed one iota in light of our efforts? Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that we should not make attempts to make inroads into the moral, political, and economic morass of our 21st century modern culture, but are we realistically assessing if we’re doing the right thing or heading in the right direction?

Added to this is the question of whether the modern Church and the PCA in particular has become more knowledgeable in the Word, holier in her actions, and more deeply concerned about evangelizing the lost. I am convinced that it is both wrong and dangerous to proceed from the thesis that evangelism trumps everything. In Galatians 1:6-10, the apostle Paul reminds the Church that there is but one gospel. Twice in those verses, he employs a very strong word meaning anathema (avna,qema; anáthema). I recently said to our Men’s Bible Study that I am convinced that what we call Apologetics should be a sub-section of evangelism. If the one to whom we’re presenting the gospel has a question about Christianity, we answer it and then right back to presenting the gospel to them. For example, if a CEO, CFO, or UFO, asks us the Christian view of abortion, we should clearly and succinctly get back to the gospel, stating that if this person has had an abortion and repents and believes then Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover that horrific sin as well.

In our next issue we shall take up Herman Bavinck’s thesis that “The heteronomy of law and the autonomy of man are reconciled only by…theonomy.”[8]

[1] Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews. Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002).

[2] See, for example, James Davison Hunter, Evangelicalism, The Coming Generation, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987).

[3] Comp. D.A. Carson, Christ & Culture Revisited, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008); The Gagging of God, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996); & D.A. Carson & John Woodbridge (eds.), God & Culture, Essays in Honor of Carl F.H. Henry, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1993).

[5] Ibid., 251.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 253.

[8] Ibid., 263.