Category Archives: Controversy

TRUMP INAUGURAL SPEECH

There are many things that certainly could be debated about what was said in Trump’s speech.  One is not debatable, at least among Christians.  Trump mentioned that God will protect us.  Yes, we should pray for God’s protection, but we can’t simply invoke that God will protect us.  Did God protect us on 9/11?  If the answer is yes, then what does protection mean?  If the answer is no, then how can we be confident God will protect us now?

Many Christians are in great need of a slower read through the book of Jeremiah.  We are not Israel (or Judah) to be sure which actually makes the point above. If God did not protect the only nation He ever chose to be a light to the Gentiles, how can we believe God is indebted to protect us?!

“LIBERAL” AND “CONSERVATIVE”

In my own interactions I’ve found the hardened categories of liberal and conservative, or left and right, to be confusing and not helpful. Too many claim these labels without knowing what they mean.

I’ve never had difficulties interacting, even debating, with liberals in the best sense of that word, or conservatives in the best sense of that word.  I have had much difficulty with illiberals who think they are liberals, and conspiratorial folks who claim conservatism.   Neither are very knowledgeable of political philosophy or history. 

FRUITLESS DEBATES…WHY THEY OCCUR

From Alan Jacobs:

Long ago Thomas Kuhn introduced into the history of science the concept of incommensurability: theories whose premises are so radically divergent that adherents of one theory simply cannot speak coherently and usefully with adherents of another. Alasdair MacIntyre would later, in After Virtue, apply this concept to debates in moral philosophy: “Every one of the arguments is logically valid or can be easily expanded so as to be made so; the conclusions do indeed follow from the premises. But the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another…. It is precisely because there is in our society no established way of deciding between these claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable.”

MAKING SENSE OF MADNESS

Carlos Eire, eminent professor of history and religious studies at Yale helpfully explains the mythical spell of Fidel Castro:

Oddly enough, some will mourn his passing, and many an obituary will praise him… Because deceit was one of Fidel Castro’s greatest talents, and gullibility is one of the world’s greatest frailties. A genius at myth-making, Castro relied on the human thirst for myths and heroes. His lies were beautiful, and so appealing. According to Castro and to his propagandists, the so-called revolution was not about creating a repressive totalitarian state and securing his rule as an absolute monarch, but rather about eliminating illiteracy, poverty, racism, class differences and every other ill known to humankind. This bold lie became believable, thanks largely to Castro’s incessant boasting about free schools and medical care, which made his myth of the benevolent utopian revolution irresistible to many of the world’s poor.

Many intellectuals, journalists and educated people in the First World fell for this myth, too — though they would have been among the first to be jailed or killed by Castro in his own realm — and their assumptions acquired an intensity similar to that of religious convictions. Pointing out to such believers that Castro imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands more of his own people than any other Latin American dictator was usually futile. His well-documented cruelty made little difference, even when acknowledged, for he was judged according to some aberrant ethical code that defied logic.

The rest is here.  HT: Alan Jacobs

http://https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/farewell-to-cubas-brutal-big-brother/2016/11/26/d369affe-0eeb-11e6-bfa1-4efa856caf2a_story.html?postshare=1341480166071356&tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.ee07ecbf5211

 

IS VOTING FOR TRUMP A “MORALLY GOOD CHOICE”? RESPONDING TO WAYNE GRUDEM

A personal word is in order. Wayne Grudem was the faculty adviser for both my wife and me during our time at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). Wayne was also the first reader on my thesis and a great encouragement during my two years at TEDS.

My friend, Paul, sent me Wayne’s piece, “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” (http://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564). Wayne’s article is rather long, but there are a few points that warrant a friendly challenge.

Among others, John Mark Reynolds and Matthew Boedy have weighed in on a variety of issues (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/eidos/ and http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2016/07/30/the-rhetorical-maneuvers-of-wayne-grudem-a-guest-post-from-matthew-boedy/?ref_widget=trending&ref_blog=eidos&ref_post=a-good-man-justifies-a-wicked-deed-grudem-on-trump).

In my own post I want to address a few biblical matters that impinge directly on whether someone is in fact making a wise decision by voting for Trump.

I’m not sure that Wayne using “flaws” to describe Trump’s character is the best word to use. At the very least the connotations of “flaws” as a slight offense or peccadillo seems not strong enough to fit Trump’s overall character. Well-intentioned people can disagree on this one, so I am fine moving on to other matters.

Along with many others, Wayne writes, “He has raised remarkable children.” It is easy to see why so many say this sort of thing, but what are we in fact saying? Do we think Trump and Trump alone is responsible for how his children turned out? Furthermore, aren’t we assuming that what we observe about the Trump children in public (respect for their dad, well-spoken, hard-working, etc.) is the totality of their character? What do we really know about Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Tiffany, and Barron? Precious little, I would argue. They might be people of substance and consistent character, but our quickness in being impressed is misplaced.

There is another problem that arises from drawing a straight line from how good a parent must be by the ways their children turned out. Think of King Josiah. He had a bad grandfather (Manasseh) and not much better father (Amon). Then Josiah, a righteous king of note, had some notorious sons, especially Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. And don’t forget the models of Eli and Samuel with their own sons.   The Scriptures should humble those of us whose children turn out and encourage those of us whose children may be wayward.

Moving on, Wayne left out the most egregious thing about Trump: his claim of not needing to ask God for forgiveness.   Fortunately, Wayne did not compare Trump to King David, as Jerry Falwell Jr. did. Unlike Trump, King David understood both the consequences of his sin (Ps. 32) and the need to seek God’s forgiveness (Ps. 51).

Elsewhere in his piece, Wayne makes a point by retrieving a verse from the book of Jeremiah:

Therefore I take seriously the prophet Jeremiah’s exhortation to the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). By way of modern application, I   think Christians today have a similar obligation to vote in such a way that will “seek the welfare” of the United States. Therefore the one overriding question to ask is this: Which vote is most likely to bring the best results for the nation? (Emphasis his)

I am a bit leery with the analogy Wayne employs here. First, some context to Jer. 29:7 is in order. Jeremiah had been telling Judah to stop resisting the noxious idea of going into Babylon as exiles. It was not a popular message. The false prophets said Jeremiah was crazy and couldn’t be hearing rightly from God. The false prophets had a much different idea: Judah should cozy up to the Egyptians and have them provide protection against the evil Babylonians.

So who would be the modern equivalents to Babylon and Egypt? Most Christians I hear are saying Hillary is clearly the worst of the two candidates. If that were the case, wouldn’t Hillary represent Babylon/Nebuchadnezzar and Trump be Egypt? Not only do I think Wayne’s example a poor one, but it seems to undercut the very point he wishes to make.

Sticking with the book of Jeremiah a bit more, remember that God calls the wicked Nebuchadnezzar “my servant” on three different occasions (Jer. 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). God remains in control even with the likes of Nebuchadnezzar, something that strikes me as crucial to remember this election year!

Wayne writes “I am writing this article because I doubt that many ‘I can’t vote for Trump’ Christians have understood what an entirely different nation would result from Hillary Clinton as president.” (Emphasis mine) Using “would” here was incautious. Elsewhere, Wayne modifies his comments with “likely” or “most likely.” Wayne also mentions “…we can never know the future conduct of any human being with 100% certainty…” It’s unfortunate his piece is not consistent throughout in this regard. I don’t think “likely” or “most likely” are great, but they are certainly to be preferred over “would.”

Historian, Mark Noll, likes to say that Abraham Lincoln was the best theologian during the Civil War. It is a provocative observation, but rings true when you see so many of that time assuming God was on their side. Lincoln was different. He underscored the inscrutable nature of God’s providence.

 

THE PAIN AND JOY OF LEARNING

If you are following the debate swirling about the trinity, I think it is quite clear that one side has the better of the argument.  My brief reflection on this, and by way of extension, all such challenges:

Luke Timothy Johnson likes to remind us of the ancient phrase that “to learn is to suffer.” Learning many times means abandoning something we believed to be true, but now realize is not.

The other side of learning is the joy of discovery. Ezekiel Cheever, the first headmaster of Massachusetts Bay, believed that “children ought to come to learn as they come to play.”

May God motivate all of us to admit when we are wrong. There will undoubtedly be some pain in the discovery, but joy will attend our way as we do.

WHEATON COLLEGE: WONDERING ABOUT DOCTRINAL STATEMENTS

In early December of last year I had the good fortune to speak at Wheaton College.  The invitation to do so came from my friend, Vince Bacote.  Vince teaches there and heads up the Center for Applied Ethics.  It was one of those ideal teaching trips: terrific students, wonderful time catching up with Vince, great accommodations, and ample down time to explore what the area has to offer.

About a week after I got back home the brouhaha broke over the Facebook comments posted by Professor Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College, especially these: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Like all who teach at Wheaton College, Professor Hawkins signed the statement of faith.  Here is Wheaton’s statement of faith with respect to monotheism:

WE BELIEVE in one sovereign God, eternally existing in three  persons: the everlasting Father, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life; and we believe that God created the Heavens and the earth out of nothing by His spoken word, and for His own glory.

The issue at hand is what implications flow from that statement of faith.  In what way(s), if any, is the Christian God the same as the Muslim God?  Much ink has been spilled parsing the word “same.”  For the record, I side with the reflections Scot offered here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/12/16/the-same-god-12/.  

This debate got me thinking afresh about doctrinal statements.   I taught for four years at a classical, Christian school.  In their statement of faith mention was made that the Holy Spirit is integral to salvation.  As the school expanded new teachers signed the statement of faith, but had no idea what the decidedly Calvinist drafters meant by it.   The drafters of the statement believed the Holy Spirit could not be resisted, a particular doctrinal implication they thought was crystal clear from what they had written.  To say the least, others disagreed!  Which brings me back to Wheaton College.

Perhaps it would be wise to unpack a few significant implications which are understood by the drafters to inhere in church and school doctrinal statements.  It would not have to be terribly long.  Further clarification in adding a few “What we mean by this is…” seems like it would prevent some of the controversies we now see being played out at Wheaton College. 

Since it seems likely that Wheaton’s current challenges will not be unique among Christian institutions, others may also need to consider adding a few lines of clarification to their doctrinal statements.