Worldview

How One Little Word Changes Everything in the Book of Revelation. Do You Know What It Is?

American Vision - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 08:32

Prophetic speculation is rampant. Books dealing with the end times continue to flood the market. Is America part of Bible prophecy? What about Russia? Two recent books. Let’s not forget blood moons . . . earthquakes . . . ellipses  . . . hurricanes . . . wars. Probably the most talked about and written about so-called end-time sign relates to Israel. We’ve been told to keep an eye on Israel. The book of Revelation is “all about Israel.” The thing of it is, Revelation is all about Israel. But you’ll be surprised to learn that the modern state of Israel is not the Israel Revelation is discussing.

Brian Godawa has been studying and writing and speaking on the topic of Bible prophecy for many years. The following article is his latest attempt to put the book of Revelation in historical perspective. — Gary DeMar

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One Little Word Changes Everything Brian Godawa

Revelation is surely one of the most controversial and debated books of the Bible. It is visionary, it is fantastic, it is earth-shattering in its significance. And I had always assumed it was about the end of the world in our future. But I would eventually discover that it was not about the end of the world, but about the end of the old covenant and its earthly elements of holy city and temple in the past. It is earth-shattering in heavenly significance, but not in earthly geographic scope.

And I can prove that with one little word: earth.

You see, the word “earth” shows up a lot in English translations of Revelation, and it is that word that makes it so apparently obvious to modern readers that it’s about the end of the world, the earth.

Here are some examples of “earth” used in Revelation:

  • The horsemen of the apocalypse “take peace from the earth” (Rev 6:4) and kill “a fourth of the earth” (Rev 6:8).
  • The seven trumpets of woe are blown over “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 8:13).
  • The seven bowls of wrath are “poured out upon the earth” (Rev 16:1).
  • God avenges the blood of his martyrs by judging those “who dwell on the earth” (Rev 6:10).
  • The Two Witnesses call down plagues upon the earth (Rev 11:6).
  • The grape harvest of wrath is judgment “of the earth” (Rev 14:18-19).
  • The Great Harlot, Mystery Babylon, is guilty of the “earth’s abominations” (Rev 17:5) and the blood of “all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

The problem is that the English word conjures in our modern scientific minds a picture of the globe, as seen in NASA pictures. That is not what it meant to the ancient Jews writing and reading Revelation. The Greek word translated “earth” (), and its Hebrew equivalent in the old testament (eretz) has several different meanings based on context. One of those meanings may be the earth as God’s creation (Gen 1:1), but more often it means, soil, ground, individual countries or regions, or land.

And that word “land” is the key. Because to the ancient Israelite, the word “land” was an often repeated meme that meant “the land of Israel.” As scholar Kenneth Gentry explains in his forthcoming commentary on Revelation, in the Old Testament, a majority of the contexts that the word for “earth” appears (both Hebrew and Greek) refer to the land of Israel. He writes,

This particularly abundant use of is significant in that the land promised to Israel was central to God’s covenant with her (e.g., Ge 12:1–7; Ex 3:7–18; 6:2–8). The Land was one of the three realia [objects] dominating her devotion: the Land, Jerusalem, and the temple. As [the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis]  (1:522) puts it: “the land on which Israel lived forms one of the primary theological and ethnic foci of the faith of Israel and of the OT scriptures.” When God established Israel as a nation, her founding documents elevated the Land as the first of these great hopes: “In terms of the Hexateuch there is probably no more important idea than that expressed in terms of the land promised and later granted by Yahweh.” In fact, “the motif of the Promised Land is a major pattern in the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua” (DBI 665), which record the historical foundations of Israel as a people, society, and nation. The Land was also “of central importance to all of the writing prophets” (AB 4:149). Indeed, “the prominence of the Land of Israel in the Bible is the result of deep religious conviction, pervading all sacred Jewish literature.”

Here is how I know that “earth” should be better translated as “land” in most of Revelation, and in particular meaning the land of Israel: Take a look at the beginning of the letter where John explains one of the main purposes of the judgment he was predicting: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him” (Rev. 1:7).

So, you would assume the “tribes of the earth” is a reference to everyone on the earth. Jesus is coming to judge everyone on the earth. Sounds simple, right? But you would be wrong.

That Old Testament prophecy that John quotes is from the book of Zechariah. The tribes that the prophecy speaks of are not the tribes of the earth, but the tribes of the land, the tribes of Israel:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn…. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David … and all the families that are left… (Zech. 12:10-14).

According to the apostle Peter, the first-century generation of Jews was guilty of piercing or crucifying Jesus the Messiah.

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God … this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:22-23).

Yes, the Romans took part in the crucifixion (4:27-28). But from God’s perspective, the Jews who rejected their own Messiah, the Son of David, had the far greater sin. And in fact, that guilt was so great, that Jesus said God would destroy the city of Jerusalem and the temple as judgment for that high-handed crime (Matt. 23:37-24:1; 21:33-46). That first-century generation of Jews would be guilty of “all the righteous blood of the prophets shed on the land” [: land of Israel] (23:35-36) because they would kill their own Messiah.

So, a more accurate translation of Revelation 1:7 reads: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the land [of Israel] will wail on account of Him.”

Once the reader sees that the guiding thematic passage in Revelation is about the land of Israel and not the earth as a globe, we see a more localized judgment upon Israel, not the end of the world:

  • The horsemen of the apocalypse “take peace from the land of Israel” (Rev. 6:4) and kill a fourth of the land of Israel (6:8).
  • The seven trumpets of woe are blown over “those who dwell on the land of Israel” (8:13).
  • The seven bowls of wrath are “poured out upon the land of Israel” (16:1).
  • God avenges the blood of his martyrs by judging those “who dwell on the land of Israel” (6:10).
  • The Two Witnesses call down plagues upon the land of Israel (11:6).
  • The grape harvest of wrath is judgment of the land of Israel (14:18-19)
  • The Great Harlot, Mystery Babylon, is guilty of the “land’s abominations” (7:5) and the blood of “all who have been slain on the land of Israel” (18:24).

Guess what? That recurring phrase in Revelation above, “those who dwell on the land,” is a phrase that is used specifically of Israelites in the land of Israel all throughout the Greek Old Testament (Jer. 1:14; 10:18; Ezek. 7:7; 36:17; Hosea 4:1, 3; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Zeph. 1:8). And the bloodguilt of the great harlot for “all who have been slain on the land” is the same bloodguilt Jesus proclaimed over first-century Jewish leaders who rejected him (Matt. 23:35). Those Jewish religious leaders were a great harlot with their spiritual adultery (Ezek. 6:9; Isa. 1:21; Hosea 2; Jer. 3:3; 4:30). Revelation is about a local judgment on the land of Israel, not the end of the global earth (Matt. 14:15-21).

So, you see, one little word does change everything, doesn’t it?

The reader who is predisposed toward an “end of the world” interpretation of Revelation will no doubt have a difficult time envisioning a scenario that is radically at odds with their global paradigm. And that is one of the reasons why I am writing a series of novels called Chronicles of the Apocalypse, that tell the story of the book of Revelation in the first century through the eyes and experience of first-century Jews, Christians, and Romans. It shows how the imagery and language of Revelation are fulfilled in that first-century judgment upon the land of Israel, with its holy city and temple. But it does so through historical yet entertaining fiction. The first two novels, Tyrant: Rise of the Beast and Remnant: Rescue of the Elect, are available in eBook, paperback, and audiobook format at Amazon.com.

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Brian Godawa is an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter (To End All Wars), a controversial movie and culture blogger (www.Godawa.com), an internationally known teacher on faith, worldviews, and storytelling (Hollywood Worldviews), and an Amazon best-selling author of Biblical fiction (Chronicles of the Nephilim).

Categories: Worldview

LISTEN: Gary DeMar on The Olivet Discourse

American Vision - Mon, 10/30/2017 - 10:16

Gary DeMar joins hosts Julio Rodriguez, Steve Denhartog, and Shane Kirk on BRIDGE Radio to talk all things eschatology and The Olivet Discourse and his newest book Wars and Rumors of Wars.

Gary is an American writer, lecturer, and was president of American Vision. Gary DeMar is Senior Fellow at American Vision and the author of 25 books, a good amount being on the topic of eschatology. He has written books such as Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction.

Categories: Worldview

Answering Douglas Wilson’s incrementalist thought experiment

American Vision - Sat, 10/28/2017 - 13:34

Douglas Wilson has asked us to do a thought experiment with him in an attempt to persuade us to be incrementalists on the abortion issue. He invokes my name and American Vision and provides certain peculiar admonitions. I’ll address the experiment first, then the peculiar admonitions.

Douglas has branded a new thing he calls “smashmouth incrementalism.” Yet every example he has given so far has done nothing more than repeat the same incrementalism on abortion that the mainstream pro-life movement has urged for four decades. I see the incrementalism. I don’t see the smashmouth, except in some of Douglas’s rhetoric. He is a top-notch rhetorician.

The thought experiment

For his experiment, Douglas asks what we hard-core no compromise guys would do if we held the governor’s pen and the legislature passed to us a bill that would stop 10 percent of the abortions in the state, while sustaining 90 percent of them (all abortions pre-20 weeks, like the bill he supports now).

What would we do? Would we sign such a compromise bill?

I have to admit this question gives me a little pause. I am a little divided between two answers. I am a little divided between the answers “No” and “Hell No.”

No Christian should hesitate with this answer. Murder is murder. This is not an issue of pragmatism, but of ethics. As one preacher said, This is not an issue of right and left; this is an issue of right and wrong.

If it is wrong for a Christian to support the murder of infants, then no Christian governor should approve a codification of law that allows a single murder of a single infant.

I agree with the preacher who said, Just as John the Baptist told Herod he could not have the wives of others, we are saying that our government cannot have the lives of others.

Like on the issue of theft: Scripture does not say, “Thou shalt not steal, unless it clears both chambers and the president signs it with a large number of pens.” Some people believe that it is not theft if you have to fill out a form, but we are not among that number.

Similarly, Scripture does not say, “Thou shalt not murder, unless the legislature says it is a fetus prior to the twentieth week.” Some people believe they will be exonerated from codifying murder because they codified it for only 95 percent of abortions, not all of them. We must not be among that number.

Christians must in all cases uphold God’s law without compromise. This is a call for moral clarity. It’s like the preacher who said that when governments depart from God’s boundaries for government, then every act of legislation is a grasping after the serpent’s promise, and are therefore anti-Christian in principle long before any decisions are made, whether those decisions are good or bad.

“Whether those decisions be good or bad.” Think about that! You can’t justify a half-way law for what pragmatic good it may accomplish when the moral principle behind that law defies God’s limits, for example, exonerates murder.

This is wisdom: do not support a partially “good” law unequally yoked to a wicked foundation. It’s like when one preacher said that even if a law had been a wise law, fully paid for, judicious and full of sunshine, and the Supreme Court had upheld it on these same grounds, we should all be just as appalled. . . . It is the same kind of thing here—we ought to care far more about the ground of the decision than the decision itself.

We should, therefore, look at the bill Douglas asks us to sign and be appalled by it. We should be far more concerned about the moral principles we are destroying through compromise to begin with.

Governments’ claims that set aside God’s law are a fatal conceit, and to acquiesce in them is cowardice in the face of such conceit.

We cannot settle for any law that codifies murder in any way. As one preacher said in regard to Obamacare, for example, Simply repealing Obamacare as a policy matter is no longer enough. Obamacare must be rejected because it is inconsistent with the moral obligation of limited government. . . .

Such radical faithfulness produces radical demands on government. It should formally reject Obamacare in its entirety, and to do so on biblical, moral, and constitutional grounds. As the preacher said, I do not call you to something small, or to perform some sort of gesture, such as opting out of a mere portion of Obamacare, but rather to a root and branch rejection of the whole thing.

Amen! (I wish we could find more preachers like this today.) If this applies to theft and Obamacare, how much more does it apply to murder and abortion? Governments must formally reject abortion in its entirety, on biblical, moral, and constitutional grounds. We must not call for something small, or perform some sort of gesture, such as ending only a portion of abortions, but rather must completely abolish it, root and branch.

Taking such an uncompromised stand may not be easy, but it is easier to bear than the results of compromise. As the preacher said, If you fail to intervene, if you fail to stand up to this bully, then at some point you will have joined forces with the bully. . . . To fail in this regard is both immoral and criminal.

I cannot think of a better analogy when compromising for legislation that codifies murder: it is joining forces with the murderers. (I wish we had more preachers like this!)

I have to admit, on the face of it, and in light of 44 years of the failures of pro-life compromises, that a strategy of the complete and total abolition of abortion without compromise now may seem impossible. It is very tempting to join forces with murderers and accomplices to murder and agree, “We’ll say you can murder before 20 weeks if you’ll just say we can’t do it after 20 weeks.”

We may even make such a compromise, then write a lot and gripe real hard about “bad” compromise, because we’re not incrementalists, but smashmouth incrementalists. We’re hard core.

No, rather, I agree with the preacher who rejected this approach, and said instead, [H]istory is filled with restorations and reformations that seemed impossible at the time. That is why we remember them. No grateful descendants are going to build a monument for us because we called for, and got, “mild improvements.”

“Mild improvements” based on political “reasonableness” and “caution” are deceptive failures. It is not time for reasonableness and caution. Like the preacher said, Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by men who were prepared to be reasonable. The voices of prudence and caution have always whispered to the reformers that their cause was hopeless.

Eve was particularly cautious, reasonable, and prudent. Her constituency agreed. They both fell.

But reformers don’t balk at the voices of such constituencies. Instead, it is a time for prophetic fire, and radical faithfulness. Like one preacher said, Desperate times call for faithful men, and not for the careful men. The careful men come later, and write the biographies of the faithful men, lauding them for their courage.

Amen. But that is not what we hear today.

Peculiar admonitions

Instead, today we get Douglas Wilson, urging me precisely to this, “caution,” because of my joining faithful men, and because a refusal to compromise may alienate some fancied constituency.

Douglas says he’s afraid I am in theonomic mission drift. Theonomy’s mission is God’s law in the land. God’s law does not allow murdering babies, not one, and certainly not 90 percent. American Vision’s mission is “To restore America to its biblical foundations.” We have never drifted from this, and won’t. We preach to Christians who are ethically adrift in compromise, even when they think they’re not, and try to teach them radical faithfulness to God’s law.

Like King Asa, we don’t always succeed fully in reaching the high places, but also like him, we would not sign a compromise saying it is legal to sacrifice children in the high places as long as the murderers would agree to do so only after 12pm on Sundays. Failure to achieve one’s goals may leave some damage, but compromise ensures it. Failure is out of one’s control. Compromise gives consent. Asa did not give consent.

Douglas thinks my uncompromising stand will land me “between two stools.”

What? I had a stool?

People, I’m not here to get a stool. I’m here to kick them over. Too many big talkers have been sitting on stools for too long anyway.

I’m not here to please a constituency. I’m here to turn over the tables of the Christian moneychangers and, on this issue, to take a whip to the Christian accomplices of codified murder. Is this not what all Christ’s disciples should want? We need more preachers who see this.

The bold preacher I kept quoting above is the kind we need today. He was not cautious, not compromising, not incrementalist, and not a “careful man.” Root and branch, he said. “Axe to the Root,” you might say. We need more who preach this way today. And if you do not already know or have not realized it, every one of those quotations above came from a preacher named Douglas Wilson.

Every italicized word above came from Douglas Wilson from five years ago. In 2012, he was making demands on his governor and state legislators to reject, without compromise, in total and not in part, the federal mandates of Obamacare. Reject it in total, nullify, and resist the federal government. To do anything less was cowardice, immoral, and criminal.

I agree with Douglas Wilson ’12. But resisting Obamacare was a completely safe issue for a conservative constituency. It’s easy to be faithful man and not careful man then. But here we are now in ’17 and the issue is not a safe issue. It’s a divisive one. Being faithful and not careful means real risk, not just rhetoric. When we ask him to join us in calling his governor and legislators to the same standard for abortion in his state, he instead backs legislation for a “mild improvement,” in part, with great compromise, while maintaining 95 percent of abortion-murders as legal.

When the issue was safe for the constituency, we were boldly urged to faithfulness not caution; when it’s divisive, I am suddenly urged to caution. That’s not smashmouth; that’s mushmouth.

The standard here is not political. It is ethical. A bearer of theonomic ethics does not stand with his finger to the wind trying to gauge a constituency to determine what degree of murder he must legally tolerate. He doesn’t tolerate any, and he says so.

You put your name on murder, and you own murder, no matter what you label it.

Categories: Worldview

Interview: Joel McDurmon and The Problem of Slavery in Christian America

American Vision - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 16:30

Bill Evans interviews me on The War Room podcast regarding The Problem of Slavery in Christian America.

Listen to this 1 hr 20 min interview (below). Bill and Joel cover the following topics and more. . . .

  • Why I wrote this book
  • The use of the word “slavery”
  • Slavery as racial slavery, legally encoded
  • Slavery and sexual exploitation of black females
  • American Slavery as chattel slavery
  • Slavery, racism, and modern criminal justice
  • Roman civil law versus English Common Law
  • The churches’ theological justifications and evasions
  • The role of two kingdoms theology (and the dangers of it)
  • How the same system of laws tyrannize all of us today
  • Why do we have to talk about something that ended 150 years ago?
  • What about the role of the North, blacks slaveowners, African chieftains, etc.?
  • Overt racism in society today
  • Has Joel McDurmon become a liberal, Marxist, wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Political polarization (and why it’s dangerous)
  • The curse of Ham?
  • The Bible and slavery?
  • Christianity, evangelism, baptism and slavery?
  • Roman slavery, Philemon and Onesimus?

Get your copy of The Problem of Slavery in Christian America here.

Categories: Worldview

The Poverty Gospel is just as bad as the Prosperity Gospel

American Vision - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 10:38

In a genuine effort for many preachers in America to defend the Gospel against the popular and deceptive “prosperity” preaching, there has come to be a great imbalance in understanding the distinction between contentment and complacency as it pertains to living out the Christian life. This over-correction is in some ways worse than the thing it is trying to correct. It is called the poverty gospel.

Ironically, even in the so-called “richest” or “wealthiest” nation on earth, America, the majority are still living paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans are in some form of debt, which more than half claim is not manageable, according to a survey done by CareerBuilder. So, even for the small percentage of those who claim some savings, a good portion technically have no real savings because of the amount of debt they carry with it. Debt has become the American way, and when we consider how much debt we are in both as a nation and individually, the measurement of our wealth begins to sink drastically. But the problem is even worse than this.

I am not here to talk to you about debt, although it does play a major part in poverty. I want to address a theological problem. Although we all in one way or another struggle with the temptation of greed, in America, strange as it may sound, money still has an ugly stigma. Unfortunately, in many people’s minds, Christianity is to blame for this deception. Many have misquoted verses such as 1 Timothy 6:10. Many people believe that verse is quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil,” when it actual states that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” The problem is not money, the problem, as always, is our hearts. Sadly, many preachers and professing Christians have misquoted this to where the unbelieving world has taken it themselves and ran with it without verification.

Hating money, however, is just as evil as loving money.

What do I mean by that? Money, at least real money, is good because God made it. God made resources for us to be able to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors who have legitimate needs. To hate money in the sense that you don’t want anything to do with it is to neglect your responsibility to yourself and your neighbors, which is to neglect your duty unto God. Loving money is distorted because we are not to have any other gods before Yahweh (Ex 20:3). We are not to desire money in such a way that it overshadows our sight of Christ. This means we must call good what he calls good, and only call evil what he calls evil. This applies to anything in life, including money, gold, silver, property, wealth.

In another sense, those with a secular worldview are also to blame as well. Those who believe that a socialistic economy will be the epitome of love and serving mankind have exalted a view that the rich are inherently evil, poor people are always innocent victims with humble hearts, and that it’s OK to steal from some people to give to others. This is displayed all throughout the media. We are so indoctrinated with this mentality from childhood that once we reach adulthood, poverty along with dependence on government assistance is commonly accepted as normal, even though it keeps us poor. Eating ramen noodles and choke sandwiches (not by choice) becomes laughable although we painfully endure. Even the poor college kid imagery has in a strange way become cool, all while we demand those who sit in high places with big bank accounts spread their wealth amongst the rest of us who held to what we were told, such as, “money doesn’t bring happiness,” along with a bunch of other clichés that promised inner peace, but were seeds for our demise.

These worldviews play a part in why we have a big government that plays a big role in perpetuating a society addicted to debt, all while there are those in high places who are greedy, who have taken advantage of this poor mentality to prey on everyone’s pockets. We see this clearly in the medical industry, and the fruit of that is that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies in America. Obamacare did not save the day, rather, while it saved a few, it perpetuated the domino effect which in the end will result in more poverty monetarily and health-wise. When you think about how much money it takes to take care of a family, you must consider out-of-pocket expenses for medical bills or a high bill for health insurance every month. Knowing that all of us are promised death, if it does not happen by murder or an accident, then most likely it will be by our health. Considering this alone, outside of the controls of eating right and exercising, you must have enough money to take care of unexpected medical cost, which in this nation currently it is not cheap whether it be through insurance or your own expense. Even if the government did not have their hands in health insurance, the cost of health care still is an important factor that is often neglected when considering, what it takes to survive financially.

Why do I bring up this point? Because with all the clichés we are taught concerning money, we end up denying reality and practicality in the name of a misguided faith. I believe a lot of times we highly underestimate our financial needs, and sometimes we do so in anticipation that we will be able to depend on someone else or some system, especially a government system. So, when someone gets cancer and their health insurance can’t cover all the procedures and medical supplies needed, we may consider that if we could raise enough money, then that would help. But we don’t consider that the reason why the person doesn’t have enough money themselves to take care of the expense could be due to a long history of bad habits trained by a bad theology concerning money, and this bad theology has been passed down from generation to generation, from the pulpit and from the public school teacher’s desk. Obviously, if that situation occurs, we can only work with what we can control now for them, and pray. There may, however, be a long-term solution to this problem for the next generation, and it will involve correcting our worldview on money and wealth. This doesn’t promise eternal life or a fountain of youth, yet money does solve some practical problems in society:

Through sloth the roof sinks in,
and through indolence the house leaks.
   Bread is made for laughter,
and wine gladdens life,
and money answers everything.
   Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
or some winged creature tell the matter (Eccl. 10:18–20).

American Christians have such a tainted view of money it is hard to know where to start. There is the prosperity gospel which promises health and wealth when one is either a believer with “enough” faith, or a person who is living in obedience and paying their tithes, or . . . sometimes just paying their tithes.

There is no magical formula in the Scriptures to obtain wealth and health. Does God bless people with wealth due to their obedience sometimes? Yes. Was Israel promised prosperity for following His commandments? Yes. However, when we carefully examine the Scriptures, prosperity is not promised to every individual simply because they are obeying God’s commandments. Neither is wealth promised simply because you believe you can have wealth. It is true that your mind state about money and about your ability to obtain money can influence you achieving it or not achieving it. However, thinking, speaking, or believing you can have wealth does not ensure that it happens.

This is also true with health. God does heal. God does still answer prayers. However, just because you really believe God can heal someone does not guarantee he is going to heal someone. Just because you want him to heal someone, does not guarantee he will heal them. Sadly, because people have bought into this lie, and some even with sound theology subtly believe this from time to time as well, people have neglected their responsibility to prepare financially for health issues. So even in believing in the health and wealth gospel, people still set themselves up for financial strain in the name of Jesus.

But then you also have the poverty gospel. This includes those defenders of the Gospel against the prosperity gospel who preach contentment in such a way that nobody wants to work, save, or even move much at all. Contentment is preached in such a way that people fear money. Contentment is preached in such a way that people decline jobs that would help their families, because they are afraid it would take their minds off Jesus. Contentment is preached in such a way that people get comfortable with their current incomes, even though they are living paycheck to paycheck, or even though they don’t have much to give, all because they are just waiting on Jesus to come back, and think they must focus only on preaching the Gospel.

The “poverty gospel” is not really a label people would say they believe in, yet they preach it, and many show they believe it by living it out, and the general message is what I am labeling it. Interestingly, many of those who preach in this way, are themselves set financially. They tell others to just be content while they themselves go home and sleep on their financially-free pillows, often with salaries paid by the very church members they instruct. They tell others to sell all their possessions and go preach the gospel, while they accumulate wealth and prepare for their funded retirement. They preach about being good stewards over your money, but they don’t preach about accumulating more money to steward because that is “greed.”  It sounds good. Its sounds holy. It sounds spiritual. Yet it is detrimental.

Are we to be content with what we have? Indeed. Yet we must not become complacent. We must not become monks thinking we are honoring God by rejecting to seek opportunities to build wealth. People who seek to get rich just to be rich, or just to live in luxury is what the Bible warns us about. However, we also see that building generational wealth is biblical. How do you leave an inheritance for your children’s children (Prov. 13:22) if seeking wealth is your enemy? Mind you, this was written before life insurance. I think many have suffered under imbalanced preaching, while genuinely wanting to be sold out for God. Many young people in my generation have given up a lot thinking that it was what the Lord wanted and sadly many times it was traded for “ministry” not really following Jesus. Yes, many have given up financial security to enslave themselves to “ministries.” Many have given up financial security just to “trust the Lord.” Ironically, some are blinded to the fact that even those ministries must have financial support to continue to exist, while they claim to “live by faith.” Others in this category forsake their own ability to make money so that they may beg—I mean, ask other churches, ministries, and organizations to fund what they say God has called them to do. While some are called to benefit in this way in order that they may be fully devoted to a task, there are many who dodge their own tentmaking by it.

I don’t believe God promises health or wealth to anyone, but just as I believe God wants us to be healthy and strive to be healthy, being good stewards over our bodies, he also wants us to prosper. He doesn’t promise poverty or sickness to cease fully before he comes back. Yet, although his sovereign will may be for you to remain poor until you die, his dispositional will is for us to be lenders and not borrowers, to be the givers and not the ones in need. He wants people to labor, so they can provide for themselves and be able to give to others (Eph. 4:28). Likewise, money is not only for us to provide and to help, but also for our enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17).

While we do see that the prosperity gospel is accepted by all ethnicities, we also know it is a plague especially in poorer communities. Preachers manipulate people who are desperate. Following the lies of the prosperity preachers, many poor folk will give what little money they do have in hopes that they will be set free from their financial bondage. But when such people are introduced to teachers who expose and condemn the lies of prosperity preaching, and they realize it was all phony, then they can be prone to falling into the opposite ditch: a theology that ushers them into contentment, yet forgets to aid them in understanding the biblical mandate for taking dominion. Abandoning the doctrine that teaches their prosperity will save them, they now believing their impoverished state will be their redemption. The Gospel does not guarantee prosperity, but neither does it mandate a contentment that surrenders to financial bondage. Yes, we cast the cares of this world on Christ, and endure that the word may not be choked, but at the same time we will not be deceived by false humility.

To be continued. . . .

Categories: Worldview

Smashmouthing Roe v. Wade’s arguments for them

American Vision - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 15:00

This fight will take time. Abortion is the vile fruit of many sins. It’s the endgame of sexual immorality and worship of self. I’m pleased that Douglas Wilson, many of his readers, and many more pro-lifers desire the end of this idolatrous and wicked act. It is an incredibly important topic just based on what’s at stake. Lives. Millions and millions of lives. There’s no dispute there. Because of the importance of the fight, however, how we fight it is also important. This is where the disagreement lies.

I do agree that we need to take Normandy in order to then finally take Berlin. However, the statistics on abortion rates, the public support of abortion remaining the same, and the increase of favor for abortion exceptions, indicate that we aren’t and haven’t even been taking Normandy. Rather, we’re still in England shooting clay pigeons and assaulting cardboard Nazis. Too few are storming those beaches, and too many are getting their target practice in. That’s the charitable interpretation. The reality may be closer to inadvertently working against the allies.

Throughout Wilson’s three recent “smashmouth incrementalism” articles (see below for links), Wilson has condemned compromised incrementalism, unprincipled incrementalism, and so on. For example:

I do agree that there is a species of incrementalism that is compromised in principle, and in the practical outworking turns out to be incrementalism working in the wrong direction. His point about legal compromises prior to Roe would be a good example.

What exactly would an unprincipled incremental bill look like according to Wilson? Wilson points out that the legal compromises prior to Roe v Wade are a good example of compromised incrementalism. Let us examine those compromises. There are many more compromises listed in the oral arguments of Roe v Wade found here, but for the sake of brevity, we can focus on footnote 54.

  1. Not all abortions are prohibited.
  2. There are always exceptions.
  3. The life of mother is an expressly-defined exception, thus placing her life above the preborn in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.
  4. The punishments for abortion fall short of murder charges.

Now, the twenty week ban defended by Wilson and Toby Sumpter has a number of compromises as well, including but not limited to this short list:

  1. Not all abortions are prohibited (Any abortion prior to 20 weeks is allowed).
  2. There are exceptions (Included are rape and incest exceptions).
  3. Life of the mother is another exception.
  4. The punishment for abortion falls short of a murder charge (The punishment shall be a fine or imprisonment for not more than 5 years).

Notice something peculiar? When Douglas Wilson says that the compromises that led to and helped establish Roe v Wade are an example of the bad kind of compromises, why is it that the bill he is supporting is guilty of the exact same kinds of compromises? With all the talk of opposing compromised incrementalism, I’m still not sure what incrementalist legislation Wilson would oppose. This is the problem with believing, as he argued previously, that compromise is only in the heart. The ends for which we are reaching have an ethical standing, but so do the means. Our intentions should be pure, but our actions are to be judged too.

I’ll let Joel McDurmon hash out differences on the Seventh Commandment. I will say, though, that while one must not be able to enact perfect justice throughout all of society all at once, nevertheless when we work to enact justice over time, we must still do so in a principled manner. We can’t fight injustice with slightly less injustice. The unrighteous can add a bit of injustice over time all the while remaining effective and consistent with their ideas (“incrementalism” works well for pagans). The righteous, however, cannot do the same thing. This is because what we are fighting isn’t merely the current law, but injustice itself. We may abolish one method of abortion, but the injustice remains. We have to understand the difference between a just King going from town to town (thus not overnight) destroying idols, and a compromised King going town to town only tearing down a fraction of the idols he comes across.

In reference to his “draconian” comments, Wilson clarifies in this latest article.

Why does the law have to be perfectly biblical when it comes to its description of the victims, but does not have to be perfectly biblical when it comes to the penalties applied?

Douglas has apparently misunderstood our position. We have never held this view, but rather that the law absolutely does have to be biblical when it comes to the penalties applied. Of course, we cannot force judges and juries to choose only Biblical methods of punishment (imprisonment not being one of those) in the meantime, but the law can adequately categorize the crime. Wilson’s comments on just punishments are good—great even. But they are also divorced, in this article at least, from any context, and certainly from our position.

Given all this, therefore, what “unprincipled abolitionism” is Wilson talking about? We can all give a hearty “amen” to rejecting unprincipled and unbiblical punishments. Of course. But unless we’re to just assume that Wilson is talking about real-world “draconian” abolitionist ideas, perhaps we should briefly look at what he is actually referring to: the Idaho Abolition Petition.

The “draconian” punishment in question is a first-degree murder charge for mothers convicted of abortion. Sound scary? Women under duress and being forced by their evil boyfriends or pimps to get abortions being charged with first degree murder? That does sound draconian. Some have even claimed it means that women who have miscarriages may be charged with first-degree murder. These fears, however, are unwarranted. On the same website on which you can read the petition, there happens to be a FAQ. Considering a complaint such as the alleged execution of sex-trafficked women or misacrrying mothers, checking out the FAQ is probably at least a good idea, if not a necessary prerequisite. It should always be standard practice before you defame a just cause. Check out the FAQ, maybe ask a lawyer or the authors of the petition, or a legislator. Due diligence is due, after all. The Idaho Petition FAQ states:

Would all abortions result in a first degree murder charge under this legislation?

No.

In American and Idaho law, there is “prosecutorial discretion”. Government prosecuting attorneys have nearly absolute powers. A prosecuting attorney has power on various matters including those relating to choosing whether or not to bring criminal charges, deciding the nature of charges, plea bargaining and sentence recommendation. This discretion of the prosecuting attorney is called prosecutorial discretion.

The natural effect of prosecutorial discretion is that not all parties involved in an illegal abortion would necessarily be treated the same. For example, if a step-father raped his 13 year old step-daughter and forced her to get an illegal abortion in order to cover up his crime, it is likely the 13 year old girl would not be charged with anything, and the father and the abortionist would both be charged with a first degree homicide and possibly other crimes.

See also Idaho Code 18-201, which essentially says there are certain persons who never would be charged with a crime. For example, if someone is forced to commit a crime because they are threatened by someone else and believe their life to be in danger if they don’t commit that crime at the behest of another, Idaho statutes specifically absolve them of culpability for any crime they committed under that duress.

The FAQ also includes a section on why the petition states “first degree” in the first place as well as the expected “what about the life of the mother question.” It’s worth checking out.

With that cleared up, I can say with confidence that claims that this petition (and petitions or proposed legislation similar to it) are overreaching, unbiblical, or draconian are either claims born from ignorance or outright fearmongering.

Summary

To quickly overview the landscape, we have immediatist abolitionists insisting that incrementalism and immediatism are two different things. Furthermore, immediatism is not overnightism. There can be good and righteous increments, but the devil is in the “ism.” Increments are acceptable. Incrementalism is not.

Douglas Wilson and other pro-lifers insist that we are all incrementalists. He, however, wants to be a principled incrementalist and not an unprincipled incrementalist. But what does that mean? How are we to judge what is principled and what is not in such cases? I am very much unsure. On one hand Wilson states that all compromise comes from the heart, but then he also states that “there is a species of incrementalism that is compromised in principle.” Even more confusing is that his example of this “compromised in principle” incrementalism is also something he supports, as we saw. So, although distinguishing between principled and unprincipled incrementalism sounds nice, it has no discernible meaning, and it does not appear that Wilson has demonstrated any meaningful example.

Of course, Wilson may rightly condemn pro-life professionals who secretly want to keep their golden-fundraising goose, but has he ever met a piece of compromise-packed incremental legislation he wouldn’t support? It’s difficult to tell. We can know that Wilson believes that his view is not the one of “temporizers, vacillators, or compromisers.” But why not? Good intentions? Is that all?

Immediatism requires smashmouth immediatism. It is hard. It takes guts and the willingness to say no to the scrap of cheese on the mouse trap. It requires a Kingdom-centric, hopeful, postmillennial, abolition focused strategy. With a real hope in the Gospel and the future of God’s world, we should straighten our backs and speak clearly that compromising on life is an insult to God and those who bear His Image.

Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism
Reasnor/McDurmon – Smashing the idol of “incrementalism” (even the “smashmouth” variety)
Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism, Part Dos
Reasnor – “Smashmouth incrementalism” is still fatal incrementalism
Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism the Third

Notes:

Categories: Worldview

Reacting to The Problem of Slavery in Christian America

American Vision - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 11:21

If you’re not scandalized by the history of slavery and racism in our America, then you have not read much of the full history of it. “Yes, it was bad,” shows hardly adequate reflection, and “but it’s over now” not only compounds this, but shows too much of an eagerness not to learn any more. It’s time to be done with this attitude.

Great reports are already coming in for The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (get your copy here today) from some who have obtained eBook versions and read the first chapter or so. Last night I was told it was “engaging,” which is a tremendous relief for anyone writing history. Of course, the subject matter and shocking truth of what people simply don’t know is a big part of that. Then late last night I got the following comment:

I can’t put your new book down!! Man! you need a podcast or something. Good work sir!

We’ll see about that podcast (I’ve been wanting to for a long time), but the comments on the book are very encouraging. These reactions are exactly what I hoped for.

As you can imagine, however, there is also a good degree of hate. Some modern racists, old South defenders, neoconfederates, and/or old-school alt-righters are already hating on The Problem of Slavery in Christian America (and they haven’t even read a word of it yet!), and their ignorant comments only demonstrate ever more strongly the dire need for the information in this book.

Some have complained, for example, about the title of the book, for various reasons. It just so happens I have a few explanatory lines about the title, which was carefully chosen, in the book’s Preface. These comments may just wet your appetite a little bit for this book:

The best way I can think to spark the needed awakening is to start with what startled and aroused me to action on this topic: the history of slavery and slave laws, and the role of the churches in perpetuating them. Then, I read just how openly unconscionable and callous the justifications and defenses of racism and slavery were, not just from the planters and politicians, but especially from the men who should have known far better—the pastors. It is for this reason that I structured a whole chapter of this book as I have: responses to the claims, argu­ments, lies, myths, and propaganda produced by Southern theologians. In my case, I will focus on the Defense of Virginia [and Through Her, of the South], by Robert Lewis Dabney, but rest assured that Dabney’s position is without question representative of the hundreds of other proslavery defenses that appeared beginning in the 1800s. . . .

[T]his book is entitled The Problem of Slavery in Christian America: An Ethical-Judicial Critique of American Slavery and Racism. This contains several points of its own worth mentioning. First, the main title The Problem of Slavery in Christian America plays off the work of a giant in the field, David Brion Davis. His hefty volumes The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966) and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (1999), as well as The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (2014), are substantial in every way and are probably the closest thing to being definitive works in a field that defies definitive works. While not pretending to have achieved the same status as Davis’s works (which beyond these are voluminous) by any means, I have adopted the theme because I wanted to provide the same type of work with the same type of academic tone for the evangelical Christian world, and I thought it was particularly fitting for the nature of much of the writing which follows.

Second, “Ethical-Judicial” refers to our moral foundations and laws, and means that this book will emphasize the role of laws and institutions pertaining to race and slavery. This includes the roles of both the State and the Church, as well as other key social customs and economic factors, all of which are moral issues. For this reason, Part I of the book details what may be called the “secular” history of these issues, then Part II backs up and tells the history of the churches and religious doctrines involved—and unfortunately, there is much to tell. The description also, however, designates the need for objective stan­dards by which we critique the facts of our history and our attitudes to each other, especially when these are not pretty. The prophets—of which I am not—would have called this type of historical exercise a covenant lawsuit: judging one’s history and institutions according to the law of God, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Third, I do not pretend to address the whole history of slavery, nor “slavery” or “slavery in itself” as an abstraction (an equivocation by which quite a few defenders of the institution stymied many a critic in debate), but specifically “American Slavery.” By this I mean the institu­tion as it came to be practiced specifically in North America, later the United States and the Confederate States of America. In its historical setting, “slavery” in America meant a very specific set of laws, practices, realities, abuses, reactions, prejudices, etc., all of which are insepara­ble from each other. Anyone defending “slavery” in that context was defending the whole of it, no matter what caveat they provided, and anyone criticizing “slavery” in that context was criticizing the whole, no matter what debate opponent or respondent was able to divert the discussion into an abstraction. Here, we specify “American” slavery to cover the whole system in its various forms from the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia around 1619 all the way to industrial penal slavery as late as the 1940s, and perhaps in some select instances beyond.

Fourth, the book deals with both “Slavery and Racism.” In the American context, slavery and racism were made almost inseparable very early in the process, and Part I explains how and why that occurred. But it did not always remain this way. The racism that existed primarily against blacks remained strong long after slavery was formally ended. Society, State, and Church all partook of this sin for decades after the institution of slavery was officially abolished. Even where some forms or legacies of the slave system did not exist, racism still pervaded nearly every area of life.

While this book also does not purport to be anywhere near an exhaustive history of either slavery or racism, not even just in Amer­ica, it is certainly more than enough, I believe, to answer the need for knowledge on the subject, to call, where necessary, some members of society and churches to repentance for neglecting, denying, or dismiss­ing the painful realities.

While there is much more to come, I hope you can see just from this that the issue is far deeper than modern arguments over confederate statues or immigration, or #blacklivesmatter, yet it is also certainly still linked. It is also far deeper and more troubling than any of the neoconfederate or old south sympathizers or defenders I have read (a few of whom are men I otherwise respect) have related. It is my deep and earnest hope they will read this book, and read it very slowly and with much contemplation.

For those of you interested, Reconstructionist Radio has already started an audio version of the book. This will probably take a long while to get up all the way, but the reader, Joe Salant, has done a pretty good job with what I’ve heard so far. Go check that out, too.

Categories: Worldview

NEW! The Problem of Slavery in Christian America

American Vision - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 11:03

 

It’s finally here! After much tedious, painstaking, and gut-wrenching effort on my part, my long-anticipated work The Problem of Slavery in Christian America is finally available. You can get yours in our store in Paperback, Kindle, ePub, or PDF today for $20. (See Table of Contents below.)

As always, any orders over $50 in our store qualify for FREE shipping.

Folks, this is not an introductory volume, nor is it for the faint of heart. This book will mean not just painting your heroes warts and all, but in some cases losing respect for your heroes altogether. Several of my proofreaders and advance readers were shocked. Some said it changed their entire view of American history. All were awakened to a new level. All were Christians and well-read in American history to begin with, yet they had never heard some of the shocking details. Material of this type is dense and fills almost every paragraph throughout the book, and the book weighs in at around 460 pages total. It could have been 600, but I had made my points and had to get this done.

I wrote this book for multiple reasons, and I feel like I have achieved the goals I set out to accomplish:

1) The full extent of the injustices done to blacks, as well as the lasting legacies of these injustices, is largely unknown, especially among white Christians and conservatives. There is broad ignorance. Some of it innocent not-knowing. Whites in general simply do not have much teaching, let alone perspective, at all on the true extent, nature, and depth of the black experience.

To be brief, it is far more extensive, far worse in nature, lasted far longer, had much further-reaching implications, and was far more varied than virtually anyone talks about. Yet talking about it is crucial to healing, beginning in the church, and this simply means we need to do far more listening. This book is about listening. I did nothing but absorb information intensively for about two years or more on it. I offer it to you for you to listen, too.

To be clear: very little of what I relate about any of this is interpretation. I have done my best only to offer objective laws and statements from original sources that matter. I do cite secondary sources in places, but the backbone is all the relevant words of the documents themselves. The unknown depths of the black experience to which I refer are not my opinion; they are objective facts, and all you need to do to learn them is to study the development of the law. There is much besides this, of course, but this is the core of it, and it is not debatable.

2) Southern mythology still exists, and it must be squashed completely. Much of our ignorance stems from deception, not simple lack. The strength of the delusions taught by some Southern apologists, historical and contemporary, is still far too great. One of the historical realities you’ll encounter is how the vast and pervasive anti-black culture was created as part of a mythology and propaganda, and how much the churches either helped create it or stood by approvingly. This continues still today in some conservative Presbyterian and Baptist circles, among others.

3) One of the main reasons I undertook this study and wrote this book: I want to write a book on a biblical view of criminal justice reform; but you cannot understand the problems with the criminal justice institutions in this country unless you understand the history of slave law and slavery, as well as racism. This book is necessary for both looking backward and forward.

Understanding the legal transformations stemming directly from the reaction of whites to blacks in the nineteenth century is crucial to understanding the now-general tyrannies in police power and court power under which we all now live, and which, due to our ignorance of the past, we largely do not even realize as tyranny. In short, much of modern policing, corrections, prosecutorial immunities and privileges are little more than extensions of what whites implemented originally just to control slaves, and later the free black populations. My desire to write a book on a biblical view of criminal justice reform led me into Roman civil law systems, an ultimately into slave law systems in America. This was the necessary groundwork for going forward.

I think I have presented the material solidly enough to achieve these goals and more. Part I of the book gives a comprehensive outline of the development of slave laws and some political and cultural history from the earliest arrival of Africans up until the Civil Rights era. Then, in Part II, I back up and cover the role of the churches throughout the same time period. It was not pretty.

I’ll have more to say on this in the near future, but as far as I know, there is no other single book that covers all these issues, let alone together, and not to the same extent.

I’ll give you one little teaser/spoiler: the intellectual hero of the time should have been the Quaker George Keith, who published the earliest-known critique of American slavery in 1693—and it was strictly theonomic. That’s right, a Quaker, and theonomic. No one listened to him, but had they done so, God’s law would have ended the entirety of the sad tale of American slavery and racism altogether before it really ever began. I’ll leave you to Part II of the book for the rest of that detail.

Then, I finish with a little appeal from a racially-charged mandate from Scripture, involving a few characters on the Jericho Road.

Now, I need you to help me get the word out. Get your copy of The Problem of Slavery in Christian America today, and like, share, and tell all your friends. I am very proud of this work, very happy to have it available for you, and very hopeful for what it could help accomplish—if we will listen.

Categories: Worldview

“Smashmouth incrementalism” is still fatal incrementalism

American Vision - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 19:19

Over the last few days both Toby Sumpter (pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, ID) and Douglas Wilson (pastor Christ Church of Moscow, ID) have responded to Joel McDurmon’s and my critique of Wilson’s comments on incrementalism and abolitionism. For the record, the link to the podcast in which Douglas made comments about abolitionism is here, his first “smashmouth incrementalism” article is here, Toby’s response to our critique is here, and Douglas’s response is here.

Though I appreciate the dialogue from these two Muscovites, I cannot yet say that either Toby or Douglas have addressed my concerns. Toby’s article was of more substance, so I’m thankful to him in particular for offering some more meat to chew on. Even if some of that meat is past its expiration date. Wilson’s second “smashmouth” article makes clear that Douglas Wilson has solid pro-life credentials. Some of that past action is commendable, but it is also not the point. No one was saying, however, that Douglas Wilson isn’t pro-life. Quite the opposite. He is very much pro-life. So much so that he shares in the standard pro-life compromises we have become used to seeing over the last 40-plus years. The problem isn’t a lacking of “pro-lifeness,” the problem is the pro-life movement. For this reason, there is really no need in this debate to flex one’s prove pro-life credentials.

Incrementalism is, quite rightly, compromise

Before I can address some of the more substantial positions advocated by Toby (and seconded by Douglas) I should address some confusions and misunderstandings.

Douglas’s recent article seems to imply that we are saying the same thing while I am now more than ever confident we are not. This is made very clear by Douglas’s unqualified affirmation of Toby’s article—an article in support of the recent 20-week ban. The same ban that we (Joel and I) unequivocally oppose and did so clearly in our article. This flattening-out of ideas and important distinctions characterizes both Douglas’s and Toby’s responses. It creates an unhelpful obfuscation that only leads readers to misunderstand what is being said. In Douglas’s second “smashmouth” article, he writes;

Now in McDurmon’s and Reasnor’s response to my piece they rejected, quite rightly, any approach whatever that concluded with “and after that you can kill the baby.” For not one moment in all these years have I countenanced that kind of thinking. After that, we demand the next thing.

However, that is not at all what we wrote. Pay attention to the difference. What we wrote was this.

Any bill that functionally could end with “and then you can kill the baby” reinforces the dehumanizing and godless nature of abortion, and it is on that very highway.

We are talking about the specific legislation. We are not talking about a vague approach that advocates for inaction after a pro-life bill is passed. We are not talking about supporting legislation and then failing to do more, we’re talking precisely about the legislation itself. This includes the very same legislation Toby and Douglas are here supporting. It includes something that could indeed functionally end the way we mentioned, and which Douglas concedes we would be “quite rightly” rejecting.

When a pro-life law only protects some of the preborn, it could functionally end with “and then you can kill the baby.” Even if that legal reality is just assumed or implied in something like a 20-week ban, it is still an implied, legalized and encoded, recognition of the right to murder a child. No Christian can support this consistently with their faith. Furthermore, many (though not all) pro-life legislation explicitly contains language that states that its purpose is limited and not meant to hinder “women’s right to abortion access.” This is because much legislation is written in a way to abide by Roe v Wade—to work within the legal paradigm that decision created and not defy it. The goal of such legal maneuvering is to evade any Roe v Wade challenge, not to overturn Roe v Wade. Let me be as clear as I possibly can. Any bill, political action, or rhetoric, that betrays the legal and ethical foundations for which we are fighting is “incrementalism” and is opposed by abolitionists. We cannot gain that for which we are fighting by betraying the very ideas we are attempting to establish.

So, is Wilson wanting to appear to agree with us, while at the same time rejecting what we are really saying? I don’t know. Maybe we need to be clearer. All I can do is repeat the same distinctions I did before.

In a similar apparent confusion, Wilson and Sumter both call us “all incrementalists.” We are not all incrementalists. Wilson states that,

But, as Toby points out, we are all incrementalists. McDurmon and Reasnor distinguish their position from “overnightism.” Yes, exactly. Can we talk?

Yes. I’d like to talk. But no, we are not all incrementalists. I’d like it if we weren’t talking past each other. In order to have that sort of edifying dialogue, however, we can’t dismiss or neglect key distinctions. Wilson points out that we distinguish immediatism from overnightism, but we also distinguish incrementalism from our immediatism. He points out that we make one distinction, but then moves forward not even making mention of the more important distinction—the very one that separates our ideas.

Abolitionism and immediatism (one tenet of five) does not in any way set up an expectation for overnight or immediate change. Not at all. In Toby’s article, he commented, “As Doug likes to say, God is perfect but He is not a perfectionist.” To apply that good quotation to this discussion, it should read “God uses increments but he isn’t an incrementalist.” God is not an incrementalist or an overnightist. There are differences. There is also a third option: the option described in detail in our first response, immediatism. This is a no-compromising strategy that does not accept any political means that betray the very values we are seeking to establish.

In my first response, I made the comparison between personal repentance and covenantal or corporate repentance. Some took issue with this, complaining that incrementalism is legitimate when we’re dealing with institutions or corporate bodies but not legitimate when dealing with individuals. However, when the Prophets of God called Israel to repent, they called for immediate repentance on the corporate level as well, even with the understanding that Israel may take years if not generations to change. The prophets never offered up deals or strategies to partially repent now and maybe a little bit more repentance later. No. Not at all. They were smashmouth in the only sense one should be: smashmouth immediatists. They were not incrementalists, but Abolitionists of idolatry. They were not naive in thinking Israel will be perfect the next day, but they did not lessen the commands of God because of the wickedness of men. They did not suggest and support plans to repent only gradually. In other words, God’s secret providential plan for the abolition of abortion is not in conflict with our duty to call for total and immediate abolition of abortion. That duty extends to acting in accordance with that call and only using our influence to support actions consistent with that call.

Distinguishing between “incrementalism,” “overnightism,” and “immediatism” may seem tedious to some readers, but critics of abolition have driven us to develop these terms precisely over time, and it is not simply a semantic difference. When pro-life commentators like Wilson or Sumter enter the discussion without the same careful distinctions, or do not honor those terms in the same way, it causes problems. If Wilson defined “smashmouth incrementalism” as abolitionists define “immediatism” there would be less of an argument. Words do matter. While differing definitions could still cause confusion, but we would have unity on the substance of the discussion. However, that is not the case here. We are not on the same page, no matter how nice that would be.

Geographical what?

Another confusion that should be cleared up is demonstrated in this statement from Wilson:

If someone has compromise in his heart, then geographical incrementalism (approved by McDurmon and Reasnor) could be just as problematic as that posed by “after twenty weeks” legislation.

This use of terminology in Wilson’s characterization of Joel and me is problematic and in line with the overall confusion. This is how Joel and I mentioned about the “geographical” ethics of abolition:

Geographically-bounded abolition is not a form of incrementalism.

Yet Wilson says that McDurmon and Reasnor approve of “geographical incrementalism”? We do not. We approve of geographical abolition. The indispensable distinction is that geographical abolition is contained by jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the right to speak or say what the law is. “Incrementalism” in this debate does not refer to the limits of jurisdiction, but to self-imposed (and unrighteous) limitations when speaking the law within that jurisdiction.

For example, again, I cannot repent for someone else’s sin, and Idaho cannot abolish abortion for Oklahoma. An uncompromised abolition of abortion within jurisdictional bounds is not “incrementalism” in the same way that repenting of your own personal sins but not your brothers sin does not make you guilty of false repentance.

Increments are not neutral

Wilson sets up a theological foundation for compromise when he refers to “compromise in his heart.” He adds,

But the compromise is always in the heart, and not in the nature of the increment. Our reply should sound like Nancy Pelosi on gun control.

This is little more than an appeal to the subjectivity of “good intentions,” and it forms the basis for political compromise. It means, in other words, as long as political compromise comes from a “good heart,” it is not really compromise. The compromise is not in the neutrality, it’s only in the heart. If the heart is therefore good, so will be the increments compromised. As Joel and I argued in the previous article, this is a reliance on moral neutrality. It makes the increments implicitly neutral—free from ethical import and freed from ethical judgment or scrutiny. To quote myself,

For incrementalism to be accepted as ethically justifiable, its proponents, like Wilson, must assume moral neutrality for our civil magistrates and their actions.

Wilson admits this. He does care so much to examine the “nature of the increment.” He only wants to judge the heart. This turns the Biblical principle on its head. We are to judge all things. There is no neutrality. Some readers may even get sick of reading “no neutrality” over and over again, but until this basic ethical concept is understood in its pervasive reality, we should keep hitting that note.

Jeff Durbin, for example, is absolutely right when he makes the same point:

Our culture of death believes in the moral “right” to kill their developing humans. That’s not merely a “political” issue. That’s a moral issue. And placating to the unbeliever by pretending neutrality when we fight against it is also a moral issue. It is immoral to fight abortion from a “neutral” position.

Too much evil has been perpetrated by men whose hearts are full of genuinely good intentions. How we fight for justice matters as much as our idea of what justice is. Wilson tried to align abolitionism with the violence of John Brown in his previous piece, but he does not seem to see it is his own view that partakes more of that type of moral autonomy. John Brown was in sin because his method was sinful. Would Wilson defend John Brown if he could charitably discern that John Brown’s intentions were pure? Would Douglas only examine his heart, or would he also examine his methods? Christian civil ethics do not revolve around intentions, but actions, too. It is not the job of the magistrate to judge the heart of man (with very limited exceptions), but his actions. This is a standard of utmost importance.

There is, however, some limited theonomic principle regarding intent that may be relevant.

Murder and Ageism

Toby Sumpter makes reference to this principle:

The other way of overshooting would be insisting that mothers be prosecuted for first degree murder. Yes, mothers are complicit in the murder of their babies, but the Bible makes distinctions between certain degrees of guilt and Western law has developed those principles. Those sorts of violent or clunky tactics really do set the movement back.

There is a theonomic idea that distinguishes between intentional killing from unintentional killing. We can think of it as the difference between manslaughter and murder, but Toby’s (and by endorsement Wilson’s as well) leaning on this principle is lacking for primarily two reasons. First, this principle applies to an accidental death of a man. Not a planned out and intentional death that you delusionally refuse to acknowledge as murder. For example, if a racist murders a black man, he can’t make the argument that his punishment should be less than death because he personally dehumanizes black men. Saying that the mother guilty of abortion is innocent of murder (or guilty of some lesser crime) because of her sinful delusion that the preborn is not an Image Bearer of God, is like saying that the lynch mob is not guilty of murdering the black man because they too have dehumanized their victim.

Second, even though accidental death is different than justifying murder because of even genuinely held pro-abort ideas, what does scripture say about accidently causing the death of the preborn? I’ll let Dr. North answer that. In reference to Exodus 21, he writes:

It was clearly understood by Christians that anyone who caused a premature birth in which the baby died or was injured had committed a criminal act, despite the fact that the person did not plan to cause the infant’s injury or death. The abortion described in the text is the result of a man’s battle with another man, an illegitimate form of private vengeance for which each man is made fully responsible should injury ensue, either to each other (Ex. 21:18-19) or to innocent bystanders. If this sort of “accidental” abortion is treated as a criminal act, how much more a deliberate abortion by a physician or other murderer! Only when pagan intellectuals in the general culture came out in favor of abortion on demand did pro-abortionists within the church begin to deny the relevancy of the introductory section of the passage.

This anti-abortion attitude among Christians began to change with the escalation of the humanists’ pro-abortion rhetoric in the early 1960’s. Christian intellectuals have always taken their ideological cues from the humanist intellectuals who have established the prevailing “climate of opinion,” from the early church’s acceptance of the categories of pagan Greek philosophy to the modern church’s acceptance of tax-funded, “religiously neutral” education. . . .

Only when Christian anti-abortionists freely and enthusiastically admit that the Bible demands the public execution for all convicted abortionists, and also for the women who pay for them, will they at last be proclaiming the Bible’s judicial requirements.

Even a sincere belief, therefore, that abortion is A-OK isn’t an argument against murder being murder. Furthermore, intentionality in this case isn’t even relevant according to Dr. North and Exodus 21.

Take note that North references “religiously neutral” education. Though Douglas certainly isn’t a public school advocate, the arguments Christian public school defenders use assume the same thing: neutrality, only in their case, neutrality of education. Douglas uses the same argument in defense of incrementalism. But neither education nor laws, not even parts or increments of laws, are neutral.

Another theonomic principle is the idea of victim’s rights. Favoring the “heart” of the murderer over the genuine victim turns this principle upside-down. The emphasis of justice is not rehabilitation to the criminal, but restitution for the crime. We must make sure that we don’t spit on the victim of murder for the sake of the criminal.

Abolitionists insist we hold the criminals accountable. Wilson calls the abolitionist petition to do this in his state “unbiblically draconian,” and Toby calls the principle “violent and clunky,” but it is nothing more than the basics of what God’s law requires—that is, Theonomy. But if the answer to purportedly harsh-sounding petitions and views regarding murder is a rejection of Theonomy, what is the alternative? By what standard are we replacing these so-called “draconian” principles? Try to discern the heart of every murderer? Of every aborting mother? Create a special class of Image Bearer of God that should be treated different than newborns, teenagers, or gray-bearded rhetoricians? God’s Law is not complicated on this point. Men complicate it for various reasons. Play the Huff-post card by calling the theonomic position “draconian,” but without a real alternative besides good-hearted compromises, Huff-post wins. Any position that would treat the preborn as less protected than a newborn should be rejected as utterly ageist, duplicitous, and unrighteous.

Fake bans and lies, damn lies, and statistics

Toby provides us the opportunity to discuss a specific example of incrementalism. This is the meat I mentioned above—something substantial that we can discuss. Toby says he supports the 20-week abortion ban, or the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” This act attempts to restrict abortion to 20 weeks (with numerous exceptions) because the preborn could possibly feel pain at that point. The ethical principle of this act is, in essence, if you are unable to feel pain, it’s okay to murder you. The theological argument against this intrinsically compromised act has already been made. Some practical thoughts, however, are that it will not overturn Roe v Wade, it will not save babies, and it will only further engrain ageist law and ideas in our culture.

There’s very little evidence to indicate that a bill like the 20-week ban saves lives even in the short-term. There is, however, reason to suspect that it condemns lives in the long-term.

The numbers being thrown around about how many it’ll save are taken from how many are aborted currently post-20th week. This means that the “statisticians” are only using one factor to make their claim. It is sloppy at best, and dishonest at worst. There are many different factors, and past laws have shown that when a regulation is passed the market shifts slightly to adjust to the regulation. The demand for abortion has remained steady for forty years. With this stable demand, the abortion industry has shown flexibility in how they offer abortion.

If Ford, for example, makes 100 trucks a year to meet demand, but 10 of those trucks do not meet a new regulatory standard, what happens? Does Ford only make only 90 trucks next year, or does Ford meet the regulatory standard and the market demand and still make 100 trucks?

Regulationism works in a similar manner in the abortion market. When one method (like partial birth or dismemberment) is outlawed, the demand for abortion remains relatively the same and the market shifts to account for that change. So instead of 15,000 dismemberment abortions, they just shift to another method. Those 15,000 abortions don’t just go away. A bill like the 20-week ban will do even less than this.

Furthermore, as readily-available access to hormonal and abortifacient birth control methods increases, the correlating statistic that decreases is the pregnancy rate. But we also know that these statistics tracking pregnancy rates do not track conception pre-implantation and early first trimester pregnancy. So, while the official total abortion percentage has decreased slightly over the last ten to fifteen years, the pregnancy rate they are using decreased and the reason why that rate decreased is at least partially because of uncounted abortions. It is not just padding the stats, it is padding them twice.

Simply put, don’t buy into the sound-bite numbers. They serve more of a PR and political purpose than a scientific purpose. Regulations in the abortion market put economic pressure on the “mom and pop” local abortion clinic while driving business to monoliths such as Planned Parenthood. While pro-lifers celebrate tiny and old abortion clinics closing down, the reality is that larger “providers” such as Planned Parenthood are eating up that demand and supplying the market with new, huge, and well-funded abortion mega-clinics. That’s the reality on the ground.

Pro-life laws defend Roe v Wade

It is a little known fact, but in the arguments of the Roe v Wade decision, one of the most devastating arguments the pro-choicers made was that the pro-life laws already on the books in Texas did not recognize the humanity and the legal rights of the unborn. Not even before Roe v Wade. If you murdered your baby before Roe v Wade in Texas, and pretty much everywhere in the US, you got a slap on the wrist. That’s it. Texas did not treat abortion as murder before Roe v Wade, and that was used as a legal foundation for why it should be accessible to women in general. From the Roe v Wade decision itself:

When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. The exception contained [410 U.S. 113, 158] in Art. 1196, for an abortion procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, is typical. But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother’s condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment’s command?

There are other inconsistencies between Fourteenth Amendment status and the typical abortion statute. It has already been pointed out, n. 49, supra, that in Texas the woman is not a principal or an accomplice with respect to an abortion upon her. If the fetus is a person, why is the woman not a principal or an accomplice? Further, the penalty for criminal abortion specified by Art. 1195 is significantly less than the maximum penalty for murder prescribed by Art. 1257 of the Texas Penal Code. If the fetus is a person, may the penalties be different?

Did you catch it? A few reasons for why abortion in America is considered a legal right is because of exceptions, partiality in the law against the pre-born, and most startling, a denial that the mother is not a principal or accomplice to murder. Incrementalism, as defined by abolitionists of all ages, is not a slow victory. It is a cornerstone of defeat. This is not “hyper-machismo” or “sentimentalism.” It is a recognition of the reality straight from the history of American law and the decision of Roe v Wade itself.

This is one of the primary rhetorical or philosophical problems with incrementalism. The effectiveness of incrementalism does not and cannot work both ways. A lack of consistency on the pro-life end is, and has been, used with great effect to establish even greater access to abortion. Regarding abortion, a lack of principled consistency (incrementalism for example) is philosophically and ethically, practically and effectively pro-choice. Any compromise that a pro-lifer makes is not neutral, but will be grounded in the pro-choice worldview. How much fecal matter would you like in your water? Would you drink a cup with a little less than before? What works for Nancy Pelosi, Saul Alinsky, and Marxists shouldn’t be emulated by Christians. They can gradually add their filth to the water and that method works for them, but I’ll take some pure water, please. Considering this, if we could save 1% now (unlikely at best), are we doing so at the expense of actual abolition? Are we begging for scraps that only keep us under the heels of bloody Supreme Court “justices”?  For every compromise, we not only fail to abolish abortion, we further delay and set back the abolishing of abortion. We have no way of knowing how many children that condemns, but I dare say that it is far greater than any small percentage that could be “saved.”

Because Toby pointed out that I didn’t address the “smashmouth” qualifier in Wilson’s article, I will do so now. Being an aggressive and confrontational incrementalist still leaves you with being an incrementalist, and incrememntalism is inherently wrong. The problem isn’t the tone we take or the modifiers we use to describe it. The problem is the incrementalism. Being aggressively and confrontationally compromising is hardly a fix for anything.

Notes:

Categories: Worldview

I was discriminated against for my religious beliefs . . . and I’m perfectly OK with it

American Vision - Tue, 10/17/2017 - 08:55

I’m a writer by occupation and vocation. I write around 20 articles each month and publish them on GaryDeMar.com. I also write books—32 since 1982. For each title, I need a cover. Often I can find a royalty-free image from my vast collection of images. Sometimes I hire an artist because I want something very specific. My book Wars and Rumors of Wars is a good example.

My upcoming book The Real Truth About the Rapture needs a cover. The book American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism has a great cover that would work with the subject matter of my book. If you are interested in the history of prophetic speculation in the United States, American Apocalypse is a great place to start.

The painting used on the cover is titled “The Rapture.” It reminded me of the following detail from the cover of Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman. 

You can view the entire painting of “The Rapture” by Ryan Hershka here.

I contacted Mr. Hershka’s agent to find out how much it would cost to use a detail of the painting for my book. She wanted more information, so I sent her a copy of my book with the image included on the cover for her to see how much of the painting I would be using. Here’s her response:

“Thank you for your interest in Ryan’s work, Gary.

RYAN DOES NOT WANT TO BE AFFILIATED WITH ANY RELIGION OR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR WRITINGS ESPECIALLY REGARDING HIS ARTWORK.”

I asked her why Ryan allowed his artwork to be used as the cover image of American Apocalypse? She told me that she was not Ryan’s agent when his work was used for the cover for American Apocalypse. I would like to hear Ryan’s response. He must have given permission for its use. Why that book and not mine? Is it because American Apocalypse does not advocate for a religious position?

As most of my readers know, there is a legal battle going on in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain regarding bakers, printers, photographers, and filmmakers who are protective of their art. Here’s the latest from Great Britain.

Jack Phillips has been harassed by the government for the same reason.

“But I don’t make every cake for every event.” It’s not just same-sex weddings: “I’ll sell anyone any cake I’ve got,” Phillips wrote in a letter to the Denver Post in 2016. “But I won’t design a cake that promotes something that conflicts with the Bible’s teachings. And that rule applies to far more than cakes celebrating same-sex marriages. I also won’t use my talents to celebrate Halloween, anti-American or anti-family themes, atheism, racism, or indecency.”

If Phillips can be forced by law to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, then can he be forced to make a cake celebrating Satan? Far fetched? Not in the least. Last month he received a request to “design and bake a cake celebrating Satan’s birthday.”

“I would like to get a quote on a birthday cake, for a special event,” the email request to baker Jack Phillips, sent Sept. 30 [2017] and exclusively obtained by The Daily Signal, reads. It continues: “It is a cake that is religious in theme, and since religion is a protected class, I am hoping that you will gladly bake this cake. As you see, the birthday cake in question is to celebrate the birthday of Lucifer, or as they [sic] are also known Satan who was born as Satan when he was cast from heaven by God.

The request for Phillips to quote a price for the cake also asks for an “upside down cross, under the head of Lucifer.”

Should Phillips be forced to make the cake? I suspect that most people would say no. What if it’s a cake for a same-sex wedding with a satanic theme?

Muslim-owned bakery was asked to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. The owner refused. Why wasn’t any legal action taken? Should a printing company owned by homosexuals be forced to make t-shirts for an anti-gay marriage event? These lesbians said no.

These anti-discrimination laws are not just about religion. Everyone should be protected from being forced to comply to the shifting sands of government defined rights.

“The request for Jack to make a cake celebrating Satan proves the danger of using these kinds of laws to force people in the artistic profession to create artwork that violates their beliefs,” Jeremy Tedesco, a senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview….

“If the government has the power to force Jack to create cakes and engage in artistic expression that violates his beliefs, it has that power over all of us. That’s why you can be for same-sex marriage, but you can also be for, and should be for, Jack Phillips to prevail in this case.

Ryan Hershka has every right to refuse me the use of “The Rapture” painting for any reason. It’s his painting. No government should force any artist to sell or rent his/her talents because some group has raised a fuss. There are other bakers and other artists. Take your business elsewhere as I will take mine.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa was fined $135,000 for acting in terms of the owner’s personal beliefs in the same way a black printer would be within his rights to refuse to print signs for a pro-KKK rally, or a Jewish baker would be within her rights to refuse to bake a cake for a Nazi-themed wedding or Ellen DeGeneres who does not want to have someone on her show who is critical of same-sex sexuality. Each of them should have the freedom to refuse to support a view he or she does not agree with. But only Sweet Cakes by Melissa was fined.

The Supreme Court has taken up Jack Phillips’ case. It should be a 9-0 decision in favor of Phillips and other persecuted artists. But the law is now in the hands of jurists, some of whom have lost the ability to think straight. Don’t be surprised if the decision is 5-4 against Phillips. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already shown her bias by marrying same-sex couples. She should recuse herself, but she won’t.

Categories: Worldview

LISTEN: Gary DeMar on Iron Sharpens Iron

American Vision - Fri, 10/13/2017 - 07:39

Gary DeMar joins host Chris Arnzen and co-host Rev. Buzz Taylor on Iron Sharpens Iron to discuss his new book, Wars and Rumors of Wars, and responds to listener questions from around the globe on various topics ranging from apologetics, eschatology, worldview, and more.

This podcast—nine years in the making—is a must listen for those new to postmillennialism and seasoned veterans alike.

Categories: Worldview

Smashing the idol of “incrementalism” (even the “smashmouth” variety)

American Vision - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 12:42

by John Reasnor and Joel McDurmon

As Christian Reconstructionists and abolitionists, Douglas Wilson’s recent article on incrementalism and the so-called “abolish human abortion now” mentality is disconcerting. This is not his first article on “incrementalism,” but it has been some time since he has been this clear in his support for it. In fact, in previous articles, he expressed a need for “hardliners,” though he still advocated for incrementalism. Now, however, he appears for some reason eager to distance himself from hardline abolitionists. It is lamentable, therefore that he does not address the real positions of modern abolitionists, and writes very little that could be charitably called an argument. In light of this, it seems that Doug Wilson’s most pressing goal is to let us know he is opposed to these “abolitionists.” We’re glad he’s at least taking notice, but not so glad that he is failing to engage the actual ideas or ideals held by abolitionists. We are left with little argument and a lot of fallacies, and both of these realities are worth exposing.

A few introductory comments: In his defense of incrementalism, he (naively in our opinion) seems to place the main hope of any future abolition of abortion in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court. We’ll return to this, but it really isn’t even incrementalism, unless by “incrementalism” you mean throwing yourself against a brick wall over and over again. Honestly, no one is technically opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade based on ethical grounds.

Second, Wilson suggests an association between modern abolitionism and John Brown and violence. This is about the lowest level of fallacy in which one can engage—less characteristic of man who coauthored a book on logic and more so of the same exact same type of arguments used against Abolish Human Abortion by, say, Jordan Hall. Not only is it a disgrace to treat brethren so, it can come back to haunt a person. After all, it was just a few days ago that Douglas Wilson affirmed the death penalty as a potential civil punishment for some homosexuals. Would a critic therefore be justified in holding New Saint Andrews students in suspicion as potential perpetrators of the next Matthew Shepard event? By Doug’s logic here, they would.

Also, Wilson refers to the non-incremental hardline position as the “abolish human abortion now” sentiment. This is a conflation (purposeful?) of the names of “Abolish Human Abortion” abolitionists who have joined together to fight our modern holocaust, and the “End Abortion Now” group. Whatever the rhetorical point here, the two groups do share an ideal that abolitionists rightly call immediatism. They are certainly two separate groups, however.

Defining terms

First, we must understand the terms. Because “incrementalism” and “immediatism” are not Biblical terms defined by Scripture, it is important to understand what we mean when we use them. Within the context of abortion abolitionism (the good folks of whom Wilson is speaking), these terms have a well understood historical meaning established first by the British Abolitionists and later the American Abolitionists of slavery. These are historical words, and although words can change meaning over time, if any meaningful discussion is to be had about or with us rascally abolitionists, critics should understand what we mean by these terms.

Incrementalism is not merely change through increments, and immediatism is not merely immediate change. Slapping an “ism” at the end of a term often has dramatic effects on the meaning of the word. Increments are good and fine. Incrementalism, however, is another story.

Immediatism is a primarily spiritual strategy that calls for personal, ecclesiological, and civil repentance as well as the establishment of justice according to God’s Holy and perfect Word. There is and can be no compromise in this standard, in the call to repentance and change based upon this standard, or in the goal at which this standard aims.

Incrementalism is a primarily pragmatic-political strategy that attempts the establishment of true justice by means of legislative compromise and piecemeal regulation that could theoretically, eventually result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade (for example) or other laws deemed unjust.

To illustrate this on the level of personal jurisdiction, exhorting a brother to repent immediately of lust by the power of Holy Spirit is an example of immediatism.

Even though it is possible for that sin to be killed immediately, it is likely and understood that it may take time for that sin to be put to death. However, even while understanding that change may take time, calling on this brother to fully repent is immediatism.

Suggesting to a brother, however, merely to cut down on his porn habit to only a few times a week in order to make breaking the habit easier would be an example of incrementalism. The justification for such a position could be that immediate repentance is unlikely and full repentance is difficult. The problem is, however, that you’re left in the position of actually justifying some sin and putting off repentance. And for how long? Perhaps indefinitely.

Thinking that a brand new Christian becomes perfect as soon as he is regenerate is simply unrealistic. We could call this particular naivete “overnightism.” But this view is a strawman of immediatism.

Immediatism is not overnightism. Immediatism understands the reality that abortion will most likely not be abolished overnight. This, however, does not justify preaching or demanding any goal less than total and absolute repentance and change. Our call is for righteousness and strategies that do not conflict legally, rhetorically, and theologically with this end goal. We understand that while we keep demanding and working to accomplish this goal, society may advance only in increments in the meantime. We do not denounce such advance, but we also continue to demand the full reality, and only the full reality.

Just as we would not settle for a Christian watching porn only part of the time, so we would not settle for a nation only partially outlawing abortion. Just as we would not begin by calling the porn-addict only to partial change, so we do not support calls only for partial solutions to child sacrifice and murder. And just as we begin only with the call to full repentance, so we must proceed, maintain, and end only with the same standard. Even if our call, agitation, and work result only in partial change along the way, we still only advocate full repentance, and never sanction partial as a goal.

Immediatism, then, is nothing more than the Christian doctrine of repentance applied to all spheres of life.

When Doug Wilson writes in favor of incrementalism, he speaks of a different standard. Wilson makes a distinction between principled incrementalism and unprincipled incrementalism—a distinction not made by the individuals he is criticizing. But tactics that do not rhetorically and theologically compromise on the Law/Word of God are not incrementalism, they are actually considered immediatist tactics by these “abolish human abortion now” abolitionists. If any “incrementalist” law, bill, or decision were truly principled according to God’s Word, then it would actually be consistent with the Christian doctrine of repentance held by immediatism. This is because true and godly increments can occur, but only if they honor the boundaries of God’s Word.

Please note that this is true even if the strategy is not an “overnightism” strategy—which we do not expect or teach anyway. Overnightism is the favored strawman the compromising incrementalists continue to burn down again and again. Immediatism, however, has yet to be singed.

Compromise and capitulation

Practical examples of the compromised incrementalism are not difficult to find. Seeking justice only for those older than twenty weeks, for example, is not seeking justice at all. Attempting to protect a fraction of the innocent unborn is no more the establishment of justice than acknowledging the value of only half-whites would have been under antebellum slavery. It is not justice at all. It is not even a step in the right direction. It would have been a continuation and reiteration of gross injustice against blacks. It would in fact have been worse than before because it soothes the conscience with the false impression of justice, while actually justifying the previous standard of black slavery with the same facade of goodness. Same with abortion today.

Any initiative that makes exceptions is discriminating. It discriminates against children under twenty weeks, preimplantation, conceived in rape, and so on. Such a standard must necessarily rely upon the philosophical and legal presupposition that the unborn themselves are not human beings created in the Image of God and thus not worthy of equal protection under the law. Although the motives of pro-lifers are often admirable, good intentions are the devil’s playground. Someone once said something about a certain highway to a certain place being paved with good intentions. Any bill that functionally could end with “and then you can kill the baby” reinforces the dehumanizing and godless nature of abortion, and it is on that very highway.

There is one reason why abortion is still legal in the all fifty American states. That reason is because pro-life conservatives and politicians do not treat abortion like murder. Even in laws written by pro-lifers and laws that were meant for good, the laws treat abortion like a right. Yes, they treat it legally as a right that needs to be regulated, but that still means they assume it as a right nonetheless. Abortion, according to incrementalism, is treated like healthcare. This is the linchpin of the pro-abort position, and pro-life incrementalists have unwittingly adopted it as their own. When folks like Doug Wilson defend their incrementalism, they are implicitly defending abortion as a human right like any other market freedom.

Legally and philosophically, this admission is all pro-aborts need. They need, both legally and philosophically, only this sole admission—whether explicitly or implicitly—that abortion is healthcare, or any form of lawful human right, in any way, and not murder. If they have that one tiny foothold, abortion continues indefinitely. Christians routinely hand the pro-death lobby the one thing they need on a silver platter. When Christians refuse, for example, to call abortion-guilty mothers what they are, murderers, we reject justice and deny these mothers the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If these women are victims, they have nothing to repent of. This is a dangerous position masquerading as compassion. Love calls murder what it is. When legislators and Christian leaders support legislation that only regulates the murder of abortion, they are cooperating with the paradigm that claims that murder is not murder. Does Christ have fellowship with Baal? Apparently so, if we accept the traditional incrementalist’s standard. Operating within this legal and philosophical paradigm, there can never be a step in the right direction. It is not a path to a slow victory, but rather it is a confession of defeat. You may be walking, but you’re walking on a treadmill. You can never hope to reach the goal of abolition if you only aim for regulation. When murder is regulated, murder can never be called murder, and thus in can never legally be murder. Such compromise means in practice full capitulation to the pro-abort standard.

No neutrality

For incrementalism to be accepted as ethically justifiable, its proponents, like Wilson, must assume moral neutrality for our civil magistrates and their actions. Such neutrality is, of course, a humanistic and antinomian myth. There is no neutrality. God’s law is the standard for all men in all times and all places. Murder is murder no matter who does it or sanctions it.

When it comes to government, ends are not ethically neutral either—but neither are the means we employ to reach those ends. But incrementalists deny this in different ways. Wilson, for example, advocates it in part on perceived pragmatic grounds:

Also, in the abstract, incrementalism is not necessarily ineffective in cultural battles. It has been the central tactic used against us by the Gramscians, and with devastating effect. They have managed their “long march through the institutions.” So incrementalism does not necessarily mean “lose slowly.”

An immediatist would acknowledge the historical reality here, but would never settle for adopting anything like “the abstract,” because that leaves one subject to moral neutrality. There are no such abstractions in the reality of God’s creation. Only created realities over which God is sovereign. Therefore, one can only understand the “abstract” to which Doug here appeals by putting it back in its proper and real ethical context. To, “incrementalism is not necessarily ineffective in cultural battles,” we need to add, “for these godless pagans.” For more on this perspective, see the abolitionist talk given in Austin in 2016. After all, “Gramsci made me do it,” is not a much better argument than blaming any other slithering beast.

When a pastor such as Wilson is quick to suggest, therefore, that we mirror the tactics of quasi-Marxist Gramscians, the terrorist Saul Alinsky, and the pro-death liberal lobby, one must ask if he actually believes the ends justify the means. That only the results are judged, not the actions. The Christian incrementalist, assuming this standard, must necessarily rely on this mythical neutrality of the state and the myth of its special immunity in its processes. He must not attempt to discern the justness or unjustness of specific laws, or else it becomes plain that to regulate murder is no justice at all. Instead of examining the law itself, such a baptized pragmatism sees only the possible effects of the law.

What if we apply the same incrementalism to other issues? Many Christians—Douglas Wilson not least among them—boldly condemned the Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage as unjust and wicked. Let us imagine a rather pessimistic future: years from now, marriage to multiple partners, children, and animals is legalized and institutionalized. Would, then, a decision or a law defining marriage as between only two adults of any gender be seen as a great victory to the horde of evangellyfish Christians and their advocates at the Big Evangelicalism establishments, à la “Gospel” Coalition, conservative seminaries, popular blogs, and denominations? Considering the enthusiastic support they give today for abortion incrementalism, we could have no confidence in writers like Doug Wilson to stand against an Obergefell-esque law that rolls back pedopheliac marriage, polygamy, and zoophiliac marriage to mere homosexual marriage. But as long as if it could be seen as “a step in the right direction,” such an incremental law that happened to restate the right to gay marriage would be celebrated by such Christian leaders, organizations, and followers. What Wilson and others denounce today would, by their own standard, be a great victory for them tomorrow. That they logically would celebrate a law that would enshrine homo-marriage demonstrates the subjectivism and relativism of their pragmatic views.

(And let us be clear here: no one is saying that Doug Wilson actually celebrates homosexual marriage. We are saying that his position logically entails it, and if the scenario described ever played out, and he remained consistent with his position, he would find himself faced with that reality. This much is inescapable. The only consistent escape from this embarrassment at that point would be to become an abolitionist on the issue.)

Immediatism versus unjust increments

As stated above, the SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade is not incrementalism. That is, as long as the decision does not replace Roe v. Wade with another dehumanizing policy. Removing a dehumanizing SCOTUS decision is not a form of incrementalism, it would be consistent with immediatism. In contrast to this point, Wilson states,

Now the overturning of Roe, were it to happen, would be a genuine incrementalist victory. Abortion would not become illegal in all fifty states. It would likely be greatly restricted in about 35 states. This would leave 15 states still willing to traffic in human misery. Because it would not be a complete victory, it would be an incrementalist victory.

But this is misleading. Geographically-bounded abolition is not a form of incrementalism. For example, the American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison saw geographical abolition as consistent with his radical immediatism while yet condemning the incremental laws that only pretended to serve the enslaved. He wrote the following helpful distinctions:

We regard, as delusive, cruel, and dangerous, any scheme of expatriation which pretends to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves, or to be a substitute for the immediate and total abolition of slavery.

We fully and unanimously recognise the sovereignty of each State, to legislate exclusively on the subject of the slavery which is tolerated within its limits. We concede that Congress, under the present national compact, has no right to interfere with any of the slave States, in relation to this momentous subject.

But we maintain that Congress has a right, and is solemnly bound, to suppress the domestic slave trade between the several States, and to abolish slavery in those portions of our territory which the Constitution has placed under its exclusive jurisdiction.

On the same page, therefore, Garrison condemned incrementalism while acknowledging state sovereignty and geographical abolition. This can be done.

To abolish abortion in whatever jurisdiction you have authority or power is not incrementalism. If Idaho abolishes abortion, they are not positively choosing to leave abortion legal in Oklahoma. They are bringing full repentance within that particular sphere. Idaho only has jurisdiction over Idaho. However, if Idaho chose to restrict abortion only to certain counties, that would most certainly be incrementalism, and should be opposed.

While Wilson appears to be convinced that overturned Roe v. Wade is a form of incrementalism, he is also convinced it is the best strategy:

Overturning Roe is the way to go, I am convinced.

While we would certainly not be opposed to overturning Roe in general (states simply ignoring it may be even better!), it is surprising to me that Wilson still seems to think the Supreme Court is the best means for abolishing abortion. After all, last year Wilson gave a positive review of Pastor Matt Trewhella’s book, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates. In this book, Trewhella lays out the Christian idea of resisting tyranny by way of lower jurisdictions ignoring, and thus nullifying, wicked laws, decisions, executive orders, etc. This is very similar to the political strategy of nullification, but the Lesser Magistrate Doctrine is grounded in obedience to God first. When states like Colorado defy the feds with their pot, and states like California defy the feds with their immigration policies, Christians should take note and consider having the same backbone when it comes to abortion.

Conclusion

For over forty years the pro-life movement has adopted some form of incrementalism or other, and for forty years it has failed even to gain any godly ground in the abomination which is human abortion. Incrementalists have lobbied for the next Republican president throughout these decades so that maybe, someday, we may have a pro-life SCOTUS. This is, frankly, a naive and worthless strategy—but one in which pro-life leaders have convinced well-intentioned Christians to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into funding. The truth is that supposedly right-leaning Republican candidates and Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices have proven themselves duplicitous and unwilling to end abortion or even much contradict Roe v. Wade. When so called conservative Justices such as John Roberts join the majority opinion in supporting ObamaCare, should we trust these black-robed tyrants with another abortion case? Republican appointed justices supported not only the majority Roe v. Wade opinion, but also the Casey v. Planned Parenthood decision. It is a vain hope to believe that even a conservative-heavy SCOTUS would overturn Roe v. Wade. That is, if we can even get such a SCOTUS to begin with. Texan attorney and abolitionist Bradley Pierce expertly deconstructs this fantastical hope in the SCOTUS here.

But even if we did, such a strategy would not be incrementalism at all. It would rather be the type of increment that is consistent with immediatist vision and demand to Abolish Human Abortion.

Categories: Worldview

Covenantal guilt, judgment, and the positive aspect of the law

American Vision - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 12:00

When an entire assembly, denomination, nation, or culture rejects their obligations to the positive aspect of God’s Law, is there justification for a proclamation of guilt after proper corrections are attempted? Multiple examples from the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and our Lord show that a covenantal proclamation of guilt is justified in such cases.

Although individuals were not often condemned in these passages for violations of the positive aspect of God’s Law, Scripture does speak often of a covenantal obligation and a covenantal guilt. These are corporate realities in addition to individuals. Deuteronomy 21:1–9 clearly indicates a corporate guilt that comes about by perpetual violation of the positive aspect of the Sixth Commandment:

“If in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the Lord, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.

Public pronouncements of guilt when the positive obligations of the Church have been neglected are not only justified, but necessary. A widespread, accepted, and institutionalized neglect and apathy for the positive duties of God’s Law should rightly demand prophetic warnings, calls for repentance, and declarations of God’s judgment over such corporate bodies.

Justice is turned back,
And righteousness stands afar off;
For truth is fallen in the street,
And equity cannot enter. So truth fails,
And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him
That there  was no justice. He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him (Isa. 59:14–16).

The neglect of the positive aspects of God’s Law is a grievous thing. Although individuals should not regularly be institutionally disciplined for violations of the positive side of God’s Law, it is a terrible thing to be judged by God. The obligations we have before God as His Body must not be diminished or de-emphasized. God will take his lampstand away from assemblies that do not teach and practice true and vital Christianity, including the positive commandments.

Furthermore, mature men within the Bride of Christ have a duty to preach and teach these positive commandments prophetically to the Church. Elders have an exceptional responsibility to ensure that their local assemblies are not neglecting justice and failing to show mercy to those in need. To reiterate and emphasize what Rushdoony said regarding the Sixth Commandment,

The unwillingness in many instances of witnesses to act in cases of assault or murder may mean no entanglement on earth, but it incurs fearful entanglement and guilt before God.

All states and churches should deny the temptation to rule and punish according to the positive aspect of the law, but any state, local church, or individual that rejects the positive obligations of the Law should tremble in fear before the Living God.

Categories: Worldview

The positive aspect of the law: elders, Sabbath, and obeying parents

American Vision - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 11:21

Although the church should not prosecute based on violations of the positive aspect of God’s Law, other considerations, such as the qualifications for elder, are very much positive law. This means that although an elder may not be disciplined as a member for failing to be hospitable or failing to have his house in order, he should certainly resign or be disqualified as an elder if he does not meet those basic requirements. Considering how rare and unlikely self-rule is in such situations, others in the same fellowship should make it clear that such an elder is not meeting the minimum qualifications for his office. In general, what is prosecutable within the sphere of the state or the local assembly is not exhaustive of what it means to be without blame and above reproach, and this has applications for members and officers alike.

Some commentators have listed the Fourth Commandment as a primarily positive law. I disagree. Although the Fourth Commandment begins with a positive command (Remember the Sabbath Day), this positive command goes on to be defined negatively with “in it you shall do no work.” Much like all of God’s commands, the Fourth Commandment certainly has a positive function along with a negative, but it is primarily negative.

Further evidence for this is that the sanction for breaking the Fourth Commandment was tied to the offender working on the Sabbath, not to the offender failing to work the other six days or failing “truly” to keep the day holy. In the New Testament Church, the jurisdiction for judging Sabbath breakers lays with God. This is made abundantly clear by Romans 14:5-6. A deeper look on the shift in jurisdiction from civil to personal is beyond the scope of this article, but I will refer the reader to Dr. North.

The one law within the decalogue that is primarily positive is the Fifth Commandment.

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

Although the Fifth Commandment does speak to honoring all Biblical authority, both familial, ecclesiological, and civil, that authority is most certainly regulated by the Law-Word of God. The authority of parents is bounded up in the Law of God and the purpose that Scripture gives to them—that is, raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord so that their days may be long upon the land which the Lord our God has given them. Therefore, the authority of parents over their children is regulated by purpose rather than regulated by specific prescriptions and proscriptions. This is unlike the negative authority of the officers of the state and of the Church, which is a regulated authority bound by specific prescriptions placed upon their authority, not a positive goal or loosely defined purpose (although they do have biblical purposes). The authority of the parents is much broader, and the duty of children to obey is much greater, precisely because their authority is the authority of parentage. This directly connects to our duty to obey God. To disobey your parents is to disobey God, precisely because the relationship between child and parent is much like the relationship between creature and creator. Even so, the authority of parents is regulated, like all authority under God, by the purpose and biblically prescribed function of the parent. The authority of parents, although broad, is limited.

The form of authority between parent and child does not extend to other spheres of governance. Although we should submit to all righteous authority within all spheres of life, the nature of that authority is ontologically distinct from parental authority. Much like how the nature of the parent’s authority shifts from “obey” to “honor” when the child becomes an adult, the nature of civil and ecclesiological authority is not one of relatively unlimited obedience. The relationship between the believer and the local church elder is not like the relationship between the adolescent child and parent. Likewise, the state is not the mommy of the citizen, and the husband is not the daddy of his bride. As Rushdoony points out,

The state then becomes a nursemaid to a citizenry whose basic character is childish and immature. The theory that law must have a positive function assumes thus that the people are essentially childish.

We should not therefore confuse the roles of church or civil officers with the very different roles of the family and parents. Rushdoony elaborates on the point further in commenting on Romans 12:4–5:

Paul gives us God’s picture of the new humanity in Christ, not a division between the elite and the masses, but many diverse and complementary gifts in one body. Commentators often remark that the image of the social order as a body was common in Roman thinking; Paul, we are told, was thusly using a familiar concept. The important point, however, is how Paul uses it. Because man is family born, it is easy enough for him, in one society after another, to use the image of the family as well as of the body to describe a community or a social order. The fact, however, is clear that all such non-Biblical usage was elitist. It was used to justify slavery on the one hand and an elitist ruling group on the other.

Paul’s usage militates against elitism. The head of the body is Christ, not an elite group of rulers (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23). The church is Christ’s body, and the body is ruled by the head (Col. 1:18); Christ the Head is also “the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:10). On the human level, all of us are members of the one body. We may have differing offices and functions, but we are “every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5; cf.1 Cor. 12:4,12,20,27; 10:17,27; Eph. 1:23; 4:25; 1 Peter 4:10f). The Head uses the body; although certain members of the body may be more prominent than others, all members are used by Christ and are His instruments. Elitists use people to accomplish their fallible and evil goals; the Lord uses us to accomplish His infallible purpose. All the members have a mutual dependence on one another. They are thus not only members of the one body, but members one of another. In brief, in Paul’s perspective, the Head and Messiah of the body is Jesus Christ. In the elitist faith, the philosopher-kings, the scientific planners, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and other like groups are the body’s head and messiah.

We can only be members one of another if we are first of all members of Christ. There is no life in the body apart from Him.

Elitism seeks to conform us to the state and its rulers. Paul tells us that we must be conformed to Christ. Again, Paul is undercutting the premises of this world and its doctrines. We are either one body in Christ, or else one body in some Caesar, philosopher-king, or some other elitist. Paul uses the concept of the body to establish the necessity of unity in Christ. This is more than a unity in a church, and it is the antithesis as well as death of the pagan concepts of organic society.

A civil or ecclesiastical policy based on the positive aspect of the law functionally and theologically views the Christian as eternally a child, and the leadership as eternally the guiding nourishing fathers. When the Christian is treated like a child, it should as a surprise to us when the Church is filled with immaturity. Although the Fifth Commandment is clearly positive, it does not justify this positivism for the civil sphere or the Bride of Christ.

Categories: Worldview

The negative law, the positive law, and jurisdiction

American Vision - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:01

In his review of R.J. Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law, John Frame states,

In discussing “The Negativism of the Law,” Rushdoony argues that since the decalogue is largely negative, our civil laws ought to be negative too, i.e., directed against specific evils rather than setting forth ideals for society to attain. However, on pages 110f, 220f, 241, and elsewhere, he follows the Westminster Catechisms in setting forth the “positive” implications of the commandments. So far as I can tell, he says nothing adequately to reconcile the two emphases.

This is not a great inconsistency, but rather an area than could use clarification and further study. Simply put, what reconciles these two emphases is jurisdiction.

In a very illuminating passage, Rushdoony clarified the distinction between negative law and positive aspects of the law.

The proper meaning of the law involves both the negative precept and the positive affirmation. To limit obedience, and to test character, merely by the negative factor is dangerous. It leads too often to the belief that a good man is the one Calvin singled out for his ugly example: the coward who would not dare “assail even a child” but who is incapable of any discharge of his duties. Too often the church has equated these cowards with righteous men and advanced cowardly snivellers, whose weapons are those of backbiting and talebearing, to positions of authority.

But all men have, as Calvin noted, “the duties of humanity as regards the Sixth Commandment.” If they do not seek to prevent injury, assault, or murder, they are themselves in part guilty of the offense committed. The unwillingness in many instances of witnesses to act in cases of assault or murder may mean no entanglement on earth, but it incurs fearful entanglement and guilt before God.

The last sentence is especially clarifying. Although God’s Law has both negative and positive implications, how the law is enforced is drastically different depending on whether or not it is a violation of the negative aspect of God’s Law or a violation of the positive aspect of God’s Law. It is a matter of jurisdiction.

Who has the authority to implement civil or ecclesiastical sanctions against infractions of the positive affirmations of God’s Law? According to Rushdoony, the civil realm should not be punishing infractions of the positive aspects of the law. Rushdoony stated, “Basic to every totalitarian regime is a positive concept of the function of law.”((R.J. Rushdoony, “Institutes of Biblical Law Volume 1,” 120)) Sticking with the example Calvin gave, if a man fails to defend the life of his neighbor, is that man guilty of breaking the civil law? He is most certainly guilty of breaking the positivemoral—aspect of the Sixth Commandment, but this does not mean that justice would dictate a civil punishment. He has not shown love for his neighbor, but this does not mean that he is guilty of a crime. God will judge him. Is the fearful and loveless man guilty before God? Absolutely. Is his breaking of the positive side of the Sixth Commandment sin? Absolutely. But the jurisdiction to sanction this sin judicially remains with God, not the civil sphere. That is the crucial distinction. The state does not have the authority or jurisdiction to enforce the heart of man. The state can only restrict what God’s Law allows it to restrict.

The same principle applies to the Bride of Christ. Can a general lack of love for, let’s say, the preborn justify ecclesiological discipline or eventual excommunication? Can fellow Christians or elders within a community discipline or excommunicate another believer for not defending the life of his neighbor? When could any believer actively love the preborn enough to be protected from possible disciplinary charges?

Similar to how the positive aspect of God’s Law functions regarding the state, the governance of His Church is similarly by God’s Law. Christians fail every day regarding our positive duties before God. We fail to love one another rightly within our local fellowships. We fail to love our communities and cities adequately. We have failed to love others on social media rightly. We have failed to love the sojourners rightly. We have failed to love the orphans and widows rightly. These are the easy examples.

Shall all Christians everywhere be brought up on charges of sin within ecclesiological courts because we have failed to rightly fulfil the positive aspects of God’s Law? I do not believe so. As the state does not have the authority to restrict or demand what has not been given to it, the Church and its local assemblies do not have unlimited jurisdiction to bind the consciences of men unless individuals or parities have been sinned against (Matt 18:15-20) or the negative aspect of Law of God has been violated.

The application of this distinction has very practical implications. How Christians deal with sin within the context of a local fellowship cannot be arbitrary. It is not based on which sins we find more emotionally distressing or how embarrassed the fellowship may be because of a public controversy. Too many fellowships have a supposedly high regard for “church discipline” yet fail to discipline many very disciplinable sins. Too often nothing is done until a public controversy breaks out, and then often it is only to cover up the embarrassments for select members. Sadly, I know of a case where there was addiction to pornography and fornication within the fellowship, and this was made known to the leadership, yet no discipline took place until child abuse was discovered and police got involved. Other fellowships discipline with a heavy hand, lording over the “laity” according to the whims of the elders. Many fellowships rule “by the book” with no longsuffering, no love, and no patience. Churches have sinned in how they have not fulfilled their duty to discipline sin and cut off known apostates, but they has also sinned in attempting to usurp more authority for themselves than what has been delegated to them.

An individual may be clearly failing, for example, to love their preborn neighbor, but that doesn’t warrant “church discipline” charges. The Church has the obligation to sharpen one another, build one another up, exhort one another, but the Church only becomes prosecutorial in a very regulated way. The Church can adjudicate between different parties when an individual or a group of individuals have been sinned against, and the Church can sanction and censure those who sin against the negative aspect of God’s Law. Just like with the state, the judicial function of the Church is limited to its own jurisdiction. This means it is limited to addressing only certain actions, and also limited in how it addresses those certain actions.

(To be continued. . . .)

Categories: Worldview

Teddy Roosevelt: why “whites” had to commit genocide against the Indians

American Vision - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 09:59

From American Fascist: The Real Theodore Roosevelt

***

It is almost not worth raising the issue of racism, as many people in [Teddy Roosevelt]’s era still suffered from various levels of it, and on many levels it was socially accepted. It could easily be said that TR was merely a man of his age—whether excusable by modern standards or not. But some modern apologists wish to present TR as above racism and indeed a pioneer in the improvement of race relations. As is typical with other areas we have discussed, his more general side gets whitewashed or edited out of the story, while his “good side,” as little and calculated as it may be, is magnified as the whole Teddy. While he did make some motions favorable to minorities during his presidency, we will see that the balance of his experience reveals he was a creature of his time—and a particularly imperialistic one.

We read earlier how in the lead-up to WWI, TR expressed his views that the nation “could not endure half American and half foreign.” His words were addressed particularly against German-Americans, as Germany was seemingly building its empire in Europe.

Teddy’s criticism of Germany soon intensified. Earlier we noted the Foreword to his 1917 book The Foes of Our Own Household. He immediately proceeded to write, “We should hold Germany in horror for what she has done.” Her atrocities truly were extensive.

But as far as warmongering imperialism, especially against her non-German neighbors, Germany was doing little more than TR has earlier advocated in his books on winning the West. In fact, in regard to nationalism involving racial superiority, Germany had not yet ascended to the heights outlined by TR. The lengthy quotation which follows was Teddy’s American version of pure-race imperialism:

The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman. The rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him. American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori,—in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people. The consequences of struggles for territory between civilized nations seem small by comparison. Looked at from the standpoint of the ages, it is of little moment whether Lorraine is part of Germany or of France, whether the northern Adriatic cities pay homage to Austrian Kaiser or Italian King; but it is of incalculable importance that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races.

Yet the very causes which render this struggle between savagery and the rough front rank of civilization so vast and elemental in its consequence to the future of the world, also tend to render it in certain ways peculiarly revolting and barbarous. It is primeval warfare, and it is waged as war was waged in the ages of bronze and of iron. All the merciful humanity that even war has gained during the last two thousand years is lost. It is a warfare where no pity is shown to non-combatants, where the weak are harried without ruth, and the vanquished maltreated with merciless ferocity. A sad and evil feature of such warfare is that the whites, the representatives of civilization, speedily sink almost to the level of their barbarous foes, in point of hideous brutality. The armies are neither led by trained officers nor made up of regular troops—they are composed of armed settlers, fierce and wayward men, whose ungovernable passions are unrestrained by discipline, who have many grievous wrongs to redress, and who look on their enemies with a mixture of contempt and loathing, of dread and intense hatred. When the clash comes between these men and their sombre foes, too often there follow deeds of enormous, of incredible, of indescribable horror. It is impossible to dwell without a shudder on the monstrous woe and misery of such a contest.

Why could Germany not simply place themselves in the shoes of Teddy’s “rough front rank of civilization” as a superior race among Europe? Yeah it is a stretch, but only in degree and as a matter of individual judgment. The principle is the same. Whether any given case fit this principle well or not, easily or not, we cannot escape the fact that TR’s view of American empire included a strong and fierce racist element.

His racism appeared in other ways as well. TR is lauded by some conservative Christians because he criticized Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger even as early as his own day. Bravo! But the same writers neglect to realize that Teddy’s criticism was typically short-sighted and quite hypocritical. His 1917 criticism of Sanger was against her advocacy for birth control for the end of improving the race. She responded by noting that these critics, TR included, believed in eugenics just as much as she did. She wrote,

They want large numbers of high quality citizens. Therefore, they contend, let the existing high quality citizens have more children. . . . We advocates of birth control know that one cannot make quality by insisting on quantity. One cannot make better people simply by having more people.

Had she known the whole truth, she could have really skewered TR with his own words. Merely a few years earlier, he had penned a spine-tingling letter to the father of eugenics in America, Charles Davenport, the contents of which one author stated “could have been written by Adolf Hitler.” It is no exaggeration. Teddy opined:

[S]ociety has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally. . . . Some day we will realize that the prime duty—the inescapable duty—of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type.

Following in this course and this worldview, Teddy’s appointee Justice Holmes decided the 1917 case Buck v. Bell, in which a woman had been forcibly sterilized according to a state statute. Teddy’s boy Holmes upheld the state statute, saying,

[I]t is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. . . .  Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

There was indeed a generation of imbeciles. If it is no exaggeration to include Sanger and Holmes among them, we must by the same standard include Theodore Roosevelt as well.

(Purchase the whole eBook American Fascist: The Real Theodore Roosevelt.)

Notes:

Categories: Worldview

Who are the 144,000 of the book of Revelation?

American Vision - Fri, 10/06/2017 - 09:03

A guest post by Brian Godawa:

***

All my life I’ve heard debate about “the 144,000” of the book of Revelation. The typical Evangelical “Left Behind” interpretation is that they are a literal number of 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, who are sealed by God for protection during a Great Tribulation of God’s judgments upon the earth. This Tribulation is a seven-year period in our near future that begins usually after the rapture of Christians from the earth. But it supposedly consummates God’s plan for the nation of Israel. These 144,000 become believers in Jesus as Messiah and preach the gospel so that a multitude are saved before Christ returns.

There’s only one problem with this interpretation. It’s wrong.

The solution to the dilemma is found in the context of the Apocalypse. Here are the two passages in Revelation that speak of the 144,000:

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel (Revelation 7:2–4).

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. . . . It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb (Revelation 14:1, 4).

 Actually, the basic “Left Behind” interpretation mentioned above is not completely wrong. It gets some things right. Yes, the 144,000 are sealed by God for protection during the Tribulation, and yes, they are Jewish believers in Jesus. But that is where fact leaves off and fiction begins with the “Left Behind” view.

Timing is Everything

The biggest failure of this view is in the timing. This “Left Behind” view is also called “futurism” because it believes that this Tribulation is in our future. Jesus had foretold this Tribulation would occur when he said, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt 24:21). But here’s the problem with futurism. The apostle John wrote very explicitly that the Tribulation was occurring in the first-century at the time of his writing of Revelation.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos (Revelation 1:9).

You can’t get any more biblical than that. The Apostle John saying that he was going through “the Tribulation” as he wrote the book of Revelation! The Tribulation is not in our future. It was in John’s day.

It so happens, that during that time that John was writing, approximately AD 65, the Neronic persecution of Christians was in full tilt, which was followed by the Roman invasion and destruction of the land of Israel, and its holy city Jerusalem and temple in AD 70.

Wait a second. Didn’t Jesus say the Tribulation was “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be”? How could John have been referring to the first century if that was not the greatest of all historical tribulations?

The answer is quite simple. The phrase is common ancient Hebrew hyperbole that was used to describe the spiritual ramifications of an historical event. Daniel used the same exact phrase when he described the first destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.

For under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what has been done against Jerusalem (Daniel 9:12).

Ezekiel used the same hyperbole when describing the same destruction of city and temple:

And because of all [Israel’s] abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again (Ezekiel 5:9).

Does God contradict himself? Was the first destruction of the city and temple any greater than the destruction of the city and temple in AD 70? Of course not. It was a way of describing the same kind of spiritual devastation that occurred in both time periods. This is akin to our saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it!” when in fact, we have. There is nothing more serious in its spiritual ramifications than the destruction of the incarnation of God’s covenant with Israel.

Flee to the Mountains

But that’s not all. Jesus said something important right before he warned about the great tribulation that was coming within the lifetime of his hearers (Matt 23:36; 24:34). He told the Jewish Christians who lived in Judea to flee to the mountains.

then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath (Matthew 24:16–20).

Fleeing to the mountains would be of no effect in our modern world. There is no geographical “safe space” in Israel. But in the first century, when the Romans were surrounding Jerusalem with their armies, there was. It would make sense for Christians to get out of the city and flee to the mountains to avoid the wrath about to come.

And that’s exactly what they did. The ancient Church historian Eusebius tells us:

But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come thither from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men.

This all fits with a “preterist” interpretation of the book of Revelation: that its prophecies were fulfilled in our past. They were not for our future, but the future of that original first-century audience, now long since in our past. Revelation’s main purpose is not to speak of the end of time or end of the world, but rather to declare the final judgment upon the Jews for rejecting and murdering their Messiah (Rev 1:7), and to affirm the divorce of Old Covenant Israel with God’s marriage to the New Covenant bride of Christ (Rev 21). This was achieved through the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman armies of Titus in AD 70. By destroying the earthly elements of the Old Covenant, God was dissolving that Old Covenant and replacing it with the New Covenant in real historical time.

Symbolic Numbers

The 144,000, therefore, were those Jewish Christians in first-century Israel, and more particularly in the city of Jerusalem, who were protected from God’s wrath by leaving the city and fleeing to the mountains before it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Were there exactly 144,000, or was that number merely symbolic? It doesn’t really matter. Although, the biblical usage of numbers like 12 tribes multiplied by 12 apostles multiplied by 1000, the number of perfect completion, is a little too obvious to deny.

If you are have been taught the “futurist” that Revelation is about our future, you may at first find it difficult to accept this fulfillment in the past. Your paradigm is so different, you cannot picture how this story plays out.

That’s why I’ve done it for you. I am writing a novel series called Chronicles of the Apocalypse, that tells the story of the book of Revelation in the first century through the eyes and experience of first century Jews, Christians, and Romans. It shows how all the imagery and language of Revelation is fulfilled in that AD 70 judgment upon the land of Israel, with its holy city and temple. I tell the story of the Great Tribulation in the first-century and the 144,000 Jewish Christians fleeing to the mountains. But I do so through historical yet entertaining fiction. The first two novels, Tyrant: Rise of the Beast, and Remnant: Rescue of the Elect, are already available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook format at Amazon.com.

Brian Godawa is an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter (To End All Wars), a controversial movie and culture blogger (www.Godawa.com), an internationally known teacher on faith, worldviews and storytelling (Hollywood Worldviews), and an Amazon best-selling author of Biblical fiction (Chronicles of the Nephilim).

Categories: Worldview

So you’re a Calvinist. Now what?

American Vision - Thu, 10/05/2017 - 13:33

Like most Calvinists who converted from a background of Arminian evangelicalism, I experienced a profound wave of humility, freedom, and awe. I would like to share with you how those realities grew even greater for me as a Calvinist, and I would like to make you a FREE offer to help you get there, too.

I was humbled to acknowledge the depth of my depravity, and to know my salvation had nothing to do with me at all (what a blow to the fallen ego!) but was purely of God’s grace and all His work.

At the same time, I was totally freed by the revelation that I had to do nothing to receive this free gift. Sanctification would follow, sure, but being saved had nothing to do with my own works, and it was a tremendous burden lifted from my depraved shoulders that I could therefore quit trying through a thousand ways to earn God’s favor. I could simply rest in His grace.

Likewise, I was completely awed by a greater sense of a God who is truly Sovereign over every atom of the universe in every moment of every age. The more human ability, motive, and effort were each removed from the equation, the greater every attribute of God appeared to be.

Little did I know that this newfound awe for God’s Sovereignty would take me as far into every area of life as that Sovereignty truly went. One only had to start asking the right questions, and the further sanctification would follow.

I was inspired to write these things because I recently viewed Les Lanphere’s documentary Calvinist. I thought it was very decent. I appreciated Les mainly for doing something with his Calvinism. Also, because it gave a little biographical insight into a large swath of young Calvinism out there. A large group came through a similar experience I had: coming from a vapid, effort-driven, and/or theatrical Arminian culture into a solid, substantial, graceful Calvinism. Wow, what a change. Now get me more.

The very first thing I did when I became a Calvinist—in fact, one of the main things that made me become a Calvinist—was read through Calvin’s Institutes for myself. I began it as a type of contest in my mind against Calvinism. I told myself I would test it by Scripture, and started out highlighting each Scripture passage or reference. I shifted almost immediately to highlighting every profound and helpful passage of the book as well. By the time I was done, I had worn out three highlighter markers and was on my fourth. Every synergistic thought I ever had for salvation was left exposed and defeated. I was a Calvinist.

I never looked back. But I also did not do what very many young Calvinists do: get stuck at that initial plateau of awe. Once you have “arrived” here at Calvinism and experienced the freeing humility and awe, the natural desire is to keep the moment alive, or to reproduce it. Young Calvinists often sate this desire by reaching for the next book or product on Calvinism or God’s Sovereignty: Calvin, Pink, maybe Luther’s Bondage of the Will, Spurgeon, Sproul, or scores more. Maybe it will be the next Calvinist sermon on YouTube. I admit, it is tempting to think that the glory of God is fully served when we sit and bask in it for eternity. But I was fortunate to realize this plateau was not a resting place, but a foundation for much more.

I was fortunate to know someone who already knew. They taught me to see that if God is Sovereign over every square inch of the universe, then His will and His word must rule everything. It is not just your personal salvation, but every area of all of human experience. What about human thought? Fortunately, I was introduced to consistent Calvinism in this area in the work of Cornelius Van Til. That was just as profound an experience as before. And yet it did not stop there either.

What about family? What about business, money, and economics? What about justice? God is just as Sovereign in these areas, too, and he wants His will followed here just as much as in your spiritual life. I immediately realized that God wants every family, every business, and every civil government and court to experience the same humility, freedom, and absolute awe of Him as you and I did when we first became Calvinists. And I was soon to realize that he has provided for these areas just as much as he provided for me individually—in His Word.

What you can read in the FREE eBook offer linked below is the thoughtful and challenging chronicle of one young Calvinist seminarian who wrestled through these same experiences in the Reformed faith. When he read many classic Calvinistic works, he saw that they called for the very full-worldview Sovereignty I just described—every area of life, all of culture, all of life, government, and justice. But when he looked for specific prescriptions, or actual applications from these same sources, he was usually disappointed. When he did find a few people who waded into that territory, he was shocked by the negative reaction of the mainstream Reformed folk who surprisingly had seemed to call for the very worldview applications he was finding. Why the hostility to the very thing you say you believe in?

I count myself very fortunate to have come very early into what has come to be known as “Theonomy” (“God’s law” for all of life) or “Christian Reconstruction” (reforming all of life according to God’s Word). It immediately began to answer my questions about God’s Sovereignty extending beyond personal salvation. I immediately began to see the vast structure of God’s plan for man extending upward and outward from the plateau on which I had started. The same God-inspired sense of humility, freedom, and awe resumed—but now with an added sense of sanctification and commission.

In the first chapter of the PDF, Gary DeMar calls this expanded vision the “Extension of Calvin’s Theology.” It truly is, for Calvin’s theology is judicial, and it applies God’s law to every area of life. Indeed, there is a reason his Institutes went into the territory of law and government even then.

In the next chapters, Gary begins to expand upon various twentieth-century Calvinist writers and theologians who advocated the very type of full-worldview of which we speak. He shows the sentiment was nearly universal. Yet he also shows that many of the same men got nervous and withdrew as soon as it came to actual application of the idea they themselves had taught us.

I appreciated Les’s documentary for making an heart-felt and clear contribution, but among other criticisms I could make, it seems a bit stuck at the plateau. It seems to want to move beyond, but lacks something it takes to get there. So, following men like Carl Trueman, the best it can offer young Calvinists is to get “confessional.” Fine, but what does this do but institutionalize the doctrine, like putting a Gulfstream jet into the hangar for perpetual maintenance, but never flying it for service—indeed, never getting on the runway to take off.

Then, it seems to concretize this view in one very narrow version of it. Reformed Baptist Paul Washer in the documentary is included saying,

I don’t care if you’re hearing the greatest preachers in the world every day on YouTube. I don’t care if you’re giving your body to be burned or offering everything you have to the poor. If you are not a viable, serving, dedicated, devoted member to a visible local church, you are outside of the will of God.

It may be worth considering whether taking the language of 1 Corinthians 13, which God gave for the highest attribute of love, and applying that to one’s particular view of ecclesiology may come too close to idolatry. Aside from that, in the midst of a discussion of Calvinism, what sense does it make to allow such overweighted emphasis to the ecclesiology that is distinctive only to the London Baptist Confession—arguably the most sectarian the major confessions, and one of which Calvin arguably would not have approved?

This minor provocation, I think, could be overlooked were it not for the fact that as far as action steps go, the film can’t seem to go much beyond it. It does hint in that direction when it highlights racial issues and the Reformed past, briefly. As an aside, Shai Linn is without a doubt the silent star of the whole film. His plain eloquence on the basic issues of Calvinism rises above that of most of the preachers and theologians chosen. His comments on race do well, as does the addressing of this issue in general—for it illustrates the logical extension of Calvin’s judicial theology to every area of life that so badly needs to take place. That the film starts this but goes only briefly makes me a little uneasy.

There is one place where this tension in the film peeks through the surface only to pass by seemingly obliviously. It is such a great statement, it is even used in the trailer for the film. At one point, R.C. Sproul says,

From the time a child in the United States enters kindergarten, he begins to be taught and to learn—if only through osmosis—a particular anthropology, a particular understanding of the nature of man. So they develop this concept of free will—which is a pagan concept. This general understanding of free will is that man is free to choose the good or evil on either side. That’s a blasphemous doctrine, because that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible tell us that something happened radically to the constituent nature of humanity in the fall.

Fabulous. As a point for teaching the “T’” in TULIP, it’s perfect. But did you catch the implication that was missed? If the statement is true, then why have the Calvinists and Calvinistic churches and leaders who have been teaching “T” for all of modern history also been telling us it’s acceptable to keep sending our children to those schools? The kids are going to learn Arminianism or humanism whether you like it or not, even by osmosis, in those schools. I quite frankly have not seen a more forceful point made in favor of homeschooling in a long time. Yet we hear not a word of the application in Calvinist or in most modern Calvinist pulpits. I think we could do better—like the great Calvinist exception to this failure, J. Gresham Machen.

More could be said about Les’ generally decent introduction to TULIP. Most of it is good. I have trouble with a few points, and I have trouble with some of the apparent trajectory of it.

To this end I have compiled a little introductory setup of our own. The FREE booklet linked below is intended to get you thinking along these same lines. When you are ready to take the next logical steps in Calvinism, you can click on the link provided in the book for a reading list. You can start directly with my book The Bounds of Love or Restoring America One County at a Time. You could also start with DeMar’s God and Government. Wherever you start, please start. I would say that if any Calvinist still finds themselves on the plateau of personal salvation after even just a few years, they are not being a good Calvinist—meaning, they are not allowing the doctrine of Sovereignty they have espoused drive them to the next logical step in their spiritual and intellectual development, let alone the any actual mission to which they may be called.

In short, our humility must drive us to obedience, our freedom to faithfulness, and our awe to action. In our awe we must find his law, and apply it to every area of life. If we are merely attending church every week but not progressing in these matters, we need to question seriously whether we have truly begun to mature in our Calvinism. We may need to ask if we have really even understood its implications much at all. So you’re a Calvinist. Now what?

Read this FREE book, The Need for Applied Calvinism, and find out.

Download The Book

Categories: Worldview

Tactics for Reformation 500 and beyond

American Vision - Wed, 10/04/2017 - 06:20

This year, as many have already noted, marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, the generally-accepted official start to the Protestant Reformation. For this monumental anniversary, let’s look at some of the most important—yet often overlooked—factors that allowed the Reformation happen. Let’s not give Luther all the credit, though he certainly deserves a lot. Let’s look at the great supporting casts in the markets, trades, and town halls that made it all possible.

You’ve probably never considered the Reformation from this angle, but without these means, the Reformation would not have happened. For Reformation 500, let’s credit the entrepreneurs, businessmen, and social networks, for they were just as important and vital, and will be for the next Reformation as well.

Business and Entrepreneurship

Perhaps the greatest impact for all of the Reformation came in the work of a man who had no training at all in divinity or theology, who wrote nothing as far as we know, and made no contribution to the theological debates. His monumental contribution was purely material. The man was Johannes Gutenberg. His advance was the introduction to Europe of movable type and of the printing press.

By Luther’s time, about 3 to 4 percent of the population could read. While that doesn’t sound like much, it was enough when one person could read out loud to a room full, and especially when the nobles and people whose estates and money were at stake were the first to be educated to read. Luther wrote his 95 Theses in Latin for debate among his fellow clergy, but he translated the Bible into German, and he wrote several tracts and pamphlets in German, and the people read and heard them all. The tracts got copied, and copied, and copied, etc. “More books were printed in the forty years between 1460 and 1500 than had been produced by scribes and monks throughout the entire Middle Ages.”[1] By Luther’s time there were printing presses in sixty-two cities in Germany alone. In the mere three years between the posting of the Theses and 1520, Luther wrote thirty tracts which printers turned out into 300,000 copies.[2] The printing press was the internet of the day, getting vital information and new ideas about Christian freedom and responsibility out to millions of people globally.

This was accomplished, not because someone decided to increase his quiet time by ten minutes in the morning, not because he built a church campus with a Youth Center and a Starbucks, not through yet one more sermon series on obeisance to sermons and contributing to the building fund, but through good old fashioned business entrepreneurship. Gutenberg did not have in mind lofty ideas of spirituality or reforming the church at all. He was a goldsmith and an inventor; he was what today some leftist would call a greedy capitalist: he was trying to find a way to print more stuff faster and make more money—which is perfectly, biblically sound as long as it is done within the realm of God’s law. He used his skills as a goldsmith working with metals to create moveable type; he put these together with a screw-press to do the printing. Along with advances others had made in production of paper and oil-based ink, he created the Facebook of his era and revolutionized human communication. He did this not from within the walls of a church building, but from the workrooms and offices of business. The people who reprinted Luther’s pamphlets hundreds of thousands of times may have done so less out of a concern for piety than for profit, but in doing so they “ran the race,” and I suspect a good number of those among them today sit among the great cloud of witnesses.

We should not fear to gain business savvy. William Tyndale, for example, was as much a businessman as a theologian. He encountered great opposition with his English translation of the New Testament, especially in England where it really counted because they spoke English. The account of his first edition runs thusly:

A curious tale is related of how he contrived to turn the devices of his foes to advantage. The Archbishop of Canterbury [Whalem at the time] was buying up his translations for burning and commissioned a certain Packington to scour the continent for more. The man went straight to Tyndale himself and informed him that he had discovered a merchant who would clean out his stock.

“Who is this merchant?” said Tyndale.

“The bishop of London,” said Packington.

“Oh, that is because he will burn them,” said Tyndale.

“Yea, marry,” quoth Packington.

“I am the gladder,” said Tyndale, “for these two benefits will come of it: I shall get money from him for these books and bring myself out of debt, and the whole world shall cry out on the burning of God’s Word, and the overplus of the money shall make me more studious to correct the said New Testament, and so newly to imprint the same once again; and I trust the second will much better like you that ever did the first.”

And the account concludes: “And so forward went the bargain: the bishop had the books, Packington had the thanks, and Tyndale had the money.”[3]

The work of translation itself did not go without an ironic legacy: after Tyndale was betrayed and executed in the Netherlands, the King of England ordered the Bible to be translated into English for the churches. He assigned this task to Myles Coverdale who was not proficient in Greek and Hebrew, nor did he have time to meet the strict deadline the king put on him. As a result, Coverdale essentially copied most of Tyndale’s translation. In the heritage of the English Bible that followed, Tyndale’s laid the foundation of Coverdale’s, Rogers’ “Matthews” Bible, the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, the Bishop’s Bible, and the King James. The Chicago Divinity professor E. J. Goodspeed writing in 1925 said, “None of these is more than a revision of Tyndale,” for which Tyndale contributed “more than all others combined. He has shaped the religious vocabulary of the English-speaking world.”[4]

Small group solidarity, resistance, and social change

One of the least talked-about aspects of the spread of the Reformation is the role played by the orders of monks originating within the Roman church. The bonds built between brothers within these orders were often in reality stronger than allegiances to pope or prince. This is because they were real human relationships, shared commitments, shared sacrifices, emotions, and lives. These things transcend other relationships, and that’s why God has structured society from the bottom-up, placing the family as the nuclear unit of dominion, then the church, then community, and state. Relationships built through the family, local business, and church should serve as the glue of all else.

Luther himself belonged to the order of Augustinians, or Austin Friars as they were called in England. When the controversy around Luther broke out in Germany, the people who gave him the readiest hearing in England—even at the risk of angering the king—were the Austin Friars. Some of the greatest names of the Reformation either belonged to the Austin Friars at Cambridge or had associations with them: Thomas Bilney, Hugh Latimer (the Oxford Matyr), Robert Barnes, William Tyndale, Myles Coverdale, and Thomas Cranmer (later Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the English Book of Common Prayer).[5] Many of these men went to school together, ministered together, and met regularly at a tavern called the The White Horse Inn (the real one). Over beer they talked, discussed, and debated. They had fellowship, they had community, and they developed deep personal bonds that, for the gospel and the work of God’s Kingdom, flowed naturally and effectively. In short, they developed a community solidarity which helped them work together, resist evil, and forge ahead.

Solidarity

Perhaps nowhere in modern history has the theme of community solidarity (of members uniting as one group and gaining strength thereby) appeared more prominently than in Poland under Communistic rule in 1980. A strongly Roman Catholic country by tradition, Poland was suffering food and supply shortages in the waning decade of Communism. In 1978, during this time of state atheism and suppression of religion, the Roman Catholic Church elected Karol Wojtyla, Bishop of Krakow, as the first ever Polish Pope. Renamed John Paul II, the new Pope quickly traveled to speak in Poland in 1979 and was cheered by millions. In defiance of the official atheism and oppressive conditions, he preached for freedom of religion, human rights, and an end to violence. He inspired the nation—as well as much of Eastern Europe and the rest of the world—to believe that something bigger than Communism was on their side. They only needed the bravery to stand together in faith.

Within a year, after the government vaulted meat prices during an already acute shortage, self-organized strikes broke out all over Poland. The price hikes came on July 1. Meanwhile, the government was plundering supplies to send to Moscow for the 1980 Olympics which were scheduled to begin on July 19. In an fateful twist, a rail worker in Lublin was poking around some freight cars that sat waiting for shipment to Moscow. Spying the cars full of paint cans, the worker curiously popped one open. To his surprise he found it packed with choice meats.[6] More cans revealed more scarce goods. The news spread. The workers immediately made the connection. Hoards of food were being diverted to Moscow to make the failing Soviet Union appear prosperous as nations and media flooded in from around the world for the Olympics.

People were furious. Strikes spread like wildfire. The rail workers welded the train’s wheels to the rails and distributed the meat and food to the people.[7] A month later, support was so strong that a non-governmental trade-union named “Solidarity” was created and forced the government to begin to back down.

The communist State immediately reacted, however, enforcing martial law and outlawing the Solidarity union. But the attempt to destroy the union failed, only driving the united movement underground. In 1983, another visit from the Pope provided a stage for massive regathering and rallying of Solidarity with hopes and expressions of eventual victory.[8] His message to the Poles remained constant from 1979 until the Communist State ultimately fell: “Fear not.”[9] Pope John Paul II’s efforts at toppling Communism reached far beyond his 1979 visit to Poland. He had lived through dictatorship himself, worked with underground churches throughout the Eastern Bloc in direct defiance of Communist rule. His leadership among the Poles is now widely accepted as one key factor leading to the end of Soviet rule.[10]

The lesson of Solidarity is that when individuals unite  around a legitimate God-honoring purpose, they gain a strength that can overcome the greatest of enemies. Had the Poles remained as disassociated individuals, or even in associated but complacent churches, they would likely never have had the strength to oppose that enemy. Despite whatever individual skill they had, they need the strengths that community provides in order to advance the cause.

As part of the work Reformation, we must join in such fellowship with each other, support each other, and look for ways to bring others into a working community of Reformation-minded believers. Truth is, outside of the Body of Christ, there is no genuine community; but within it, truth, justice, and solidarity transcend the walls of every institution. We need to strengthen that community among ourselves, and then offer others a way in that demonstrates freedom and prosperity than any of the inflated promises corrupt governments or central banks can offer. In doing so, we will strengthen our shared commitments to Christ, to the faith, and to overcoming the adversities that lie before us in the way.

Conclusion

In other words, we need both the one and the many: we need pervasive individual effort in business and entrepreneurship, as well as networking efforts to unite the strengths and aims of the Christian body as a whole. If we lack focused and faithful individual efforts, the community will be like a herd of thoughtless cattle: weak before the forces of political propaganda, easily herded into the corrals of tyranny. But if we have only individual efforts and no focused community, we will be more like a herd of cats: everyone self-willed, independent, disorganized, and not able to be organized; each distracted chasing their own rat, after their own prize, hissing at the next when they get too close. We must have dedication to both goals, individual output and concentration on community. But the focuses must not only be on the modes of organization, but on the means: business, work, capital, savings, stewardship, fellowship, mission, cause, small group, activism, justice. With these goals, the members of the church, as the Body of Christ, will thrive, and Reformation can spread once again.

Notes:

[1] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), 199.

[2] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550, 199.

[3] See Roland H. Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston, MA: The Beacon Press, 1952), 195–6.

[4] Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Making of the English New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1925), 13.

[5] Owen Chadwick, The Reformation (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 113–4.

[6] Imanuel Geiss, Zukunft als Geschichte: Historisch-politische Analysen und Prognosen zum Untergang des Sowjetkommunismus, 1980-1991 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1998), 101.

[7] Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago,” Human Events, September 26, 2005; available at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1492257/posts, accessed December 1, 2008.

[8] Andrew Nagorski, “After Pope John Paul II: Look to Home,” The New Republic, April 18, 2005; available at http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/JPII/nag.html, accessed December 1, 2008.

[9] Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago.”

[10] Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, “Miracle of Solidarity Ended Communism: Polish Patriots Changed History 25 Years Ago.”

Categories: Worldview

Moving on to maturity: a challenge to Christians

American Vision - Tue, 10/03/2017 - 09:30

Something had been bothering me for a while, but exactly what was unclear until it leaped out at me in my studies the other day. Read this familiar passage, Hebrews 5:11 through 6:2:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Heb. 5:11–6:2).

Does anything about this passage bother you? Read 6:1–2 again. Now?

What’s been eating at me for some time and I did not see it is that we have a large segment of Christians who are highly advanced in nothing but the fundamentals, and their leaders have never moved them on. Through an abundance of study and reading theology books, podcasts, conferences, etc., we have created an illusion of maturity without the substance of it. Let me explain.

We are all familiar with the author of Hebrews chiding his audience for their spiritual immaturity—their reliance on “milk” and their inability to digest “meat.” I remember from very early in my theological journey, as a young Reformed reader, devouring R.C. Sproul’s books. One small pamphlet he wrote addressed this issue, and I remembered something special from it. I still have it. In that little pamphlet, I found the line that had stuck out to me so many years ago: “There is a vast difference, however, between a childlike faith and a childish faith, though the two are often confused.”

The rest of the booklet is taken up largely with analyzing reasons why people do not study theology more, and giving reasons why they should. This is good, for true beginners, but it needs to go much further. For good reason, Sproul himself recently got righteously angered with a conference audience for not even absorbing the basic ideas he’s been teaching for decades now. His frustration showed as he bellowed, “What’s wrong with you people?! I’m serious! This is what’s wrong with the Christian church today.”

I can feel his pain. Christians too often don’t even read up on the foundational elements. But worse, those that do often stay there reading books on the same foundational topics for the rest of their lives. Full-orbed worldview application seems too radical, too controversial, too much of a sacrifice, sometimes too antisocial.

The real conviction for us today, therefore, lies in exactly what this passage in Hebrews considers to be “milk.” Read it. It is virtually everything we today consider to be the meat of theology: the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of repentance, the doctrine of faith alone, the doctrine of baptism, the doctrine of laying-on-of-hands, the doctrine of resurrection, and the doctrine of final judgment. Kindergarten, all.

These are the doctrines the author says are mere fundamentals and from which we need to “leave” and “go on to maturity.” In other words, we don’t really need another book on Christology, or hell, or “the gospel.” We need Christians to move on from these foundations.

What is maturity?

An important question to ask, then, at this point, is, “What exactly is this ‘maturity’ to which we are supposed to move on?” If most of the things we normally think of as “theology” are actually just the fundamental milk of it, what then is the meat?

It is instructive to see that the book of Hebrews itself makes “maturity” (also translated “perfection”) a theme. The word used in 6:1 appears in other forms throughout the book as an attribute of what our High Priest, Christ, has already achieved for us, and for which the Aaronic priesthood and “the law” could not (2:10; 5:9; 7:11, 19; 7:28; 9:9, 11; 10:1; 10:14). It is also an attribute in which believers are said to share (11:40; 12:23). In other words, the perfection Christ has achieved is the type of maturity into which we should grow also. This is His work for us and in us. Fittingly, the word used in 6:1 is in the passive voice. It should literally read, “let us be moved on. . . .”

A brief study of this concept in Paul’s epistles reveals the same idea: growth unto maturity. What it reveals about that maturity/perfection is helpful for us:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature [“perfect”—same word] manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:11–16).

A mature Christian, by this standard, will be one with full and sound doctrine, for sure. But there is more to it. Let’s read a bit more before we say exactly what.

The word also appears in Colossians: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). What is the rule of perfection here? It is love. Same as in Ephesians 4  above. But how is this love expressed? Both passages (read the whole of Col. 3:1–4:6) make it clear that it is expressed through the work of ministry, self-control, self-improvement, conformity to God’s law, good works, good relationships within family, business, with employees, and a good witness to unbelievers. Indeed, a close reading of Colossians 3 will reveal that Paul is merely applying several of the Ten Commandments to all of life.

With all of this in mind, return to the book of Hebrews. You can actually see the exact same application being made, only it is spread out over the long, detailed argumentation that takes place in the book.

The author broaches it almost immediately already in chapter 6: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Heb. 6:9–10). The standard is works of love and service. He immediately digresses into more detailed comparisons of Old and New Testaments. He first digressed into the maturity discussion in 5:11, when he left off about Melchizedek. He picks up on Melchizedek again in 7:1, and discusses the priesthood until the end of the chapter. He summarizes himself up to that point in 8:1–2, then speaks about the New Covenant. In chapters 9–10, he discusses the “shadows” of the Old Covenant more, including the sacrifices and priesthood. In 10:14, he arrives back at the point of maturity and perfection again: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

This leads the author to a discussion of “how we should then live”—in the light of Jesus’ perfection for us and of us. It says this, in part:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:23–24).

Again, “good works.” Then follows the famous chapter 11: a long list of good works and exploits accomplished “by faith.” This includes everything from subduing kingdoms to suffering the worst of persecutions.

We could say more about chapters 12 and 13 as well, but the point is clear: moving on to perfection/maturity means moving on from the learning of basic, foundational Christian doctrines to the application of those doctrines in every area of life.

Conclusion

While I don’t think intellectual assent to these ideas will involve much controversy at all, I believe a truly honest assessment of ourselves in light of them will be much more difficult. The vast majority of even serious Christians today are considered serious because they read lots of books and go to conferences. But the vast majority of Christian books and conferences I see are far closer to the topics of milk than meat. And yet, we feel as if the milk books we read are in reality meat.

Worse yet, the vast majority of Christian ministries out there keep their followers unweaned with an endless supply of materials on the basic gospel level, or even apologetics that deal mainly with foundational truths. I see endless debates over milk, and Christians addicted to the nipple. When presented with meat, they don’t even think it’s Christian. They don’t know what to do with it. They scoff and turn up their nose. They may even call it a cult or heresy. They’re milk addicts. Meat not only scares them, it smells to them like poison. As a result, followers can spend years or even decades stuck in the infancy described in Hebrews 6 while thinking they are being highly trained.

What is sorely needed is for Christians to move on from their studies of tulips and empty tombs, systematics and solas, and begin to consider how they can apply biblical truth to all of life—that is, consider how we can provoke one another to love and good works. The end of the Christian faith is a maturity defined by good works and service. It’s great that others have labored to build good foundations; but we are called to build upon those and go further. Let’s embrace a view of ministry that advances Christian worldview in every area of life.

[If you would like to see my applications for moving on, you can start here.]

Notes:

Categories: Worldview

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