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Returning to the exchange I had at Georgia State Law School earlier this month: I want to follow up on some of the comments/criticisms made by my respondent, Prof. Timothy Lytton. In reading the following, it will be helpful to keep in mind that Prof. Lytton is of Orthodox Jewish practice, and thus provides a counterpoint to my Theonomy from the perspective of rabbinical Judaism.
What I found most interesting about Prof. Lytton’s perspective is that it offers similar criticisms against Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction as are often made by our Christian critics of various schools. Thus, a response to his comments will not only help put the nature of certain Christian responses in a particular perspective, it will also be helpful to many who are interested in responses to common criticisms against the position that Old Testament law provides abiding norms for civil governments today.
The particular criticisms in view include, first, the idea that the civil laws of the Mosaic code cannot be divorced from the rest of the Mosaic context. Based on arguments like this, several modern groups say you cannot divorce the civil laws from their context and apply it in modern times. They’ll each say this for slightly different reasons and with slightly different nuances, but they all say essentially the same thing. The second argument to be addressed here is that the law should only be applied in a way that balances justice and mercy, and that this necessitates that legal judgment be done in a fatherly or parental way—a way that essentially leaves justice undone.
I would like to address each of these notions as they were presented by Prof. Lytton and as a model for how to address them when they arise in our own broader Christian circles. One final thought before I do: I want to acknowledge that Prof. Lytton gave these responses impromptu, and thus I understand that it is probably a little in my favor to provide a response point by point after the fact. Sometimes in impromptu discussion, we don’t get a chance to nuance every statement as we would prefer upon reflection, and it is often easy to hack someone apart with the benefit of hindsight. I do not intend to hack anyone apart, and I want to be sensitive to these realities as I provide my responses below. I also want to add that I greatly appreciate Prof. Lytton’s participation in this discussion as well as his contributions to it. I found them helpful for clarifying these several points of agreement and disagreement, and I think the reader will also.
First, regarding my argument for the application of the lex talionis (“the punishment must fit the crime”) principle as an overarching principle of criminal and civil justice running throughout Scripture, Prof. Lytton responded that Mosaic principles are embedded in a specific narrative and should not be “pulled out from the context” in order to apply them today. In his words:
There’s a danger in overemphasizing the idea that the Hebrew Scriptures suggest principles of justice to us and that we should follow those principles. There’s a kind of caricature of the Hebrew Scriptures—what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament”—as a kind of legalistic document that involves a bunch of rigid principles; that underlying them, that have a certain truth to them, but the rigidity of them makes that legal system sort of archaic or superseded in the Christian mind frame.
I certainly agree that we should be careful not to overemphasize my point, or any other point. But I find it odd that this warning is followed by a reference to the fact that many Christians wrongly caricature the OT as harsh, rigid, and “legalistic.” While it is certainly true that many Christians make this mistake, it is nevertheless something the Professor and I would agree wholeheartedly is wrong and which hardly appeared anywhere in my presentation. But what he goes on to argue seems to assume that my thesis partakes of this view. It does not. He continues:
I would suggest it’s very difficult to read the Bible as a set of principles without understanding that those principles are deeply embedded in a context of narrative. If you read the Hebrew Scriptures, they are not a list of laws. And if you compare them to other ancient near-eastern texts of laws, you will see that the ancient near-eastern texts of laws are lists of laws: they read like the U.S. code. If you read the Hebrew Scriptures, they don’t read like the U.S. Code. They read like the story of a nation in which is embedded a set of laws.
Now, in addition, I would say that what the Hebrew Scriptures ask us to do is not so much look at the principles, they ask us to look at the behavior of the judge.
So I agree with Dr. McDurmon that it’s important to figure out “What do God’s judgments look like?” But when you do that, you have to look not at the principles pulled out from the context, but the judgments God makes in the context using those principles.
It is certainly true that there is such a difference between the Mosaic books and the other ancient law codes. Even the parts of the Mosaic book that include law codes and law cases read as more of a narrative that the others. Yet even the Professor acknowledges that within this narrative there exists a law code, or “set of laws”—or we could even say “a set of principles.” After all, even the U.S. Code is “embedded” in a narrative which is the “story of a nation.” Do we refuse therefore to apply the U.S. Code as a system of legal principles? No. It is still a law code from which we derive legal principles of justice as legal principles of just. Theft or murder today are absolutely no different than theft or murder in 1776.
The difference here is not law code versus no law code, or application versus no application. The difference is which law code and which applications. The chief questions are “How do we apply that law code in the modern world?,” and “What are the principles of interpretation by which we apply that law code?” In other words, we are back to the same perennial question: “By what standard?”
The Professor argues that the Hebrew Scriptures ask us not to look at the principles but to look at the behavior of the judge. Granting this in the whole for the moment, what does such a statement miss? It misses an all-important fact: the statement “we should not look at the principles but at the judge’s behavior” is, in and of itself, a principle. So, ha!, should we not look to it then?
Of course not. Instead, we simply acknowledge that every question of interpretation involves principles of interpretation, and thus, interpreting the application of the Old Testament law can never be divorced from the principles of the law itself. This is why Paul says, “We know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8).
This means that analyzing and applying the principles of Old Testament law today is not, as the Professor’s response seems to state, de facto ripping the principles from their context. Instead, the biblical exegete’s job is to understand them within their context, understand them within the larger biblical context (both Old and New Testaments), and then apply them accordingly as the context determines.
The real question here, then, is whether “the context” determines whether any given Old Testament law has any application today or not, or whether any given applications are universal for all people and places, or whether, as the Professor seems to suggest below, that applications can be affected by subjective and personal-relative contexts—a dangerous, but all too modern, road.
And those judgments involve not the strict or cruel application of principle, they involve a balance between what in the Jewish tradition is known as din, strict judgment, and rachamim, which is mercy [or compassion].
Again, I agree in principle, but so did my presentation as well as the strict principle of the law itself. The lex talionis in-and-of itself is a tool of mercy in regard to all parties. It is the greatest mercy possible to the victims because the crime is punished fully and restitution is paid fully where applicable. It is mercy even to the criminal because it prevents the state from imposing punishments beyond what fits the crime (which has been almost always the case historically, and is quite often the case even today). It is mercy to society in that crime is punished justly, and thus deterred, and yet not punished too much to impose a tyranny upon the innocent.
In the scenario of a crime or tort, the lex talionis is the most merciful solution possible. And thus, when applying biblical law here, there is no danger of being “cruel” or imbalanced when we apply the principles as strictly as possible. Instead, we are by definition being cruel and imbalanced when we don’t follow that principle strictly. In such a scenario, to add “mercy” beyond that for which God calls in His standards is to pretend we can be more merciful than God, and yet in the process render injustice.
In fact, when it comes to legal judgments in regard to civil government, mercy is exactly what God says not to do. He specifically says to avoid and reject “mercy” or “pity” in such judgments: “Your eye shall not pity” the offender when sentencing and carrying out sentence (Deut. 7:16; 13:8; 19:13; 19:21; 25:12).
This “no pity” standard being the case for civil law, departing from strict application renders one’s position inconsistent. And in fact, that is where I see the Professor going:
If we, according to the Jewish tradition, lived in a world where God’s judgments were a matter of strict justice, we wouldn’t survive, the rabbis tell us. We wouldn’t be here. Who could survive strict justice on that level? And if we lived in a world that was all about mercy and forgiveness, we would live in an anarchic world. So the rabbis tell us that if you look closely at God’s judgments, the application of those principles in the context of the narratives in which they are discussed, you will find a delicate balance between the so-called strict letter of the law and a contextual understanding and flexible, often mercy-ridden application of those laws.
We are supposed to be speaking of civil and criminal justice here, not social life and family life, “society” in general, or God’s historical sanctions upon a society. But these seem to be where the professor is going. Granted, if God chose to punish us strictly for our many sins, none of us would survive. But this is comparing apples to oranges in regard to our specific discussion of standards of civil government.
God can and does chose to be longsuffering with our society in history. Yet at the same time, He gives us a special revelation of what the standards of justice are to be. He gives standards for the civil realm just as He gives standards for personal, family, and church realms. We are to carry these out strictly as one means of averting the very historical judgment our society otherwise deserves. One of the many ways God shows us mercy as an overall society in history is through giving us many generations to repair our many injustices. But again, this demands that we return to a strict application of His standards of social and criminal justice, not otherwise. And we must recognize that the very giving of the special revelation of these standards is itself also an aspect of God’s mercy to us.
The Professor then adds,
The Jewish people would have never survived the trajectory through the desert if God would have been a strict judge, or would have been looking for principles, or if the Hebrew Scriptures were about principles.
Let us note that the vast majority of the Jewish people in fact did not survive that wilderness trek. The entire first generation with the sole exceptions of Joshua and Caleb died not having entered the Promised Land. This was not because they adhered to God’s law too strictly. It was precisely not because they mistakenly believed “the Hebrew Scriptures were about principles.” Indeed, just the opposite. They died in the wilderness because they tempted God, disobeyed His precepts, and broke His covenant with them.
The Professor then made an argument very similar to certain Christian critics, as well as many liberal scholars, today:
It’s instructive in this regard that, in fact, in the Jewish tradition we refer to God as Avinu Malkeinu, “Our Father, our King.” Not just our King—our Father; in fact, first our Father and then our King. The model of judgment—of legal judgment—in the Bible is one of parenting. You don’t parent your children by dictating principles. You parent your children by living in a principled home, and exercising a kind of judgment that balances fidelity to those principles with a kind of compassion for the person and the reality of the situation.
Some of you may have heard a very similar argument made by certain recent critics of Theonomy: we should no longer follow biblical standards of civil law strictly, but rather model civil government on parenting. Some children require different standards of punishment to render obedience. In other words, the model for civil government is the family, and the analogue to citizens is children.
The problems with this view are legion, and far more than I will take space for here. For starters, this confuses the biblical roles of family and state which are two separate covenantal institutions for a good reason. The family bears the rod under the judgment of parents. The state bears the sword under the judgment of juries, judges, and enforcing executives. They are separate institutions with separate (though sometimes overlapping) standards for governance. Under biblical laws, families are not allowed, for example, to execute offenders, and states are not allowed to mandate the intricacies of private life of citizens. Furthermore, as we have already seen, the state is forbidden by God’s law from showing “compassion” when executing civil justice. The state is an active agent of God’s wrath, not His compassion. To pretend that a “parenting” model supersedes here is not to improve upon God’s law, nor to apply it faithfully, but to break it. In short, parents are not civil authorities, and civil authorities are not parents.
Throughout history, whenever the state becomes a “parental” state, a tyranny ensues. When the state arrogates to itself the alleged affections of parents, and demands of citizens the loyalty and affections due from children, the conditions for tyranny are ripe. Think “nanny state,” and you get the picture. Further, a “father” state becomes a breadwinner and bread-giver to its “children.” As a parental state, it not only takes control of welfare, it becomes the dispenser of property and inheritance. Again, you get the picture. A parental state is a total welfare state.
This view has many problems, as I said, but one of the most important for our purpose here is that it throws the discussion of civil punishments off the rails of God’s revealed objective standards and into the relativistic arena of human autonomy. If the state assumes the position of reading every particular case and dispensing justice to custom-fit every individual “child” in any given case, it opens the can of worms that is relativism. Favoritism and partiality, for individuals or for a variety of favored classes, will follow shortly; and indeed, in every society that departs from God’s law, including our own, this is precisely what has followed. When you remind yourself that such partiality is being allowed to the agency of wrath and the sword, you can only understand that a police state, warfare state, surveillance state, etc., is on the horizon.
The Professor then moves on to express just such a relativism in regard to standards for civil justice. He says,
That’s very different than looking at the principle of the lex talionis as opposed to the way God thinks about and executes judgment regarding what would be a fair application of the principle in this particular context, which changes over time even in the 40-year sojourn in the desert.
I am not sure exactly what he is speaking of here in regard to changes during the 40-year sojourn, but we can be quite sure God never changed His revelation in regard to civil standards during that time. And while we may expect different cases to have different facts that receive different treatment for different reasons, we can be quite sure that the standards of judgment, procedure, and punishment do not change from case to case, or even from era to era.
The times may change, but God does not. While God changed many ceremonial and some civil aspects of the law in transition between the Old and New Covenants, there has never been, and never will be, a time when it can be said in regard to God’s law, “Get with the times.” No, the times need to change to conform to God’s law, for that is perfect righteousness.
Finally, the Professor concludes:
Furthermore, it’s instructive that the Jewish word for “law” in modern Jewish life is Halakha. Halakha literally means “the way.” It comes from the Hebrew word for “walk,” Halakh. Well, why would you refer to the law as “the way”? And the answer is because you don’t walk according to principles. Google Maps won’t get you there alone. The only thing that will get you there is to actually find your direction and then take your own particular journey there; it’s a way of life. Life in the law, at least as far as the Hebrew Scriptures wants to paint it, is not a life that revolves around the strict interpretation of principles or even the primary focus on principles. It’s a life that involves the incorporation of principles into a way of life that is highly contextualized.
It is very interesting, isn’t it, that the Professor contrasts walking according to principles found in the Bible with “a way of life”? This is, after all, a key argument Christians have been making for years: Christianity is not a list of rules to follow; it is a way of life.
Well honestly, I don’t care who makes such a contrast. I don’t see any necessary contrast between the two aspects. Yes the Bible provides a contextualized “way of life.” Every reading of every piece of Scripture necessitates that you read and apply it within the larger context of a biblical worldview: Trinity, creation, fall, law, redemption, ascension, consummation, etc., etc. Yet believing the “way of life” perspective does not in any way deny that the principles found within that way of life (i.e., biblical law) should not be applied today, nor does it change the standard of application, or the results if we are comparing apples and apples.
Again, if he is speaking of divorcing biblical principles from their context and abstracting them wrongly in some way, sure, I would join him in refuting such a monstrosity. But when we are talking about an abiding and underlying principle of justice itself which is universal to all times and all places, then we are doing an injustice by not applying it strictly today. To neglect that application is to open the door to relativism and humanistic autonomy.
Indeed, is this not where the Professor’s counterpoint ends up when he says “you don’t walk according to principles” but rather, “to actually find your direction and then take your own particular journey there”? This sounds a lot like a strong contrast between universal standards and subjective, individualized experiences. And of course, the great irony again is that such a statement itself is present as what? You guessed it: a universal principle.
As far as that goes, I would prefer to stand with those principles found in God’s revelation to man rather than purporting to find my own direction and my own way, and calling that “the way.” Because “the way” is either faithful to God’s word or it is not, and there is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it is the way of death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). And when you neglect God’s law, that prover stands true whether you’re an Orthodox Jew, west-coast radical two-kingdomite, Reformed Baptist, New Covenant theologian, or whatever.
A college degree guarantees you nothing. It could, in fact, ruin your future.
There was a time when having a college degree almost guaranteed you a “good job,” certainly one that pays better than those not requiring a bachelor’s degree. Parents then determined that the costs involved added up to an investment in their child’s future—an investment that would undoubtedly pay off. The general public soon grew so assured of the value of a degree that it grew acceptable and common to borrow toward that investment. Today, student loans are the rule.
This entire process assumes several things, all of which might have held true at one time or in limited circumstances, hardly any of which remain true today or in general. Yet a blind faith that includes all of these assumptions rules the day for decisions about higher education. The results are disastrous.
Example: meet Miss Courtney Munna. She is 26 years old and has proudly fulfilled her and her mother’s dream of graduating from NYU, a second-tier private school. She is now the proud owner of an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in religious and women’s studies.
She also owns a $97,000 student debt.
Let’s evaluate the value of Miss Munna’s education: In the job market, a bachelor’s in either religion (from a liberal university) or women’s studies adds little to nothing to her marketability in the real world. An “interdisciplinary” degree—half one and half the other mixed together—actually reduces the value. A degree like this only has value in the academic world, and there it only holds value as a stepping stone to an academic teaching career. But this requires a Master’s degree (at least two more years and more debt) and almost always a Doctorate (three further years in the US, and more debt). For all practical purposes, Miss Munna’s degree has zero economic value.
But worse, $97k in debt has a value of, well, negative $97k; plus interest, part of which is at an adjustable rate (it will go higher). And this, not even for a marketable skill or knowledge, but merely a degree in religious and women’s studies. And what does such a degree provide? . . . Nothing more than a group of feminists’ assurances that all religions are equal and women should be in charge of them.
So Courtney has essentially paid over $100,000 in order to be propagandized with a message she could just as easily have gotten from a $1.25 bumper sticker.
Courtney’s mom helped finance this “education.” She herself now faces a tough time financially. She’s afraid she could lose her bed and breakfast business. And herein is the great joke. This woman owns a business. She should know something about finances. What on earth made her think a dead-end degree like women’s studies was worth selling her and her daughter’s souls? She should have known better.
She should have kept her daughter at home, trained her in the family business, marketed it, taught her how to keep it profitable, and lived a moderate middle-class life.
If after that she had a desire to learn “women’s studies,” she could easily have sated such a perversion without debt. She could have Googled “women’s studies reading list” and then selected one of several links from a major university, like this link: fifteen pages of women-as-victim and women-as-equals screeds. Forget NYU. Forget –$97k. The New York Public Library is free. Free public libraries are all over the place. Even major universities will give full access and lending privileges for a small fee (for example, I bought such at Emory University for $100/year—well worth it for projects I work on). For hardly any cost at all, Courtney could spend her free time indulging in all the feminism and gender diversity she could stand—and make money instead of borrowing it.
This reminds me of the famous scene from Good Will Hunting: Will, played by Matt Damon, is a genius held back by emotional issues. He works as a janitor at MIT. During a trip to a Harvard bar, Will’s uneducated friend [Ben Affleck, of course], while chatting with a Harvard girl, get harassed by a grad student for obviously aiming out of his intellectual league. Will comes to the rescue, confronting this hot-shot grad student’s arrogance, showing him up intellectually with page number and footnote. The kid had plagiarized everything he said. What’s worse, Will concludes, “You dropped 150 grand on a **** education you could’ve got for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library” [warning: brief adult language in the clip.]
The lesson should be clear, very few if any jobs require a degree from any of the liberal arts fields. A degree here is nothing much more than a hobby—an expensive hobby. A very expensive hobby. Unless you have a guaranteed career waiting ahead requiring and helping fund such a degree, a wise person would avoid the trap. And even upon deciding to take such a degree, never do so from an upper-tier school because of the exorbitant expense. And never put yourself in debt in order to do so.
A bachelor’s degree in engineering, accounting, hard sciences, or as a stepping stone to med or maybe law school makes much more sense, but even then you can do it without crazy debt.
Most business and economics courses are taught by tenured academics who have never run a business.
Gary North has offered seven steps to getting a bachelor’s degree for around $15,000. I personally completed my undergraduate a few years before he published this list. I was pleased to see that I anticipated six of his seven tips, finished for well under $15,000, and had no debt. Since I was awarded scholarships and grants for seminary and postgraduate work, I can say I actually spent less than $15k on all my higher education including my M.Div. and Ph.D. I have written about that here.
There are hidden costs, of course, such as: lost income during periods of working part-time in order to take a full course load, moving the family across country, a feeling of rootlessness, and the price of family stress while living in small apartments as daddy studies all day and works weekends and sometimes nights. These costs add up and must be taken seriously. I dare speculate that many seminaries have produced more strained families than good pastors. But that’s a whole different topic.
Meanwhile, too few people 1) can see the worthlessness of most academic degrees beforehand, 2) exercise the mental fortitude to think critically through the illusions of a college education, and 3) have enough economic sense to do a cost/benefit analysis of the situation.
Besides, even discounting nonsense degrees like women’s studies and many others, college is not for everyone. Many people would do well to go train under an entrepreneur or get a marketable technical skill. When I was in high school I worked part-time at a pizza joint. One of the other cooks was in his late twenties and had not pursued college. “You gonna cook pizza all your life,” I asked. “No. I want to learn how to fix air conditioners.” He skirted traditional college and enrolled in a vo-tech college. Graduated with a B average, no debt, and went from six bucks an hour to about $35k a year. Within a few years, with some experience, he was making more.
Many great jobs come this way, with technical training in real-world careers. Welders, auto mechanics, small engine repair, diesel mechanics, etc., will all always be in demand. This is true especially during time of recession when people quit buying expensive new things and try to make old things keep running. It’s cheaper to repair than buy new, and good repairmen are hard to find. A good skill and a good reputation are far more valuable than nearly any degree, certainly a Ph.D. in theology.
I remember one of my professors in college. He was in his first year after receiving his Ph.D. in Philosophy from a reputable State University. He was an adjunct in my local community college, maybe making around $2–3k per course. I looked him up out of curiosity. Today, sixteen years later, he’s still an adjunct, but at a different community college, teaching the same few courses. He did tell me that with his experience, he was able to get on a salaried position. For this, he must teach certain entry-level courses he does not care for to first-year students, year after year, but at around $40k a year, I’m sure he still counts himself lucky.
So what is a Ph.D. in philosophy worth? Not much, unless you’re a shoe-in for a tenured position. Such positions are very rare and highly competitive. Gary DeMar tells me the story of an old college buddy who completed a Ph.D. in philosophy. He responded to an open position at a major private university. Amazingly, they chose him. There had been 100 applicants.
Do the math: that means 99% of Doctors of Philosophy went home with no job and probably still thousands in debt.
In today’s depressed market and with a glut of Ph.Ds., a job at a mere community college is liable to draw that many applications.
Meanwhile, the air-conditioner repairman makes more money than the B.A. in women’s studies, the Ph.D. in philosophy, and most of their peers. And for now, Miss Munna herself has learned the lesson. She now works in a field that has nothing to do with her degree: she aids a photographer for $22/hour (keep in mind, New York City prices). At that rate, I doubt she will ever pay off her debt; and Federal law makes it virtually impossible to assuage it through bankruptcy.
And it’s not just her. Students all over the US graduate with pointless degrees, no experience, no real training, no job prospects, and thousands in debt. The average student loan debt is around $30,000 per graduate today. This only counts graduates, not the 50% who don’t even graduate and still have thousands in debt.
What’s all this “education” worth anyway? As I’ve mentioned, most degrees guarantee nothing. Many are utterly pointless beyond a personal hobby. Some are a complete waste of time. “Education” comes from the Latin, E (“out”) + ducare (“to lead”), meaning “to lead out.” The question with “leading out,” of course, always involves: 1) who’s leading, 2) “out” of what, and 3) leading “to” where? The educators purport to lead us out of ignorance, ostensibly, but the truth is well known that the university system has long been a bed of leftist indoctrination. Some references to “E + duce” worth considering include the Italian version, “Il Duce,” and the German equivalent, “der Führer.” Be careful whom you choose to lead you.
Jacques Ellul considered the point long ago in his book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes: generalized “education” rarely produces true critical thinkers. It produces indoctrinated dupes who truly believe they’re critical thinkers but aren’t. Lenin, apocryphally but appropriately labeled them: “useful idiots.” We place a value on literacy, and rightly so. But we fail if we don’t move further. Literacy makes readers, but the exaltation merely of reading leads to an exaltation of the printed word. It takes on an authority, and this leads to a casual submission, or at least intimidation, before anyone who has written anything.1 “Author” becomes “authority,” and professors and grad students love that role.
Useful idiots believe they’re critical thinkers because they were told they’re critical thinkers and were handed a degree as certification of the fact. But rarely if ever do they think critically. In fact, Ellul notes, the intellectual is the first to fall for propaganda, and this is normal. Why? He answers, “Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anyone else in this maneuver. . . .”2
This is one reason I wrote Biblical Logic: I wanted to show Christians the scriptural and theological mandate for being critical thinkers, and how only based on God’s word can we be truly critical (“critical” from the Greek kritikos: “able to judge”).
A college degree is certainly no guarantee of this ability, and in many respects is a great hindrance to it. It certainly won’t guarantee a job or even marketability.
So many young people fall for the illusion that a college degree has value. It’s an enormous deception, and parents will do well to insulate themselves and their children from it. This takes discipline and commitment to values, because the deception weighs powerfully on the ego and sense of destiny. It inflates hopes that may not materialize, and it caresses fond hopes of glory residing deep in every depraved heart.
I know the power of that temptation. When I graduated seminary I took a long shot, just for my dreams’ sake. I applied to a single graduate school for a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies. Most aspirants will apply to several hoping one will accept. I narrowed my chances and applied only to one: Edinburgh. I didn’t expect to be selected. To my surprise, I was accepted and was offered a scholarship covering all the main tuition. Problem: the scholarship did not cover the “outside the UK” part of the tuition which amounted, due to exchange rates at the time, to about $10k per year. Add to this living expenses in a relatively expensive city. I figured the total bill at roughly $75k over three years.
It was the chance of a lifetime for a young scholar. It was my dream. I would have studied under leading NT scholar Larry Hurtado. But $75 grand? Was it worth the price?
I tried hard to raise money. I was offered donations from some private parties, and interest-free loans from others, but in the end would have still had to borrow $50-60k. Nevertheless, the draw of that Ph.D. from a prestigious university of international reputation pushed me to the edge. I almost bit, even knowing it was not the wise thing to do.
I went into the president at my seminary—a man of sound financial sense and thrift (“cheap,” he would say)—knowing he would tell me not what I wanted but needed to hear. I told him, “I need you to tell me, ‘Don’t accept the offer to Edinburgh.’” He obliged: “Joel, I can’t advise you to borrow eighty grand for a Ph.D.” The words still echo like a peal of thunder in my mind and a bolt of lightning in my heart; and I’m glad they do. We all need someone to pull us back from a brink like that.
So I am doing it here for you.
Many people should embrace this advice even before they pursue a bachelor’s degree, let alone a Ph.D. Everyone should embrace them before going into debt for any purported education.
The library card is cheaper. Go into business, marketing, engineering. Make money, don’t borrow it. Then read some good books on the side. Start with those from American Vision! Then, from the thousands you save, you can make a donation to American Vision.
- Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, trans. by Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner (New York: Vintage Books, 1973 ), 108.
- Jacques Ellul, Propaganda, 110.
The testimony of Kesep-Zaqan Ben-Shulchanim, eyewitness to the attack on the temple:
I’ll never forget the first time it happened. I watched the curious man with a small band of followers sit at the edge of the outer court of the Temple, patiently braiding small cords together. He must have done it for the better part of an hour. He spoke to his friends as he just sat there twining away. But he kept looking over at us. I knew something was up, but I had no idea how big this would be. I had front-row seats to the liveliest Passover weekend ever, until now of course.
My dad was a banker—at least that’s what some people might call him today. We are the Hashulchanim, “The Table Men.” That’s a euphemism. We are always found sitting over tables in the Temple, and our trade is done over those tables. Some call us “Exchangers.” Greek-speakers call us kollubistes, “Coin Men” or “Rate Men.” This is because we charge an interest rate to exchange coins in the temple. You know who we are. Some might say bankers, others moneychangers. We get rich off of the church, to put it simple.
I say we’re just good businessmen. We saw an opportunity and we seized it. We saw a market and we met the demand. Every Passover people would flock to the Temple in droves from miles around. Many had only Gentile coins forbidden for Temple use. Others needed smaller change to make the yearly half-shekel. Our friends provided broader services. The masses needed sheep and doves for Passover sacrifices. We simply made it all happen. And we brought it all right to the doorstep. It was one-stop shopping; drive-through pesach. We provided a valuable service for people; and we got a handsome cut doing it. Everyone benefited. Who wouldn’t want that?
Well, there was one who apparently didn’t. That guy braiding that whip. I later learned they called him Joshua. He even let people call him “God with us.” He was from Nazareth—the other side of Samaria. Not much to speak of. He was never married, and everyone said he was a bastard. That makes sense. Here was another young fatherless soul who got radicalized and became some wild-eyes reformer. A purist, if you will. Later they told us he had “suggested” he was the Messiah in the synagogue in Nazareth. They tried to execute him right there for it, but he escaped. Looks like he brought his delusions of grandeur straight to our Temple mount. They say he claimed to perform a miracle in Cana, then came straight here.
Well, he eventually finished that whip. It must have been six feet long. He seemed to disappear for a minute. I looked up from a deal and noticed he was gone. But not for long. A loud crack rang out behind us. I immediately heard bleats and hooves. Cattle of all kinds stampeded through the place. Then I heard cries—shrieks! This crazed lunatic was driving everyone out of our market—one-by-one, en masse, it didn’t matter—from the rear to the front. Whether they moved fast or slow, they got moved. He kept cracking that whip.
Then came the crashes and bangs. He began flipping our tables. Just like the whipping, it was every single one. He was relentless. Tables flew, chairs flew, money flew. Table tops rang like thunder; coins flashed like lightning. It seemed like heaven had come crashing down on earth.
And when he had finished all this, he stood right in the middle of all his chaos, glowering at us, heaving chest, and growled, “Get this stuff out of here now! Don’t make my father’s house into a market!”
Now I’ve seen religious zealots and crazies in my day—this is Jerusalem, after all—but this idiot took the cake. He really believed he ruled this place; he acted like he owned this Temple and could do whatever he wanted. But it was all in pure rage and anger. It was like he thought he was God’s wrath in the flesh, and this was some kind of judgment day.
Well, the authorities thought differently. They were true heroes and men of God—stalwarts of our great institutions of Temple and Law. When they confronted him, they showed utmost patience and self-control, and did not even condemn him immediately. They showed way more patience than I would have (if he didn’t have that whip, of course). They asked him by what authority he did these things, and they gave him a chance to answer for himself.
Suddenly, he didn’t look so in charge. The best he could come up with was even worse delusion than before. Not only was he going to destroy our tables, he actually said he was going to tear down the whole Temple! Yeah! I heard it with my own ears. And if that weren’t crazy enough, he said he could rebuild it—get this—in three days.
It was then that we all realized we were dealing with a verified nutcase. It was one thing to speak of a small miracle a few days prior—something about turning water into wine. Any good shyster can pull that off when no one’s looking. And that was way up in Cana. Those bumpkins up there in Galilee might fall for something like that (the same way they pay us eight percent just to make change! Ha!), but I had seen enough false messiahs in my day—I’ll just shake my head. But to destroy and rebuild this Temple in three days? That’s sheer lunacy—and of course it never happened. So when he said this, everyone just kind of said “Oooo-kaaay,” rolled their eyes, backed away slowly, and hoped he would go away. The priests looked at each other in dismay and walked away shaking their heads. A few feet out of ear shot, so they thought, they burst out laughing. Can you blame them?
No one set their tables back up that day. A few days later, it was all over. He cost us a lot of money, and he totally freaked us all out.
But after that, he became the stuff of legend throughout Judea and even in Jerusalem. Idiots, all. I kept hearing about “Joshua of Nazareth” healing people, saying great things, and making great promises. He supposedly outwitted the Pharisees and lawyers all the time—typical popular religion. But some of these guys are personal friends of mine. They told me all he really did was twist Scripture to make it confusing, and the make these great pronouncements of judgment as if he was a prophet. The more he argued, the more he confused people—and then he acted like he had refuted everyone with his brilliance.
The masses actually think he is a prophet. But these are the same people who raise swine and watch Roman theater when no one’s watching them—not the best judges of godliness, I’d say. None of them are educated, they’re all illiterate, and they’re all jealous of our money, even though we got it through hard work, discipline, foresight—obviously God’s blessing. All you’ve got to do to rile up these sweaty masses is talk bad about prominent men and the business class. They love it! Bad-mouth the lawyers; eat the rich! It’s worked for thousands of years. It will probably work for thousands more.
So no, I didn’t buy any of it. The guy is a lunatic on steroids—probably smoking something—deranged, deluded, a liar, a revolutionary, a subversive, a narcissist, and fanatic about being all these things. Like I said, I’ve seen a few; and he’s one for the ages.
Now here we were, three years later. Just when we thought it was safe to return to our business, he shows up again—and does the same thing. He drives us all out, shouting, and overthrowing our tables.
But this time, thousands of people praised his entrance like he is really the messiah. They sang psalms and repeated prophecies as we walked into the city. This time, his reputation among the illiterate preceded him. It was a grand entrance. The priests saw him coming this time, but they were powerless to stop him. The masses thronged to watch him make a mockery of us again. It was sedition! It was revolution! Madness!
And when he finished this time, he preached at us again. Anger and fire seemed to fly from his eyes as he quoted Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” and then he leveled the charge at us, out of the blue: “but you make it a den of robbers.”
It was utter nonsense. Here was this mental patient in the midst of his second criminal act against us and our property, having destroyed and scattered our money all over the place (some of it never to be recovered), and he has the gall to call us “robbers”? It’s sheer narcissism. It’s total perversion of law and order. But he got away with it because he deceived the masses into believing in he was something special. There they stood, applauding him and cheering him because he stuck it to those more successful than themselves.
Well, I got news for Mr. Nazarene. You don’t mock God’s Temple and God’s faithful servants a second time and get away with it. Once I heard they finally arrested him, I knew it was reckoning time. You reap what you sow. You sow violence and derision, you reap the same, and now it’s time for him to learn. I was all too happy to add my testimony as a contribution for a real court of justice. The Law does not sanction vigilantes, and it punishes false prophets, and even more so false messiahs. Thank God we have such a true system of law and order, courts and regular justice. Thank God!
Finally, I want to add what I consider the most egregious characteristic of it all. This guy who is supposed to be a messiah was full of nothing but rage and anger and meanness. It’s one thing to teach controversy; you put yourself to the fringe real quickly when you do that already. But when you do it with such an angry demeanor, with violence and threats—you just turn people off immediately. I rest absolutely assured that there’s no way that man can be a man of God, because no man of God will seem so angry. Remember the stuff Solomon said:
A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated (Prov. 14:17).
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Prov. 14:29).
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11).
And that’s just exactly what I heard on this second occasion. As we stood from a distance and watched him vandalize the property, shouting prophecies at us like threats, some guy behind me said, “He’s just an angry person.” Even a few of the same people who praised him through the gates began to have their doubts when they realized it.
Some people acted like this guy is a “walking Bible,” but he apparently forgot a few key parts of it. Like, “Love you neighbor.” Yeah. Some messiah. How about, “Thou shall not move your neighbor’s landmark.” He sure overturned mine—twice.
So, no, I hardly bought it like some people did. I knew better. I know the law, and the prophets, and the writings. And this guy didn’t measure up to any of it. Our great edifices and institutions were not built by the likes of him. The grand wealth of our economy did not come through purists and complainers like him who subvert it all. Great reform movements, like the Pharisees, true republicans!, have built these things over years through great personal effort and sacrifice. Great kingdom advances don’t come through radicalism, but through wise political alliances, like the Herodians. Peace and security—and national greatness!—do not come through angry revolutionaries, especially those like him who are poorly bred and have never really accomplished anything in their lives.
I am sorry for this man personally—the compassion of the Almighty calls me to it; but he is wrong, and he is dangerous—and he has proven himself so. I am happy to see justice done, and to see him gone. We can get back to a more peaceful nation and religion when he is out of the picture—and we can certainly get back to a more profitable business.
As a mental exercise just to drive home the enormity of the apocalypse known as human abortion, let’s compare the casualties of the War on Babies to another well-known tragedy, the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War Memorial is a pair of walls on which are engraved the names of all known American casualties of that war, numbering over 58,000. To achieve this vast number, the structure is a gargantuan 493 feet 6 inches long.
Not to take anything away from the victims of Vietnam, but the figures got me to thinking what a comparable wall for the humanists’ War on Babies would look like.
I did the math, and the numbers are staggering. In order to display the names of the over 53 million victims of abortion, a comparable wall would not be just hundreds or even thousands of feet long, but hundreds of thousands. Indeed, when all said and done, the unimaginable structure would measure a whopping 84.96 miles long.
Visiting such a memorial would take you at least a whole weekend for no other reason than that merely walking its length alone would take you about 28 straight hours.
In fact, the number of American deaths by human abortion dwarfs the total American deaths of all American wars to date—by a factor of about 39 times over.
When believers start to get things in proper perspective, we can begin setting our priorities straight as well. It’s long past time to #EndAbortionNow. You can begin getting acquainted here, and stay tuned for more.
A long-standing problem of New Testament studies has been why Jesus is recorded as having cleansed the temple of the moneychangers twice. John records it happening at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and the Synoptic Gospels all record it happening at the end. Which is it? Or is it both? If so, why? What sense does that make? In the next few minutes, I will make sense of it for you.
First, let’s read the texts. The synoptic Gospels record the account:
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:45–46).
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:12–13).
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. . . . And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:12, 15–17).
John also records a temple cleansing:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13–17).
You may notice some differences in the accounts—not necessarily contradictions, but clear differences. The most notable difference has been the subject of much discussion among scholars for a long time: Matthew, Mark, and Luke record a temple cleansing at the very end of Jesus’ ministry while John’s account happens at the very beginning of the ministry. In John’s account, Jesus leaves many believers behind in Jerusalem and eventually goes back home. He is not crucified until years later. In the synoptic accounts, the cleansing follows Jesus’ triumphal entry and it is the very thing that gets Him in trouble with the Priests and scribes, etc., and leads directly to His crucifixion within days.
Liberal scholars have jumped on this problem as evidence that the Gospels are not inspired, but pieced together according to the whims and agendas of their mere mortal authors. Mark used the account for one purpose, John cut and pasted for his own. But this, of course, assumes 1) that the accounts indeed derive from only one incident, or 2) they derive from each other, and/or 3) that even this would disprove the inspiration of the account. This knee-jerk reaction probably says more about the biases of the scholar than it does about the Bible.
The standard conservative response to the problem has been simply to say that Jesus cleansed the temple twice. And while a decent stand-alone case can be made for two cleansings, it still seems arbitrary for Jesus to have done the same thing in the same place on two separate occasions without any good explanation as to why. The standard explanation is that Jesus was just really passionate about the purity of the temple. But He had just moments before wept and pronounced the soon-coming leveling of that temple, and it seems unlikely He would have undergone such an abrupt emotional change to a zeal for its purity. Our Savior was never one subject to such emotional swings. There must be some better explanation for two cleansings.[In what follows, I will answer this problem with biblical theology which indicates strongly that Jesus did in fact cleanse the temple twice, and that He did so for very clear and powerful biblical reasons. In doing this, I credit a friend of mine in seminary who suggested the seed idea which started this study for me. I also note for you that this article is taken from the slightly longer version in my book Jesus v. Jerusalem. This commentary on a large section of Luke contains this study and many more like it.]
Inspection of a Corruption in a House
Indeed, there were two separate cleansings of the Temple, and there is a better explanation for them. What lies behind these separate instances is Jesus fulfilling the role of the High Priest visiting and inspecting the touch of affliction/corruption in the house. This is described in Leviticus 14:33–53. It accounts for the multiple visitations and the repeated act of removing the corruption, then finally pronouncing the house (temple) unclean and decreeing the total destruction of the house. It also fits in with Jesus’ mission against Jerusalem. Now for considerations of space, I will not reproduce the whole long section of Leviticus here, but it is important that you take up your Bible and read it at this point. What follows are the highlights of the priestly duties throughout that passage, and how they pertain to Jesus’ ministry.
First, the phrase “plague of leprosy,” or “leprous disease” is misleading. It has more relation to translation history than they actual Hebrew of the text. The actual phrase should more simply be translated “touch of affliction,” or “corruption.” The “leprosy” mentioned was not a disease, obviously, since it affected building stones and garments as well as people (see Lev. 14:54–57). It was also certainly not anything like what is known as leprosy today. It was an unknown affliction or corruption and God was giving them detailed steps on how to determine the level of threat and how to deal with it based on the determination. Since it also obviously pertained to something dangerous, undesirable, and potentially unclean, I will refer to it as a “corruption.” (I will also alter the translation of the ESV’s “disease” to “corruption.”)
Second, the owner of the house had to take the initiative when he suspected a corruption was present in his house (Lev. 14:35). In the case of the temple, we know it was Jesus’ “Father’s house” (John 2:16), and thus God the Father took the initiative.
Third, the owner was to contact the priest and the priest was to “go in to see the house” and “examine the corruption” (Lev. 14:36–37). In John’s early account, Jesus “found” the corruption. We should think this was by chance; He was examining everything. In the later incident, we are specifically told by Mark that Jesus “looked around at everything” (Mark 11:11), the evening before He actually drove out the corruption. We earlier [see Jesus v. Jerusalem] discussed the idea of “visitation” as a special judgment-inspection in the oversight God had for His people. They were before His face continually, constantly subject to His scrutiny (Ex. 25:30; Deut. 11:12). Jesus incarnated this face, and set it toward the visitation of Jerusalem (Luke 9:51ff).
Once the priest had seen the corruption, he was to shut up the house for a period of seven days, and then return to see if the corruption had spread. We do not see this played out exactly in the two separate incidents in the Gospels, but this seven-day period is there in John, as I will discuss in a moment. The two cleansings do, however, directly parallel the rest of the inspection process. I will explain why they are separated from the first part momentarily as well; for now, let us finish with the two cleansings as follows:
The Two Cleansings
Fifth, on the seventh day after shutting the house, the priest was to return for another inspection (Lev. 14:39). If the corruption had spread, then he was to remove the spot of the corruption from the house: “then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which is the corruption and throw them into an unclean place outside the city. And he shall have the inside of the house scraped all around, and the plaster that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city” (Lev. 14:40–41).
Before we consider this as Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple in John, let us, Sixth, briefly note the continuation of the Levitical house-cleansing process. If the plague returned to the house after the stones were removed and walls scraped the first time, then the priest was to declare the corruption “persistent” (Lev. 14:44), and based on that declare the whole house “unclean.” What followed next was the total destruction and removal of the house: “And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place” (Lev. 14:45).
Now this progression of first-visit cleansing, second-visit declaration of destruction is basically what we find in Jesus’ two visitations of the temple. And it makes sense of the minor differences in the narratives of John and the synoptic. In the first visit, Jesus drove out the merchants and the moneychangers, poured out their money and turned over the tables. His message then was, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” In other words, Jesus had removed only the corrupted stones themselves, and sent them “away.” After another day or two, He left Jerusalem completely and went into Judea. He would not return for a while.
When He did visit the temple again for inspection, two years later, he found that the corruption of the moneychangers and merchandisers persisted. Upon this inspection he drove them out again but with a message that expanded upon the first: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark, 11:17; Luke 19:46). This was a final condemnation of Israel’s failure to be what he was called to be (as I will explain in a moment). Jesus thus determined that the corruption in this house was persistent. He apparently anticipated this, for He had announced the dismantling of the house as He was riding in. But He confirmed this again only days later when people were marveling at the beautiful stones of the temple: “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6).
Interestingly, the Hebrew word translated “persistent” or “fretting” in Leviticus 14:44 is ma’ar, and it literally means “pricking.” It literally has reference to the work of thorns, and thus is a direct reference to the curse on the land (Gen. 3:18). It was part of God’s promised curse that if the Israelites did not drive out all the pagan nations from Canaan, then those nations would become “thorns in your sides” (Num 33:55). Thorns were a frequent prophetic reference in God’s punishment of faithless Israel (Is. 5:6; 7:23–25; 32:13; Jer. 12:13; Ezek. 2:6; Hos. 2:6; 9:6) and as a symbol of the curse of fallen man, rightly so.
How then did the money changers and merchants actually constitute corruption in the house? It was just as Jesus said: Instead of making that house a witness to all nations, they were selfish and covetous robbers acting just like the surrounding pagans. It was a fundamental failure of Israel as a nation, of which Jerusalem and the temple were the central representatives. Instead of redeeming the nations, Israel wallowed in his own fallen nature. . . .
New House and New Stones
The house cleansings are separated from the first inspection by seven days, according to the Levitical law. As I mentioned, the seven-day period does appear in John. In order to see it, however, we need to consider the whole picture of what I have discussed so far: Jesus as the true Temple, and His cleansings of the Old Covenant temple as a visitation of judgment on an idolatrous and complacent house. This is the story of Jesus in John’s Gospel.
It all begins at the initiation of Jesus’ public ministry at His baptism. The day of Jesus’ baptism in John’s Gospel begins a seven-day narrative. On the first day, Jesus is baptized, John proclaims Him to be the lamb of God, and the Holy Spirit descends live a dove and remains upon Jesus. This was all done for the purpose, as John the Baptist says, “that he might be revealed to Israel” (John 1:31). There is so much theology here it is impossible to note it all without distraction. In short, here we have the Spirit of God hovering over the New Creation on the first day; here we have the new Ark of salvation coming up out of the water of baptism, and the dove finding the dry land of the New World. But most importantly for our purposes, here we have God’s Spirit-glory filling the New House. This is explained as follows:
In Exodus 40:34–35, when Moses first erected the first house of God, the tabernacle, we read: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Two aspects are important: the cloud, which was God’s Spirit or presence, and the fact that it settled (or dwelled) there. The Hebrew word for “settled” is shakan, from which we get the phrase shekinah glory. It simply refers to God’s abiding presence. (Ironically, the Hebrew word for “tabernacle” throughout the book of Exodus is mishkan—the noun form of shakan—which means literally “a dwelling place.”)
This scene is replayed exactly when Solomon dedicates the temple:
And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell [shakan] in thick darkness. I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell [shakan] in forever” (1 Kings 8:10–13).
This is exactly what God told John the Baptist to watch for in Jesus: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain” (John 1:33). It is clear from this image alone that Jesus, the Son of God, was in fact God’s New House, New place of dwelling. Jesus was the New Temple. This would mean, of course, that the old temple in Jerusalem was already obsolete. From the day of the revealing of the true temple to Israel, all those old temple rituals and all the traditions and idolatrous practices that had grown up around them, were nothing but corruption in God’s house of Israel. The new house was already established and indwelt by the spirit. The by definition “closed” the other house for covenant business. The closing of the house, also, was part of the seven-day wait period (Lev. 14:38).
It is ironic that it is only in John’s Gospel that Jesus claims he would “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:20). He then tells us that He spoke of “the temple of His body.” So Jesus was conscious that He was the New Temple as soon as it had happened, and this was His sign to the Jews for His authority to cleanse the old house of corruption. The irony of this is in the fact that no one else mentions this claim of Jesus until the second time He cleanses the temple three years later. Yet, none of the synoptic accounts record Jesus saying this during the second cleaning. Nevertheless, this is the very claim that “false witnesses” bring against Him during the kangaroo court as recorded in the synoptics (Matt. 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29). If He didn’t say this during the second cleansing recorded in the synoptics, then where did these people even get this idea? It could only have come from the first cleansing episode years earlier when Jesus actually did say something like this, and which is only recorded in John 2. This would also account for the fact that their versions of the claim were not quite accurate.
John’s Gospel then begins counting the first few days of Jesus’ ministry. The New House was established at the baptism. That was day one. On the “next day” (day two, John 1:35), Jesus begins making disciples. One unnamed disciple of John the Baptism follow Jesus, plus Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael (John 1:35–51). Then, “on the third day” (John 2:1), Jesus performs His first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding of Cana (2:1–10). He then visits Capernaum for “a few days” (2:12). Then, we are immediately told, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (2:13). The Passover itself was held on the 14th day of the month Nisan, and it was a sabbath day. So this means this whole story of John 1:29–2:13 takes place in the space of seven days. And it means Jesus visited Jerusalem when that seventh (Sabbath) day was “at hand.”
In other words, Jesus (who already knew the first house was corrupt) established the New House, then waited seven days, and visited the house (this time, the old house) for a second inspection. Finding the corruption, he removed the stone. He returned later and found the corruption persistent, and He declared the house would then be completely demolished.
Another interesting aspect is that of the Levitical duty to replace the corrupted stones which had been removed. The law says, “Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other plaster and plaster the house” (Lev. 14:42).
We saw in John that Jesus successfully recruited disciples, but He only made five on that second day; no others are mentioned. But as soon as He removed the corrupt stones from the temple (the merchants, moneychangers, etc.), He also began making new disciples: there were many who believed in His name (John 2:23). Among these was Nicodemus, who asked about being born again, and who later helped bury Jesus’ body (John 3:1ff; 19:39). Not long afterward, Jesus is seen with a larger number of disciples, from which He chose twelve to be apostles (Luke 6:12–16). Indeed, Jesus had selected “other stones” to replace the corrupted members of the old order. In fact, when Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus, the Lord renamed him on the spot—“Cephas” or “Peter” in Greek—“A stone.”
This is exactly how Peter himself saw the members of the New Testament church: as stones in the New Temple which was the body of Christ. He wrote, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5).
Jesus Christ established a new house of God, and He has made us to be stones in that house. The old house was full of corruption. And as He cleansed the corruption out the first time, He began replacing it with new stones for His new house. When He returned finally to that old house and found the corruption persistent, he declared it to be destroyed completely.
There is yet a final note we must make in this study. When a house was declared unclean, everything in that house by law also was declared unclean. For this reason, the priest allowed everything to be removed from the house before his initial inspection, “lest all that is in the house be declared unclean” (Lev. 14:36). Jesus had pled and pled with the Jews all over Samaria, Judea and Jerusalem that the visitation was about to come, but they would not come to Him. Instead, all that were in the city themselves, even their children, would by proxy be pronounced unclean as well. This is stated in Jesus’ mourning over Jerusalem: “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43–44).
Jesus’ second cleansing of the temple was His final judgment-inspection of the house of Jerusalem. It was indeed “the time of your visitation” for the city. Jesus had, from the day of His baptism, focused His mission on that city, and the message of destruction He would one day bring to it. Here in Luke 19:41–46, we see that judgment made and that message delivered. From here on out, it was merely a matter of fulfilling that which was determined.[For more studies like this, see Jesus v. Jerusalem, or get my latest work on the law of God and its application today, The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty.]
 See the six-point case made in Craig A. Blomberg, the Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987), 171–173.
I am happy to be home from Arizona, with my family and back to “normal” work at AV, but I was thrilled to be a part of the #EndAbortionNow event, as well as a few other recordings with my friends at Apologia Studios and Apologia Church. I will be bringing these to you as soon as they are available.
For now, if you missed the #EndAbortionNow livestream event, you need to check it out in video form which is available on YouTube now (see below).
If you did not miss it, please share it with all of your friends who did. This message and vision will be crucial going forward. Also, be looking for a joint statement to come regarding this seismic paradigm shift in the abortion battle. Be praying for all of us involved, as well as those who will be. The forces arrayed against us are many, and have already begun to react and attack.
Enjoy the video, be encouraged and challenged. My contribution starts around 2:35:00.
Heading into our #EndAbortionNow event this Friday, I want to share this important and relevant excerpt from the States’ Rights chapter of Restoring America. There is much more that can and will be said on the issue, but here is a good place to start for direction and encouragement.
Ending Abortion[From Restoring America One County at a Time.]
So, what are some of those lofty goals at which state officials could aim? Aside from TAC’s [Tenth Amendment Center’s] long and important list, perhaps the most important and powerful issue for Christians that can be addressed by state power is the abomination protected under Roe v. Wade. This was the subject of an informative lecture by Constitutional Lawyer Herb Titus, given at American Vision’s annual conference in 2009: “Restoring the Sanctity of Human Life State by State.” Without giving an exhaustive account of the arguments, suffice it to say that the Supreme Court decision contains holes that can be exploited, and, more importantly, rests on factual assumptions that are today disproven by more advanced knowledge. Therefore, a state could set a precedent with a well-designed, thoughtfully constructed statute which would effectively displace the ruling of Roe v. Wade—even if the law itself remains on the books!
Most Christians don’t realize that the legal decision of Roe v. Wade had nothing to do with determining when life begins. This aspect of the situation was explicitly not decided in the case. As the writer of the opinion, Justice Blackmun, states:
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.1
He went on to discuss different theories, but all this was superfluous to the overall decision. What this allowed the court to do, however, was subsequently forbid the states—on the sole basis of the same inconclusive facts, by the way—from imposing any single view of the beginning of life upon citizens.
The decision was made based on that ingenious piece of Lincoln’s legacy: the 14th Amendment, period. To whom do the Constitutional protections of life and privacy apply? The State of Texas (Wade) argued that a fetus is a “person” within the language of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court acknowledged, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.” The problem was, that Texas’s application of that Amendment to the unborn was a novelty—there was nothing explicit in the Constitution saying this. There was absolutely no legal precedent for interpreting it that way, and there was no historical precedent from the time of the Amendment for such an understanding. As such, the Court ruled this application of “person” to be unconstitutional. For the 14th Amendment itself clearly defines exactly who exactly are “citizens” and thus whose rights are protected: “All per- sons born or naturalized in the United States. . . .” There you have it: the Constitution protects only those who are born, not the unborn.2 This, coupled with the other observations, led the Court to conclude, “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” Yet since the mother was in fact “born,” she was protected: and thus the mother’s right to life and privacy is all that was deemed to be left standing.3 Thus, the famous decision hinged upon a technical argument over a definition, and the application of wording completely unheard-of and unforeseen by the people who wrote the Amendment.
Yet, as I said, the ruling is not airtight—not insurmountable. Even beyond what we have said already, yet another powerful approach is available to states. While the word “person” does not apply to the unborn according to the U.S. Constitution, there is nothing to prevent states from adopting Amendments to their State Constitutions which provide greater protection of life than the U.S. Constitution does. And the beauty of this approach is that the Supreme Court consistently defers to the State Constitution or State Court rulings in order to determine the definitions of state laws. Thus, in short, a state could define “person” to include the unborn, and for any laws passed in regard to that definition, the Supreme Court would abide by the state’s definition for that case because it afforded a higher protection of life that the U.S. Constitution. Since the State of Texas did not have this in place at the time, its appeal to the 14th Amendment was judged by Federal precedents and the definitions derived from the U.S. Constitution alone, and thus, it lost.
If a state amended its Constitution, decided a case, or even perhaps passed a statute that properly expanded the protections of life to unborn persons, then any future Supreme Court challenge would have to deal with the state definition as a higher protection and sustain it. For this reason, there are currently groups advocating “Personhood Initiatives” and working for “Personhood Amendments.” These are at both the state and national levels.
Christians in the right-to-life world simply have to learn that a decentralized solution is best and most likely to succeed. The strategy of a “once-for-all” reversal of Roe has been ineffective for almost forty years now. This is not to say it’s an impossibility. But had the already spent time and money been focused on local solutions instead, we might very likely see life more properly protected in a vast array of states today, with the forces of infanticide pushed to the blue fringes of the nation. Those who will accept only a single, national solution to abortion are saying that, if they cannot outlaw abortion everywhere, then they don’t want it outlawed anywhere. The corollary to this is even more startling: if they cannot outlaw abortion everywhere, then they’d prefer it to be legal everywhere. So the power and potential of a decentralized, states’ rights approach should be evident to everyone. Indeed, it should immediately become imperative to everyone who cares about the right to life.
State officials who are interested in advancing these measures can seek them out and get involved. Individuals who wish to do what they can—“county rights” style—could get involved with their local and state-wide groups, ask for direction, volunteer their time, and inform any and all of their state representatives, Senators, and other officials of these causes.
Here, this applies directly to right-to-life issues, but it really applies to any of the Tenth Amendment issues already mentioned. Contact the offices of your local and state officials. Ask around. Search the web for groups or local committees involved in whatever states’ rights issues you feel most strongly about. Find out what’s already being done, and if you find the work worth joining, then get to it. At the very least, you should find worthy causes or groups and support them with donations. If you don’t think you have any time to spare, or nothing else to contribute (which is almost certainly false), then give money. The causes of life and liberty can employ your $25/mo. better than a movie channel or dinner at Applebee’s this week. But volunteering your skills and time is even better yet.
Read more about nullification, interposition, local rights, and much more in Restoring America One County at a Time.
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 159 (1973); online (accessed Sept. 25, 2012).
- A good argument could be made the other way, I think, but the language of the Amendment is in fact terribly unhelpful. On the surface of it, the idea that the Constitution protects the rights of only the “born” in the word “person” is like arguing that the Declaration’s phrase “all men are created equal” and have the natural rights of “life, liberty, etc.” only technically applies to men and not women. After all, it says “men.”
- Although the Court did go on to allow for some state regulation in regard to the mother’s health, etc.
Yesterday we posted an open letter to Matt Slick of CARM regarding their classification of Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction among apostate and non-Christian groups. We are pleased today to announce that Mr. Slick responded to our letter by changing the definition of the classification “Religious Groups” per our request. The definition now says,
Religious & Secular Groups is intended to cover smaller religious and secular movements. Some of these movements have no affiliation with Christianity while others do [my emphasis]. . . .
While I think the changes could be more extensive, this measure does at least achieve the minimum I requested, and for that much we are thankful.
For consideration: we simply do not see any other orthodox Christian groups listed in this categorization, and thus it leaves much open to confusion. To place Christian Reconstruction alongside Christadelphianism, Christian Science, and Chrislam, for example, even while changing the definition of the group, is enough easily to mislead many people, and is thus not best practice—particularly so because it is both unnecessary and easily remedied.
Nevertheless, again, we are thankful for what measure has been taken so far. We are further thankful that Slick’s actual details page for Theonomy and CR makes clear that we hold the critical tenets of Christian orthodoxy. In fact, the majority of what it lists as our “teachings” are clearly recognizable as nothing more than traditional Reformed Christianity of which Knox, for example, would be proud.
We encourage those interested in learning the truth about Theonomy to do what all Christian students should do: seek the original sources before accepting uncritically the claims of critics. For those interested in an introduction, please consider, The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty.
Mr. Slick’s interactions with AV in this regard can be seen in the screenshots below.
[UPDATE: Mr. Slick has responded positively to our open letter. Please see our update here.]
Rev. Matthew J. Slick
Rev. Matthew J. Slick
President and Founder
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM)
Around this time last year I initiated a conversation with you regarding CARM’s classification of Christian Reconstruction and/or Theonomy. While initially open to my approach, you soon began (apparently) to brush me off, and soon quit answering me altogether. Since I knew another mutual brother was trying to address the same concern with you, I let it go for a while. After over a year of no response or retraction now, it is time to point this out publicly.
The basic problem is this. You and CARM have “Christian Reconstruction, Theonomy” classified on your page as a “Religious Group.” Sound innocuous enough, except that you define “Religious Groups” as movements that either “have no affiliation with Christianity” or “have moved so far away from anything related to Christianity as to be unrecognizable in having Christian Roots.”
In other words, for you and CARM, Christian Reconstruction and Theonomy are officially apostate—by definition, outside the body of Christ, and thus of salvation.
Anyone who’s spent much time at all reading our authors will know that this extreme condemnation is careless and irresponsible, to put it mildly. But just in case you had fallen under the influence of deceptive and/or malicious outside sources, I shared with you the assessments of other Reformed theologians, all of which attest to the mainstream orthodoxy of our position. Here’s exactly what I communicated:
Pursuant to our above conversation, I would hope you would consider, for example, the published opinions of conservative, orthodox reformed denominations like the OPC and PCA which, while not endorsing theonomy, and in both of which theonomy is a minority view, have both nevertheless affirmed that theonomy is within the bounds of orthodoxy per the Westminster Confession and should not even be made a test case by which to exclude candidates for ministry.
Consider also historic reformed Baptist writers like John Gill who agreed (long before we did!) that part of the Mosaic judicials laws—including many of the capital punishments—“remain in full force” today, and modern governments would be much better off if they enforced them. Keep in mind that Gill wrote post-1689, and thus did not see his views as inconsistent with the London Baptist Confession.
Other Reformed baptists, more modern, like A. W. Pink, also viewed certain of the Mosaic judicials as “perpetual” to the extent that they serve for civil justice and to maintain the moral law in society. (See his lectures on the Sermon on the Mount.)
More could be cited, especially among the Puritans.
So with company and acceptance like this, I don’t see how anyone could arrive at the position designated by CARM that theonomy is a “religious group” which has either “no affiliation with Christianity or have moved so far away from anything related to Christianity as to be unrecognizable in having Christian Roots.” If CARM wishes to remain critical of the position, that is fine. I request only that CARM remove it from the category of unorthodoxy and place it clearly in a category of disagreement [sic] among brethren.
Again, I was brushed off and never answered. This seems like an uncharitable thing to do to a brother you’ve condemned publicly, especially when virtually the entire orthodox Reformed world of theology would deny the classification you’ve imposed upon us. This is true even of those theologians who would nevertheless strongly disagree with our position.
It is even odder because your actual details page for “Christian Reconstruction, Theonomy” itself contains the disproof of your condemnation. When you actually click through and read the page, it says that theonomists “hold to the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity, deity of Christ, vicarious atonement, Christ’s physical resurrection, justification by faith, etc.” Hereby you witness against yourself.
These orthodox and clearly mainstream beliefs can be found throughout the large corpus of theonomic and Christian Reconstructionist writings. And since there is nothing in that corpus that denies or logically entails the denial of any of the critical tests of Christian orthodoxy, your classification is simply wrong.
In light of these simple and easily accessible truths, I hereby call upon you and CARM to amend the errors you have published regarding Christian Reconstruction and/or Theonomy. Please either 1) change the definition of the “Religious Groups” classification clearly to include groups that are indeed orthodox and Christian, but with whom you merely disagree, or 2) remove Christian Reconstruction and Theonomy from the incorrect classification.
While you will most likely continue to disagree with our position on God’s law, consider our clear orthodoxy and acknowledge that despite our disagreements, we are still laboring in the same camp and for the same Lord Jesus Christ. Do not mislead your considerable following in such an important area and with such an extreme judgment. I call upon you and CARM make this change, to make it clearly, and to do so speedily, for the sake of Christ, your Christian brothers and sisters, and the Truth.
In His service,
American Vision, Inc.
After my event with the GSU Christian Law Society last October, I was asked to do a follow-up. This time, we cut the talk shorter in hopes to have a little counterpoint and/or Q&A. As you will hear, GSU Law professor Timothy Lytton provided a little orthodox rabbinical perspective over against our biblical law view. There is, of course, a lot more to say on these topics, but I hope this brief introduction will whet you appetite for more to come. Also, the theme is taken from my latest, The Bounds of Love, so you can dive deeper on that here.
Listen:http://d1s6yijfrvmtp9.cloudfront.net/static/2016/04/04174435/GSU-Christian-Law-Soc-4-4-16-comp.mp3 Source: The American Vision
It seems these days everyone is looking for someone to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. A wry article from The Week lists a whopping “33 people to blame,” and even this is not exhaustive. Noticeably absent from that list is Rush Limbaugh, but that finger has since been pointed as well. This week, however, I heard perhaps the most absurd possibility—and it is certainly the most ironic given the blamers.
Let’s just say there’s no shortage of blame to go around—perhaps to all parties mentioned so far. But as I’ve argued already, the Evangelical pulpit must own a large share of it. And that is what makes this latest Trump-shaming so painful and ironic. It comes from John MacArthur at his 2016 Shepherd’s Conference. When asked about the election during a panel Q&A, he quoth,
The Evangelical interest in Donald Trump and his crassness and rudeness and brashness and profanity—the way has been prepared by Mark Driscoll for that among Evangelicals.
From Mark Driscoll to Donald Trump? So he explains:
One of these articles talked about “Remember the Moral Majority, when ‘moral’ meant something?” And now we have a man running for president being advocated by Christian university presidents and pastors who is a public adulterer? Multiple marriage—does family mean anything? Does anybody care about family? When you’ve lived with women that weren’t your wife while you were married to other ones, and have paraded your sexual exploits in a book? So what happened to the Moral Majority? Evangelicalism used to kind of be equated with the Moral Majority; morality doesn’t define us anymore. . . .
Of course, the brashness and rudeness in political campaigns is nothing new, although the sexual immorality has, so far, usually stayed on the Democrat side. More on this in a second.
Al Mohler then adds: “A significant number of evangelicals are being deluded—maybe deluded themselves—they are demonstrating a lack of discernment that is staggering just in terms of this presidential election.”
He then explains why so many Evangelicals are supporting Trump: he says it’s because they are essentially Evangelicals in name only, not those who are dedicated, go to church, know doctrine, and would know better than to support “this coarseness and crude language.”
First, note that these two explanations for Trump differ markedly. MacArthur argues that Mark Driscoll’s coarseness has paved the way. This assumes that we are talking about church-going Evangelicals who take seriously what their pastor says—just from a pastor MacArthur doesn’t like. But then Mohler argues that these Trump supporters are not true Evangelicals and are not church-goers. So which is it?
More to the point, however, the two explanations may differ, but they have one thing in common: they both lay blame on someone else.
Both of these gentlemen decry Trump’s vulgarity and immorality. Both are shocked with this presidential election. Yet consider: what were these same Christian leaders advocating in 2012? They were both either promoting, or at least enabling, Mitt Romney—a man we would all agree is a public idolater.
Both men in 2012 directly addressed the question of whether they would vote for a Mormon for president. Both said unequivocally yes. Both used the line that you’re not voting for a pastor but a president. Both followed the classic dualism of separating politics and government from God’s Word in this area.
For his part, MacArthur said the president is merely “a temporal, earthly function.” Christians, he said, must vote for the “lesser of evils” most promising to uphold “morality.”
Mohler at the same time was arguing adamantly in favor of voting for a Mormon. He did so multiple times. He very cautiously approached the subject early in the primaries. But when it became clear that Romney would be the nominee, and the choice would be Romney or Obama (in the popular mind anyway), Mohler went in full force. At a Ligonier conference he argued that it was “absolutely” OK to support the public idolater for president, and a week later he assured a group of Florida pastors on a conference call that he would have “no ethical or theological reluctance” doing so.
Mohler did make sure to denounce Mormonism itself in the harshest terms. This may seem exculpatory since he made sure to put distance between the man and his religion; but when you consider it thoroughly, it is a strong witness against himself and against his current condemnation of Evangelical delusion with Trump.
Is a person’s foundational theological commitments not part of their “morality”? Indeed, are these commitments not the foundation of the person’s morality? Of course they are! So why give them a pass? These commitments ought to be the foundational think we consider. It is often pointed out that we could elect a confession Evangelical who turns out to behave inconsistently with his professed commitments. Sure this is true. But this does not give you free rein to act as if those presuppositions do not matter at all and thereupon ignore them altogether. It certain does not justify selecting someone who tells you up front that He defies God and thinks he himself will be a god someday. Think!
As I argued before, when it comes to the public realm, these men suddenly act as if the First Table of the law doesn’t matter, but that the Second matters for everything. It creates the dichotomous view that we can support men who deny, degrade, defame, and defy God Himself as long as they promise not to commit adultery, murder, or steal. (Yet even these latter are routinely supported by the same government under a variety of justifications.) Shall we support all manner of evil just because the candidate is nice?
What do the Scriptures tell us? They tell us in every way possible that the First Table of the law is the more important of the two. It is the foundation of the rest, the greatest of all, without which the rest has no authority and thus means nothing. Jesus Himself taught this (Matt. 22:37–40). So why would you expect anyone, especially a professed public idolater, to uphold commandments 6 thru 10 when they trample 1 thru 5? Just because they’re nice?
And who exactly has deluded themselves?
These Christian leaders, and scores more like them, have upheld this godless standard of politics, elections, and government for centuries now. For years they have argued essentially, and often explicitly, that the First Table doesn’t matter in the public square. But as soon as a Trump comes along, they wring their hair, crying out about his infractions of the Second Table of the law. And now they’re blindsided by the fact that the mass of Evangelical voters have capitulated on that Table, too.
Well, guess what? These masses of Evangelicals are not self-deluded. They are merely taking their leaders’ teaching to its logical conclusion: if the First Table of the law is not crucial for political candidates, then why should the Second be? If we can wink at open, first-order idolatry, why not wink at vulgarity and adultery? Forgive me if I find the sudden alarm and blame-shifting completely unmoving.
Indeed, as I already hinted, these leaders have been enabling the Second Table violations as well all along. Under the guise of electing candidates who are “moral” and nice, we have the promulgation and extension of various degrees of welfarism, warfarism, cronyism, government education, expansion of government coercion, etc. What are these except various avenues of theft, covetousness, greed, and murder with a badge? All of this has been supported, passed, voted for, and winked at. Now we’re shocked we have an adulterer running for office?
In fact, all these infractions are called “law and order” by the same people who tell us we may “absolutely” support candidates who are open idolaters. After all, both have said, this is a president, not a pastor. And that, too, is hooey.
When you understand the enormity and perpetual nature of this perennial Evangelical error, you will realize that to blame Trump on Driscoll is about as absurd as anything anyone could say. These leaders, and hundreds like them, have been running institutions for decades now, burning through literally billions of dollars, producing materials, media, Christian minds, and countless American pastors who believe and teach the same truncated message regarding the law and public square. They have leveraged billions in order to mold and shape a broad swath of evangelicalism to believe that the First Table is not crucial when it comes to public office.
When that same broad swath of Evangelicals takes that teaching to its logical end, these leaders are shocked and dismayed. Yet they cannot see past their own inner self-contradictions. They do what the rest of the conservative and even pagan world does: blame someone else. Blames Driscoll. Blame the media. Blame pseudo-Evangelicals.
No brothers, blame yourselves. Blame yourselves for your very real and culpable role in molding and shaping a generation of Evangelicals who could so easily make such a decision, for it is perfectly congruous with the public theological standards you have promoted for years.
We have created a personality-centered, pseudo-pious Christianity in which Evangelical pulpits are denuded of understanding of the public application of God’s law, and of the boldness to proclaim it against mainstream sentiments.
After the decades we’ve cultivated it, we’re now once again reaping the harvest of a truncated faith. When the planters of this bitter harvest look out and see a tare field speckled with wheat, they are shocked. In this, they have not remembered their own actions. They’re the ones who planted only part of the Word in only part of the field; and they’re the ones who’ve cultivated the weeds in public theology all along.Source: The American Vision
(Aside from the Bible, of course!)
After I commented on another man’s list of the same title, a reader asked, “So where’s your list Joel?” Fair enough.
But first, let’s talk a little bit about books and influence.
First, let me say that the answer to such a question as “most influence” must inevitably be highly nuanced. After all, how do you define “influence”? Books can influence us profoundly in different ways, at different times in our lives, and for different reasons along the way.
For example, one of the books that had the deepest impact on me spiritually was C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. But it was only one chapter in that book that moved me so much, and it was only at an early point in my spiritual life that I needed that particular message badly. It was profound influence, very deep, but only a tiny portion of that book did so (much of the rest I found quite uneventful).
The same could be said for Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, and much else that he wrote.
So should I include such a book? Eh. Maybe at a different time in my life. Maybe in a different list for a different purpose. Yet to leave it out here is to exclude a book that God used to transform my life, again, profoundly. Nevertheless, I will leave it out here.
Along with this idea, we should acknowledge that sometimes just an article can be more influential than a book. (Heck, a proverb can be more influential than that even.) For example, Murray Rothbard’s essay “The Anatomy of the State” has been more influential to my understanding of statism than most other works on civil government, like, say, Willson’s The Establishment and Limits of Civil Government, or Gary DeMar’s God and Government, although I would side with Willson and DeMar on some points over against Rothbard. The influence of the former, however, is greater to the point of being worth mentioning. But it’s not a “book.”
This aspect of deep but narrow influence continues in concern to particular issues. For example, Joel Miller’s book Bad Trip: How the War Against Drugs is Destroying America greatly impacted how I view the drug war issue and related topics. I would not be the same mind I am today without that book. But do I include it in my list? Sorry, it won’t make this particular cut. But every Christian needs to read it.
Further, there are writers who helped me greatly to understand something important—say, the five points of Calvinism—but whom I would later abandon as poor examples. Yes, it’s true: some can teach limited concepts wonderfully, but then lead you into all kinds of nonsense, like radical two kingdoms doctrine, some of which abandons the very principles they have in other places taught so well. For that reason, they’ll get no mention here.
Other theologians have influenced me greatly in basic things, but then just stop. Instead of running into nonsense like those just mentioned, they just go no further. In this category, I would have to mention J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. This book helped me greatly, but it won’t make this cut, because it deals only with basic questions in a narrow topic. Like Lewis’s books mentioned earlier, this one impacted me in a narrow area, and only at a key (early) point in my life. Most of R. C. Sproul’s books would fall in this category as well. I cut my reformed teeth on them, but others who I think have elucidated the fullness of Reformed theology have influenced me more greatly since then.
Other examples of narrow but deep influence could be Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. But this only influenced me in my writing style (that is, when I am conscious to follow it—usually I am much more ponderous). The same is true of Will Durant and Bertrand Russell. Their writing styles for historical prose and for the history of philosophy are awesome, virtually unbeatable in my opinion. When I make a focused effort to write well (instead of dashing off daily posts), I am greatly influenced by them. These men’s books have influenced me greatly, but only in a technical aspect of my job, not in regards to worldview or spirituality or doctrine. (The best way to learn to write well is to read good writers, even if you disagree with them.)
Sticking with the technical theme, I can say I have come across certain writings here and there that are very obscure, but have confirmed suspicions I’ve had, or have enlightened me in a profoundly helpful way. For example, Wayne Parsons’ Keynes and the Quest for a Moral Science: A Study of Economics and Alchemy influenced a side-study I’ve been working on for some time, and on which may write a substantial work in the future. Parsons’ book forced me to expand my study of the influence of esoteric traditions (which is far greater than most people know) into the work of John Maynard Keynes—and this in turn affects nearly all of modern economics and finance. Worldview connections open up everywhere.
But can I list this book as “most influential”? Maybe someday, but it doesn’t fit right now. But then, if that vein materializes like I think it will, I will also have to mention in some capacity Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men, Glenn Alexander Magee’s Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, and even David Aikman’s unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Role of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition. These are all things hard to find and of which most people have little knowledge—but have influenced me.
On a related note, there are obscure works that have been influential in the sense that they clenched a vital thesis for me, yet had hardly any personal impact upon my development. For example, reading Jacob Strauss’ 51 theses Against Unchristian Usury was a eureka and a great boost to my spirits. It was a lynchpin in my doctoral thesis. It secured my thesis and allowed me to overturn the claims of two giants of the scholarly world—Ford Lewis Battles and G. H. Williams—regarding influences on Calvin’s views of mosaic law. It also has opened up a vast new study for me in regard to understanding the impetus and nature of the Reformation. (Hint: the story is much greater and much more worldly than you’ve ever been told. And I plan to tell it in 2017.)
But, Strauss’s tract is only a few pages (hardly a “book”), and exists only in 16th Century German. With the exception of a few places in technical monographs, it has never even been translated into modern German, let alone English. I am the only person I know of who has ever done any of it in English. Most people will never ever get to read it.
So, does this count? I think it should, but it would be utterly pointless to tell you about it, because most people could never even find a copy, let alone read it. (But you can read parts of it my thesis.)
Then there is the issue of negative influence. This is being profoundly influenced by something that you would not touch with a ten-foot pole, but against which you react so strongly you must count it, technically, as a powerful influence. Famously, it was the writings of David Hume that shocked Immanuel Kant from his “dogmatic slumber.” Kant then began to write his most well-known philosophy in order to refute Hume (for which philosophy students have been profoundly burdened now for centuries). This is profound influence, but not in a formative, nurturing way. The same could be said, I suppose, for the writings of certain dispensationalists in regard to how they influenced men like Gary DeMar and Kenneth Gentry. Neither of these men would count dispensationalists among their greatest influences, but negatively they are. And this happens all over the world of scholarship.
All of us have the negative influence issue in our lives, yet few realize it and even fewer acknowledge it. Personally, for example, I could point to writings of atheists, Satanists (Anton LaVey), theosophists, cults leaders (Garner Ted Armstrong, for example), and dozens of philosophers and theologians who have provided for me the type of negative influence of which I am speaking. Personally, I think Friedrich Nietzsche and the Marquis de Sade are required reading for understanding the logical consequences of unbelieving thought—and thus also for Christian apologetics. But be careful where you tread. As Nietzsche himself said: be careful when you fight a monster that you don’t become one yourself in the process.
I regard almost the entire industry of modern Bible commentaries as a reaction to 19th Century higher criticism. Some are influenced as clones of that tradition, the more conservative writers are influenced negatively in reaction to it. Either way, it is profound influence.
Historically, heresy has been one of the most profound influences upon the formation of orthodoxy: heresy appears first, and thus forces the faithful community to answer important questions that had theretofore been not only unanswered but not even asked. I believe full preterism should be this type of negative influence for the church today. It is heresy, but it is just the type of annoying heresy that demands answers to many uncomfortable but unasked questions.
There are also little nit-picky distinctions to be made. What if a “book” appears in more than one volume? What of a church history set or the Battles edition of Calvin’s Institutes? I don’t mind listing a set as a “book” for the purposes of determining “book”-level influence. Just know that not all of the set is equally important.
Finally, there are authors whose entire corpus has profoundly influenced me, though some of it more than other parts. Indeed, in some of these great corpuses, there may even be certain ideas or books I would qualify or even reject. For example, there is hardly anything by R. J. Rushdoony I would not consider “most influential” upon me, but first, he wrote about sixty books. In a top ten, he and Gary North would monopolize the list. Yet I cannot give blanket endorsement, because I disagree with Rushdoony on ecclesiology, dietary laws, and the Constitution. So, how do I sort out all of this in such a list? You can’t. Read Rushdoony. Period.
So with all of this said, you can see that any such “most influential books” list is going to be helpful and meaningful only in a very limited sense. It would be better to have a series of reading lists tailored to the stages of development of the reader, and topics of specialization once they’ve reached a certain advanced level of groundwork, ability, and interest. Perhaps I will provide some of these in the future. (I have done at least one already.)
For now, here are the top ten books that have been most influential in making me me, as I am, today:
(Note: these are not in order, except I would put Van Til as seminal, to be followed closely by Rushdoony and North as the necessary and logical outworkings of what Van Til taught.)
1. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith.
2. R. J. Rushdoony, The Messianic Character of American Education.
3. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law.
4. Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism.
5. Gary North, Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus (this book is now volumes 3 and 4 in North’s six-volume commentary on Exodus, linked here with the rest of his economic commentary on the Bible, all of which is important and “most influential” to me).
6. Gary North, Millennialism and Social Theory.
7. Gary North, Dominion and Common Grace.
8. Ray Sutton, That You May Prosper. (Absolutely indispensable.)
9. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. (Personally, I prefer the more literal rawness of Beveridge’s translation in many places, but Battles’ is more modern, easier to read, and in a much more helpful critical edition, with great indexes.) (Don’t neglect, also, to read the 1536 edition (much shorter, also translated by Battles) separately from the standard, two-volume 1559 final edition.)
10. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (3 Vols.)
Now, a few more words about these influences. First, it’s hard to squeeze in anyone but Rushdoony and North. In reality, I could have stuck with North the whole way. The sole exception to this difficulty is Calvin. His Institutes profoundly molded me, and continues to do so, even though I disagree with him in a few places.
Nevertheless, my theonomic readers will ask, How in the world does Schaff get in and Bahnsen does not? Simple. Schaff profoundly influenced my understanding of church history. No other secondary source has come close to that. It was North who convinced me of theonomy. Bahnsen was secondary and only supportive and confirmatory after that. I still recommend people read everything Bahnsen wrote, but his direct influence on me was secondary (to North on theonomy, and to Van Til in apologetics) and largely unneeded by the point I read him. Schaff’s influence was not.
The same is true for David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry, James B. Jordan, and a host of other theonomic and Christian Reconstructionist writers. I recommend you read everything from all of them, but none have been as influential as these on my work. Since time is limited, as for priorities, I would recommend reading what I have listed first, then following the important books listed in their footnotes where interested, then going to the other writers.
Then there is the issue of numbers of influence. Is it safe to have as your primary influences only a handful of men? Perhaps I can address this more in depth later, but keep in mind that such a list as this can be deceptive because it deals with only greatest influences. I hasten to say that dozens of historical writers have influenced me greatly and yet not made the cut. The same is true for writers in all disciplines and genres. I will not take the time to mention them all. Many have provided great influences, and it is tempting to list this work and that here and there, but it would be unconscionable for me here not to relate those that have truly had the most profound impact. I believe this list is indicative enough of that.
Further, please note that much of my intellectual progress now occurs through the reading of countless non-“book” original sources. Like those mentioned earlier in regard to Jacob Strauss, for anyone interested in worldview, and particularly intellectual history, the reading of original sources is indispensable. My book Restoring America would have been impossible without access to Storing’s 7-volume edition of the Anti-Federalist papers. Those writers confirmed forever, and greatly advanced, for me the view of American history I first got in North’s Political Polytheism. The same has been true the more I read in the letters of the constitutional framers—and this is reading that could and does consume the lifetimes of many people. It is thousands of letters, tens of thousands of pages. You could enter a study here and read nothing else in your life.
My study of the early history of Georgia was of very much the same nature. But neither it nor my Restoring America studies would have been possible without reading dozens of academic journal articles—many of which are tangential and boring, but some of which pointed me in the direction of crucial original sources that indeed do have profound impact.
Further, you may shriek in horror at the thought that reading certain anarchistic writers has influenced me in different ways in regard to the correct interpretation of faithfulness to Old Testament law. I am sure that’s too much for some people to accept; others will delight; for others this will be confirmation that Joel McDurmon is indeed of the devil. Sorry. None of these overreactions will be acceptable. It’s almost purely heuristic.
In the end, my point is that we should be careful as to how we attribute influence, for it is a very slippery category. My most profound influences—again, besides the Bible itself—are listed here. You should follow them, too. Others could be added, and I hope to expand on the ones I have listed in such a way as to add to someone else’s list in the future. But we should be careful and honest when taking stock of who and what has influenced us, how exactly they have done so, and how we lead others to be influenced, or not, by them as well.Source: The American Vision
These related fallacies are very similar to the fallacies of Generalization, discussed in the chapter “Too Simple,” and also similar to False Analogy in my book, Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice. Both fallacies—Composition and Division— concern the relationship of members of a group to the group as a whole.
The Fallacy of Composition refers to applying the characteristics of the members as individuals to the group as a whole. For example, a single stick may be easy to break. But to infer, based on this, that a bundle of sticks is also easy to break, is to commit the fallacy of composition. Even if you can break individually every stick in a bundle, you still may not— probably cannot—break the bundle as a whole together.1 Imputing the weakness of one stick to the group as a bunch commits the fallacy.
The Fallacy of Division commits the opposite error. This refers to applying the characteristics of the group as a whole to each individual member of the group. For an example of this, take the converse of the bundle of sticks. Because the bundle as a whole is tough to break does not necessitate that any individual stick in the bundle is tough to break by itself.
Awareness of this fallacy guards against the neglect of ancient wisdom, in fact, revealed wisdom. Both Scripture and ancient traditions remind us that when similar things come together as a group, they acquire properties and characteristics inaccessible by the individuals alone. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes writes,
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Eccl. 4:9–12).
This, of course, is not to say that individuals have no value, but only to point out that groups acquire qualitative differences from the individuals that compose them. The same is true in reverse: individuals may each have qualitative differences that do not transfer to the group. . . .
Families as Democracies?
Examples of these Fallacies do not appear publicly as frequently as others, but they do occur. A questioner challenged conservative columnist John Rosemond on the question of authoritative parenting. The question reads,
You yourself have repeatedly said that parents should raise their children such that they are familiar and equipped to deal with the real world. If the real world is democratic, then shouldn’t American families be democracies?2
The question commits the Fallacy of Division, assuming that since the nation is governed as a democracy (by the way, it is not: it is a representative republic), then the institutions (in this case family) that make up that nation should function democratically as well. Rosemond has no trouble countering the fallacy: “The idea that the USA would be a ‘better’ democracy if its families were little democracies is baseless.” Not only baseless, I must add, but logically unsound. Rosemond approaches the same criticism when he responds that “although the political process in the Unites States is reasonably democratic, our society is definitely not. Rather it is composed of institutions that are structured hierarchically. . . . Within them, persons of greater authority are found instructing, directing and dictating to persons of lesser authority.” He points out that this holds true even within the “democratic” government itself: you cannot ignore laws you do not like in the name of “democracy,” you must abide by the authoritarian principles of law. Nevertheless, from a logical point of view, we must reject the viewpoint that the democracy of the larger group (nation) must also apply to each member of that group (families). This view commits the fallacy, and thus does not reflect the truth.
Many find it easy to conflate these two fallacies, Composition and Division. Here are some suggestions you may find helpful to keep them separate in your mind. To compose a group assuming the characteristics of its members is to commit the Fallacy of Composition. Conversely, to assume that the characteristics of a group divide out to each member is to commit the Fallacy of Division. So, to move from individuals to a group is to compose, thus Composition. To move from the group to individuals is to divide, thus Division. Composing begins with individuals; dividing be- gins with groups. I believe this provides a helpful way of remembering. If, however, you still find the two confusing, it will be enough to remember them together: that you cannot assume either that attributes transfer from individuals to a group or from a group to its members.
There are many expressions of these fallacies in human behavior. The evils of racism, sexism, and other related prejudices express these two fallacies in social ways. The beliefs that “all blacks are X, therefore this black man must be X” or that “a black family I knew was X, therefore the black race is X,” and all similar claims fall into the categories of Composition or Division. Of course, few racists actually state their belief so clearly and categorically as this, but this is a valid logical representation of what occurs in practice. Stereotypes in general commit this fallacy (as well as False Analogy and Sweeping Generalization), because they create an abstract image that allegedly represents a group of people; the stereotype then allows others to classify individuals as members of that group, and then uncritically to apply aspects of that imaginary group to each alleged member of that group. This stretches the facts in the worst way: it not only deceives people, but misrepresents them, marginalizes, and oppresses them. When fallacious argumentation masks racism and other unfounded prejudices, then the moral and ethical implications of logic become obvious.
- This helpful example, and its following converse, is provided by Engel, With Good Reason, 114.
- Quoted in John Rosemond, “Should families be democracies? No way,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 13, 2002, M6.
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.”1
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 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 9–10, he discusses the “shadows” of the Old Covenant more, including the sacrifices and priesthood. In 10:14, he arrives at the point again: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
This leads 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 application by faith of those doctrines in every area of life.
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. As a result, followers can spend years or even decades stuck I 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.]
- R.C. Sproul, Going on to Maturity (Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 1998), 7.
I recently returned to a seminary text on the doctrine of God looking for a particular concept I thought I remembered was there. I turned up empty on that, but was rewarded with some great insights on an explicitly Reformed doctrine of God and its ramifications for both apologetics and the Christian life. From Gerald Bray:1
Human strivings and natural theology fail because their starting point is too weak to be able to carry them through to the end. Disillusioned people will not be able to rediscover God by looking around them, not even by reading the Bible or contemplating the figure of Jesus. Of course these things are valuable and necessary, but belief in the existence of God is dependent not on them, but on a conviction in the heart which only the Holy Spirit can produce. From the beginning, Christianity has been a proclamation, not a thesis supported by various theological arguments. . . .
Traditionalists may resurrect the proofs for the existence of God, modified in order to respond to the arguments raised against them, and in the right climate, they may attract the disillusioned to a form of neo-conservatism. Their attempts to rescue God from oblivion may strike us as courageous, irrelevant or disastrous, according to our point of view, but in terms of results, they are best described as pathetic. The God of the Bible can be known and experienced only in the way in which he has decreed. At the end of the day, the proofs of God’s existence offered by natural theology are unconvincing, except to those who have already surrendered their lives to him who is the way, the truth and the life, and experienced for themselves that peace of God which passes all our natural understanding [pp. 108–109].
And on the scope of revelation and the Christian life:
The wisdom of God is thorough and co-extensive with his plan and creation. There is nothing which escapes his attention, and our lives are entirely in his hands (Matt. 6:25–29; Rom. 8:28). As believers who are privileged to share in God’s wisdom, it is our duty to understand how it applies to every area of our lives, not just to the so-called “spiritual” aspects. Christians are frequently in danger of forgetting that commonsense is a divine gift, which needs to be used to the glory of God as much as the more spectacular gifts. Failure to do this often produces a lack of realism in Christian circles which may even prompt believers to rely on “prayer” as an escape from serious responsibility. The fact that this abdication of our sonship is cloaked in piety does not make it better—rather the reverse .
Amen! It would be great if more studies of the foundations of theology included at least basic acknowledgments such as these. It would be even better if such works were then to develop various applications of those things for which Christian maturity calls. (More on this tomorrow.)
- Gerald Bray, The Doctrine Of God, Contours of Christian Theology, ed. Gerald Bray (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
American Vision is pleased to announce upcoming speaking engagements and events:
Christian Law Society
Georgia State Law School
April 4, 2016
Joel will be presenting “Two biblical principles for criminal justice reform,” to be open to comments from Professor Timothy D. Lytton and audience Q&A. This private event will be recorded to be shared with American Vision’s followers.
End Abortion Now
Nationwide Live Stream Event
April 8, 2016
Arizona Community Church (community center)
9325 S. Rural Road
Tempe, AZ 85284
Joel will be preaching at Apologia Church the following Sunday, April 10.
Australian Worldview Conferences
July 7–18, 2016
Joel will be speaking in multiple venues in Hobart, Tasmania, as well as Melbourne, and Sydney, Australia. Details and schedule to be released asap.
God, Governments, and Culture Conference (Summer 2016)
August 12–14, 2016
Inn of the Hills Hotel & Conference Center
1001 Junction Highway
Kerrville, Texas 78028
Further details to be announced soon.
The Providential History Festival
August 26–27, 2016
13904 S. 36th Street
Bellevue, Nebraska 68123
Joel will be speaking along with Geoffrey Botkin of the Western Conservatory. Further details available in the link above and to follow.
India Pastor’s Conference and Bible College
Hyderabad, and Himachal Pradesh, India
This event is still in planning, but presents a unique opportunity for Joel to spread our message of comprehensive Biblical Worldview to an audience of around one hundred indigenous pastors in India.
Please check back for further Event details, websites, and information.Source: The American Vision
Perhaps you’ve heard of the latest Federal taxes imposed on tobacco. This unprecedented tax hike funds health insurance for poor children, and also is supposed help deter smoking as a public health measure. Sounds great as marketed to the public, but, as a Christian, I vehemently oppose this nonsense, and I would like to tell you why, as a Christian, you should, too.
The measure imposes the greatest tobacco tax hike in history, nearly tripling the tax on cigarettes, and in some cases increasing taxes on cigars by 800% to 2750%! Such huge increases have little to no precedent in American history.
And they have little opposition from Christians, either, which is what disturbs me so much. Why no moral outrage when the government raises taxes again on anything? For several reasons: (1) because taxes on tobacco, like on alcohol, are “sin” taxes, and Christians highly approve when other people’s sins get taxed heavily. You know the saying: hate the sin, love the sinner, but tax him to death in the process. (2) People don’t mind when taxes fall on the other guy in general. The old political principle of NIMBY plays out: Not In My Back Yard. As long as the new political burdens don’t affect me, I won’t complain. Smokers comprise a minority that gets drowned out in today’s society. (3) Christians have no biblical or theological understanding of taxes and state power to begin with: they just sheepily follow the flow of secular society around them. As author and columnist Joel Miller pointed out long ago, on such issues as alcohol, tobacco, guns, and taxes, churches give us nothing more than “repeated calls for government action informed not by genuine scriptural truths, but by statist and sometimes radically antibiblical fancies, closely akin to progressive do-gooder schemes.”
A Political Blunder
Let me make a couple observations in addition. Note, first of all, that by enacting this tax, Obama has openly broken one of his central campaign promises. “I can make a firm pledge,” he said in Dover, N.H., on Sept. 12. “Under my plan, no family making less than $250,000 a year will see any form of tax increase. Not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes.” He repeatedly vowed “you will not see any of your taxes increase one single dime.”
Yet who, for the most part, buys cigarettes? By far lower and middle class families, including the poorest of the poor. The income bracket with the highest percentage of smokers is $6–12k per year, in which 34% are smokers. The same Gallup study shows steadily declining figures until you arrive at the $90k or more per year groups among whom only 13% smoke. Of course, even these groups fall under Obama’s less-than $250k earners, and so he breaks his promise for these as well.
Keep in mind, this was not some passing reference he made in one speech caught by a hidden cell-phone camera. This formed a central part of his campaign, preached and boasted in every rally and debate. He might as well have told us up front that he’s fuzzy on what the word “is” is; but we should have learned that lesson with liberals long ago.
Additionally, the stated reasons behind the tax increase forge a falsehood as well. “It’s all about the children and public health.” Oh, precious children! This measure will fund healthcare for the poor children, and deter many of them from starting to smoke. Except: cigars, not cigarettes, incur the greatest percentage increase of the penalty, and the demographic of cigar smokers mainly includes adult males, not children. So in classic liberalogic, in order to deter children from smoking cigarettes, they’ll tax cigars and pipes which don’t pose an imminent temptation to children. Might as well tax broccoli. Wait, they already do. Well, then, coffee. Um, oops again. Well, then, four-door sedans. Never mind; you get the picture.
There are economic consequences, too. In Florida particularly, cigars form a $2 billion per year industry. Many (thousands?) of the skilled workers who roll the hecho a mano beauties fear losing their jobs, as some companies “go from paying $1 million in taxes a year to $4 million.” So much for Obama’s economic promises of creating jobs. Well, really as he destroys these free-market jobs and creates government jobs related to increased tax accounting and collection, maybe he can still claim honesty on this one, with a sly smile.
I, in principle, oppose government control of health care, and some of the reasoning behind this tax shows why. One article declares: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking results in an estimated 443,000 premature deaths each year, and costs the economy $193 billion in health care expenses and lost time from work.” When government pays for something, it will seek to minimize its costs (this rule does not apply to big friends of government, such as banks; these rack up whatever bills they need to maintain their power and then government charges the taxpayers). Thus, when government pays for your health, it will seek to minimize its outlay, and this includes not only tightening budgets, forcing “rich” taxpayers and “sin” taxpayers to pay for it, but also coercing you to behave in ways that minimize its expenses. If government pays, government calls the shots. If the government can save $193 billion by forcing its health dependents not to smoke, then it will try everything it can. After all, it could use that $193 billion to help keep its cancerous asset-ridden banks on life support.
(As an aside, hospital and doctor errors cause about 250,000 deaths per year, and that’s a minimum figure. Iatrogenesis is a real phenomenon, just never publicized in the mainstream media. Tobacco companies get slammed while hospitals get government funding and protection. Some studies put the figure as high as 700,000, which would make doctors the leading cause of death in the U.S. Should we therefore look into these as a public health concern; a target for a special 800% tax? Of course, Medicare is already in place. Hmm.)
Of course, there is also the inherent paradox in establishing a health care program that depends upon smoking for its revenue. If SCHIP is to succeed, people will have to keep buying tobacco; or as one headline put it a while back, “22 Million New Smokers Needed.” But if the so-called public health measure works and people quit smoking, then SCHIP will lose much of its funding. Of course, we all know that SCHIP will never lose funding. Once entrenched, and once millions of people grow dependent upon them, government programs are impossible to remove. The stench of burning envy sticks in your clothes, especially your pockets. So if taxes from smokers quit drifting in like second-hand smoke, politicians will find another second-hand tax to prop up SCHIP.
A Christian Failure
Nevertheless, all of the political blunders aside, the fact that so few Christians speak out against tyranny and loss of personal liberties completely shames the religion. Worse than this, however, many Christian jump on board with such liberal nonsense because it attacks what appears to them as sin or vice. For example, in the state of Florida, Christian Coalition leader (and former Republican Congressman) Dennis Buxley has promoted further increased state taxes on tobacco as “acceptable,” citing the same reasons as the liberals in D.C. and Obama’s administration. But this tactic merely exercises greater sins (envy, strife, seditions, and theft) in order to ostensibly eradicate the allegedly “great” sin of smoking (about which Scripture says nothing). In this sense, “sin” taxes actually commit worse sins by taxes. Sin taxes are actually tax sins.
Of course there remains at least one massive target for a “sin” tax, one that brings in massively greater revenue than cigars and pipes. Pornography. According to one statistics website, Americans spend $13.3 billion per year in the adult industry, and these products have no additional tax beyond general sales tax. Pornography is just as powerful an addiction as tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, and those ministries that offer help treat it as such. I would think that sexual sins have a much stronger and clearer scriptural mandate against them than do things like tobacco use and alcohol use (which I would argue scripture does not forbid).
So do you wonder why so few moves have been made to put a “sin” tax on pornography? It’s not because liberals and uninformed Christian legislators haven’t tried or don’t want to. It’s because pornography is protected under free speech, and legislators don’t want to go there. This is a good thing. The lesson here is certainly not that I condone pornography, but rather that if you don’t want something taxed, you need a clear constitution and judicial mandate to protect it, and these things do not arise unless there is a widespread public outcry or some legal precedent. Since we have neither in most cases, we get nickel-and-dimed (not adjusting for inflation) to death with progressively increasing taxes.
Until Christians derive a biblical view of money, the State, and taxation, and then seek to reduce the power of government by these principles, tyranny will continue to increase like rising floodwaters against strained levees. A catastrophic break will remain on the horizon. As long as Christians refuse to address the real tax sins—institutionalized envy and coercion—that have no moral high ground in culture at all.For more on a biblical view of taxation, see my Restoring America One County at a Time. Source: The American Vision
Sometime around AD 405, a sixteen year-old boy strolling the English seaside was attacked by pirates. They kidnapped him and sold him on the slave market to a chieftain in Northern Ireland who forced him to herd pigs. The young man endured filth, the elements, separation from family, and years of servitude.
Yet the open air and solitude gave him precious time for spiritual reflection, and he saw in his miserable condition a mirror of his own sinful soul. His nominal boyhood faith grew into a vibrant hope and a longing for freedom. After six years of bondage, he escaped. He boarded a nearby ship, but did not end up in his home country. Instead, it landed in what is today France. He came in contact with a monastery. He stayed for a while, deepening and enriching his faith. He profited so much he stayed for a few years; but he still missed his home. Eventually, he returned. There was a great celebration and he was treated as if he had risen from the dead. In a way, he had.
Around the same time, he experienced powerful dreams in which he received hundreds of letters each bearing the message, “We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk with us once more.” The young man interpreted the dreams as a call to missions, and he returned to the very same land where he had formerly been enslaved. This time, however, he would become a much different kind of shepherd. He preached the gospel that inspired his freedom. He made converts. He baptized thousands, ordained clergy, founded churches and monasteries. Eventually he converted rulers, confronted pagan Druids and witches, changed the laws of the kingdoms he influenced, and according to legend performed healings and miracles. He was often in peril: he was imprisoned several times by rival clans, and threatened with death by the pagan leaders he opposed; yet he was always rescued. The monasteries he founded trained the missionaries who would carry the gospel back to England and to much of the greater Western world.
The man died in peace, advanced in age. Tradition says it was on this day, March 17, somewhere in the latter part of the AD 400s.
His name is Maewyn, but he’s better-known as Saint Patrick.
The life of St. Patrick displays the type of faith that Christians sorely need today: it is a faith that is not merely private. It is a faith lived out, that has great vision, big goals, that confronts tyrants, gives people hope, and transforms the world around it.
We, too, live in slavery, though ours is largely self-imposed. We, too, are surrounded by druids (often called “liberals,” but sometimes “evangelicals,” today too) and impinged by various herds of social swine. There are plenty of pirates, pigs, and tyrants; wiccans and warlords abound. But these are not so much the problem. The greater problem is that Christians too often fear the type of confrontations necessary to drive out these demons and change society.
Patrick didn’t. He had the vision and he took the first steps for which that vision called. The rest came in history. It would be good this St. Patrick’s Day to make a commitment to yourself and to God, if you have not done so already, just to begin to change your mind-set. Just begin asking the questions: What would a Christian society look like? What would it take to get there? What am I willing to sacrifice to make it happen? That would be a good beginning. I have done this exercise in detail myself. You can start reading my outline here.
And then, Go thou and do like St. Patrick.Source: The American Vision
People were shocked by Jeff Durbin’s interview with Tony Lauinger. They were shocked to hear someone so high in the pro-life movement as the VP of National Right to Life himself vacillate for a span of about 38 minutes, finding every escape route possible to avoid calling abortion what it is: “murder.” You would think that the leadership of the pro-life movement would be rather clear on that point, wouldn’t you? Think again.
As Jeff put it in a recent post, “Our interview with the Vice-president of National Right to Life revealed that 1) He was unwilling to call it murder, 2) He has no plans on fighting for legislation that would call it murder, 3) He explicitly said that we should not use distinctly Christian language nor should we say ‘repent and believe’ in the fight, and 4) He is unwilling to agree with legislation that would end the slaughter of babies today if there is a risk that the higher courts will have a different opinion and attempt to strike it down.”
If you find this shocking, then you will really be shocked to learn that this is pretty much the culture of the entire pro-life movement. Mr. Lauinger is not a rare case. In every office, in every level of every organization (with a few exceptions), there are a thousand Mr. Lauingers.
The reason for this simple: evangelicals are mush. They are ruled largely by fears and emotions. This prevents them from thinking judicially and applying God’s law to all of life. When they do think ethically, they do not do so consistently, and in the end, emotion has enough influence to override what judicial thinking and application there is. “Being nice” is the apex of evangelical virtues.
I have been trying to make this point in regard to the pro-life movement for some time now:
- When I argued that Kermit Gosnell’s conviction was not a great victory for the pro-life movement, as many hailed it.
- When I reviewed Marcus Pittman’s and Jon Speed’s documentary Babies are Murdered Here.
- When I commented on the startling ignorance of one senior legal counsel for a major pro-life organization in regard to the nature of the Roe v. Wade opinion.
- When I was the first to warn people about the sad truth about the Planned Parenthood videos.
- When I called out large mainstream Christian ministries for tragic compromises that aid-and-abet abortion.
These articles could be put together to make a small book. What has been sad has been said; I will not repeat it here, other than to say abortion is only legal in this country because Christians allow it to be. This sad fact is true because average Christians leave this work largely to pro-life leadership, and the leadership of the pro-life movement has been compromised and ineffective for decades. At the root of this compromise lies the refusal to call abortion murder, and to demonstrate this truth to the public.
Now, all of this just came to the fore this past week because a group of people who are truly serious about ending abortion by calling it what it is spearheaded a piece of legislation in the Oklahoma Legislature. This legislation, if passed, would define abortion as murder, and thus make abortionists liable for murder. The bill met stiff opposition—the most active of which came from Mr. Lauinger himself, and those Christian Republicans who get their pro-life bona fides from endorsements by the compromised pro-life organizations.
Here’s the perennial tactic when faced with hard core, no-nonsense bills like this one: stall. You tie up the bill in committee, buying time for the compromisers to get their story straight as to why such a bill is not pragmatic, etc. You then stall some more. You leave the bill on the speaker’s desk, in que, not priority, while the weightier matters of the law such as tax rates on jams and jellies are considered. When time runs out for this year’s legislative session, it will be “aw shucks, we didn’t have time to get to that. Sorry!”
If they are successful in stalling until the session is over, these same legislators will run their campaign circuits wielding their pro-life credentials, and if confronted on the bill will give it lip-service while calling for more sustainable and pragmatic approaches. Abortion will be called “heinous” and “gruesome” but not “murder.” “Heinous” and “gruesome” are very good for pro-life fundraising. They’re a gold mine. “Murder” sounds too much like there will be serious consequences and real hard changes in society.
In the end, the abortion-pro-life-industrial complex is not so much about ending abortion. It is about creating a front to help elect compromised Republicans by garnering the votes of evangelical Christians. This is done with rhetoric and a nice smile, not legislation to end abortion. That would also end the effectiveness of the vote-gathering and fundraising.
And the truth is, this problem exists not only in the pro-life movement, but in various organizations that propose centralized, national-level solutions to conservative Christian angst. This includes gun rights, religious liberty, homeschooling, property rights, right to work, and more.
The main argument of these compromised pro-life forces is that if such a radical bill ever passed, it would only be struck down by the Supreme Court, and this would undo all the progress that has been achieved heretofore and even set back the pro-life movement by decades. Eek!
Except, that’s not necessarily true. Aside from committing the speculative fallacy, there is a clear argument to the contrary. In Restoring America I argue for the primacy of state-level activism in advancing the pro-life movement. The lecture by Herb Titus, “Restoring the Sanctity of Human Life State by State,” given at an American Vision conference a few years back, provides a blueprint for how it can be accomplished.
Even here, however, we are going to face opposition and pushback—largely from fellow evangelicals. I can think of only one remedy for this problem, and it has to start in the pulpits. Absent this initiative, it falls to parachurch ministries and individual Christians to state the truth. This is where we’re at.Source: The American Vision
I will not lay claim to prophetic powers, but this was originally published in 2008:
We say that conservatives suffered a great defeat in this  election. I strongly disagree: this country has not seen a genuine conservative candidate in the major parties for several decades (no, not even Reagan in practice). The problem is this: at the heart of conservatism lies a great compromise with the nastiest of moral enemies: covetousness and theft. These sins permeate every human heart, and they cross every political boundary. If the commandments of God Himself do not slow their spread into human choices (read: votes), then no stated principles of a political party will have much effect either.
Let’s face the truth: both major political parties are inherently socialist.1 Both believe in the creation of wealth via fiat money (created out of nothing by the Federal Reserve) and the control of the vast majority of these created reserves by government decision. Even when the people oppose the creation of —and it is a rare event to get a near-unanimous voice as we did [with the “bailouts]—the parties do not. Both Senate and House ignored the flood of calls and emails of vast and vehement opposition to the “bailout” (later re-dubbed “rescue”), and they voted it through. This was a fundamental failure of democracy (and yet Obama had the nerve to praise the “power of democracy” in his victory speech, after he himself voted for the bailout against the democratic voice). Both parties were partners in crime in this disaster and this was only one of many.
Conservative Christians oppose liberals in general. We pretend we have the moral high ground. We oppose abortion, the homosexual lobby, etc. And yet Christians accept, almost across the board, socialist wealth-redistribution schemes. We accept, and through our practices and choices approve, the principle that money can be taken from someone else by force in order to pay for a cause we believe is good. The most glaring example of this is education. Christians, almost to the person, accept and fight for the institution of public education funded by other people’s wealth. Christians will employ every intellectual artifice imaginable in order to justify public education. And yet, what is government education based on except a wealth-redistribution scheme? Likewise, what is Social Security except a gargantuan behemoth of a wealth-redistribution scheme? What is the authorization of billions to prosecute unnecessary war except a wealth redistribution scheme? Christians will fight to the end for these things as morally right, and yet the funding for these things is based on institutionalized theft. Oh hear the justifications and rationalizations roll in against this claim! But there is no good rebuttal. Face it: most Christians believe in theft under the cover of a majority vote. Face it: most Christians (and most conservatives in general) are Socialists. Christians and conservatives condemn Obama for wanting to “spread the wealth around,” and yet most base their lives and their children’s lives on the same principle.
And since Socialism is the accepted norm across and between the two major parties, not conservatives but really liberals and progressives have the moral high ground. With the exception of abortion and gay rights, conservatives cannot claim the moral high ground on the most widely pressing issues. Liberals claim to believe in taking care of the poor, caring for the elderly, caring for the oppressed, caring for medical expenses, care, care, care, care, care. Granted, there are many practical problems with the implementation of liberal programs, but details are largely irrelevant to public motivations. As long as our government is going to print billions (even trillions) and then distribute that cash around, why not send it down to the most needy, why not subsidize health care, instead of funneling the hoards of cash solely to the biggest of banks (who had a great hand in causing the financial problems), big international business, and foreign destruction and reconstruction projects (given to big-companies without any public bid)? Why not? Why not, please tell me, if we are going to accept the principle of Socialism anyway, why not have the fiat money go to our kids, our health, and our grandmas instead of bankers and bombs? Instead of cliques and cartels? Why not distribute the money evenly to all for common needs instead of selectively? There is no good answer.
The fact that government welfare and socialism are the accepted terms of the debate, the status quo, the accepted means to the end, eliminates the moral high ground for anyone who dares to not promise government “care” in some form or another. Until we stand opposed to fiat money and wealth-redistribution absolutely, we legitimize the liberals’ method and we keep empowering them to win in the long run under the guise of a political contest of principles.
Christians, you give up your claim to the moral high ground when you accept public education. You send you children to learn about socialism, from socialists, on a socialized buck. You are teaching your kids that you are socialists, they will be too, and socialism is morally acceptable. Don’t complain when the liberals push for more consistent socialism: you have complied with it, practiced it, and fought for it thus far. The same is true for caring for the elderly, insurance, etc.
If the next two years (at least) involve a steam-rolling of the liberal legislation through this nation, we will be justified in calling it the judgment of God that we have brought on ourselves.
Until conservatives grow a moral backbone and deny the federal treasury’s right to demand created billions, deny the principle that government should care for the people, deny that it is acceptable to vote based on the cash benefits and services government can provide, and in general, promote individual responsibility and accountability, America will decline. It will “change” into the tyranny that we fear most, yet have brought on through our own institutionalized covetousness and theft.
Until we remove the wickedness at the core of the system, we Christians can preach all we want, but we will prove that we have no better answers to covetousness and theft than the secular world around us.
- Thank you to Michelle Malkin for boldly arguing this, too; accessed November 5, 2008.