Friday, July 29, 2005

What Worldviews and Typing Have in Common

Yesterday I was typing an excerpt from a book to email to a friend. My fingers were flying while my eyes were fixed on the paragraph I was quoting. I was surprised when I looked up at the monitor and found the following: "zpg vpitdr. ,u dpi; ;pbrd yjod dysyr pg imvrtysom." Obviously, my fingers were not properly positioned on the home keys. Worldviews are a lot like typing. If we have the wrong starting point, we'll end up with incoherence. The trick is getting people to stop typing long enough to look at the screen.

Bill Frist Supports the Destruction of Human Life AND Logic

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's decision to support a bill to expand federal financing for embryonic stem cell research is all over today's news. Frist professes to be pro-life and says that it's a "fact of science" that an embryo is "nascent human life." From the other side of his mouth, however, he says, "I also believe that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged and supported."

Mr. Frist insists that the bill provides an ethical framework because federal monies would only be used to fund research on embryos that would otherwise be discarded. It seems to me that if the senator were consistent with his stated belief that conception marks the beginning of a distinct human life, he'd be opposed to all forms of embryonic destruction. It shouldn't matter whether they're thrown out like yesterday's trash or experimented on for the noble cause of seeking cures for terrible diseases. In either case, a defenseless human life is being terminated unnecessarily.

Mr. Frist would have us believe that it's ethical to kill an innocent person who was going to be killed anyway as long as it's for the greater good. I'm sure he wouldn't want to state it that plainly but when you excise the euphemistic rhetoric that's what you're left with.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Kitschianity and Customs

Kevin Hendricks at Church Marketing Sucks wonders why churches so readily mimic logos and catch phrases of popular brands and gives an impassioned plea for sanctified creativity:

You've seen the Christianized versions of every corporate logo, changing Subway to God's Way. As lame as it is, it's one thing on a hokey Christian T-shirt. It's an entirely different thing as a church's official marketing.
I've seen so many churches borrowing from the mainstream world, tweaking logos or commercials to promote their own sermon series. How lame is that? Is parody the highest form of flattery? Are people somehow more interested because it not so subtlety reminds them of the Gap? Or is the idea to make them think it is Coca-Cola so they pay closer attention until the deceit dawns on them and they chuckle to themselves about such creative imitation? Or are people so distracted that the only chance to get their attention is to play off the success of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?
Would the church of God please rise up and be original? We've been blessed with creativity, so let's use it to come up with something that can stand on its own, rather than make sorrowful copies of corporate imagery.
Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost, while sharing Phil Johnson's concern about evangelicalism's proneness to bandwagon jumping, isn't as worired about the fads as he is about some well-established practices that he calls The Seven Deadly Trappings of Evangelicalism.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sowing Abraham's Seed (Part 3): Maslow & Marriage

In the initial post in this series I said that many popular Christian authors, particularly those who write on the subject of marriage, presuppose a view of personality and motivation bearing a strong resemblance to that of Abraham Maslow's. I also claimed that Maslow's thinking has so saturated American culture that it often serves as the silent and invisible framework through which we read the Bible and understand ourselves as Christians. Instead of helping believers cultivate sorely needed discernment by critically assessing Maslow's philosophy of life from the perspective of a biblical worldview, many Christian authors assume his diagnosis of what ails us and then force Scripture to conform to it. The gospel, if it is mentioned at all, is then offered as the solution to a problem that someone other than Jesus has defined while the problem that from God's perspective is most critical is viewed as being of little practical value to the issues with which we struggle. 

In this and following posts I wish to illustrate the phenomenon, citing examples from popular Christian books on marriage. Before I proceed, however, I want to plainly state that my criticisms are not intended in any way to call into question the faith of any of the authors I'll mention. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of their commitment to Christ or to the institution of marriage. I think all of them are devoted to doing all they can to aid couples in strengthening and protecting their marriages and for this I am grateful. Unquestionably, zeal for marriage is a good thing. Zeal not tempered with biblical truth, is not.

Traces of Abraham's seed can be detected in a book recently recommended to me - For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn. As the title indicates, the book is intended to help women better understand the men in their lives. But this is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end. Feldhahn tells her readers, "The more we understand the men in our lives, the better we can support and love them in the way they need to be loved. In other words, this revelation is supposed to change and improve us" (emphasis in the original, p. 20). The book is based on the results of a survey of hundreds of men who were asked about their desires, fears, aspirations, dislikes, etc. I've heard from a few women that it has been an eye-opener for them and from my own reading I can understand why. On more than a few pages, I recognized myself in the descriptions of men's inner lives. Despite the following criticism, I think this small volume has much merit and can be instrumental in fostering greater understanding.

The reservation I have about the book, however, is that the author concludes from the fact that many men deeply desire the respect of their wives that this desire constitutes a need; a need that if unfulfilled, results in undesirable behavior. According to Feldhahn, "A man deeply needs the woman in his life to respect his knowledge, opinions, and decisions - what I would call his judgment" (p. 29). This male "need" for respect and affirmation is "so hardwired and so critical that most men would rather feel unloved than disrespected or inadequate" (p. 22). From her use of the word "hardwired" I take Feldhahn to mean that this need is a given of creation in which case we cannot but conclude that it is good.

As far as I can tell, Feldhahn nowhere considers the possibility that the desire to be esteemed may at times be so domineering that it is perceived as a need when in actuality it is better described by the biblical concept of lust or ruling desire. Is it not possible to want a good thing so much such that I experience frustration, discomfort, and anger if I can't have it? It shouldn't take much reflection on any of our parts to think of a time when that was so for us. Another question. Does the fact that I act badly when I don't get what I want prove beyond question that I need what I long for? Amnon, desirous of his beautiful half-sister, Tamar, "was so tormented that he made himself ill" (2 Samuel 13:2). But would anyone conclude from his adverse reaction that his craving for Tamar constituted an actual need?

The answer to that question is obvious, of course. Amnon was driven by sexual lust, something clearly proscribed by Scripture. But what of good desires -- wanting my wife to respect me? Is it really possible to lust after something with which God is pleased? I don't know of a better treatment of the New Testament concept of lust than that offered by David Powlison in a book titled The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to the Authority of Scripture and the Gospel (Moody, 1996). In a chapter called "How Shall We Cure Troubled Souls?" Powlison states that we have drastically thinned the New Testament's thick teaching about lust so much so that:

...."lust" has become almost useless to modern readers of the Bible. It is reduced to sexual desire. Take a poll of the people in your church, asking them the meaning of "lusts of the flesh." You will find that sex appears on every list. Greed, pride, or gluttonous craving might appear in the answers of a few of the more thoughtful believers. The marquee sins of the heart appear, but the subtleties and details are washed out. And a crucial biblical term for explaining human life languishes (p. 211).

In response to the question of what makes a desire sinful, Powlison writes:
This question becomes particularly perplexing to people when the object of their desire is a good thing. Notice some of the adjectives that get appended to our cravings: evil, polluted lusts (Col. 3:5; 2 Peter 2:10). Sometimes the object of desire itself is evil: e.g., to kill someone, to steal, to control the cocaine trade on the Eastern seaboard. But often the object of desire is good, and the evil lies in the lordship of the desire. Our will replaces God's as that which determines how we live. John Calvin put it this way: "We teach that all human desires are evil, and charge them with sin -- not in that they are natural, but because they are inordinate." In other words, the evil in our desires often lies not in what we want [e.g., respect from my wife] but that we want it too much. Natural affections (for any good thing) become inordinate, ruling cravings. We are meant to be ruled by godly passions and desires. Natural desires for good things are meant to exist subordinate to our desire to please the Giver of gifts. The fact that the evil lies in the ruling status of the desire, not the object, is frequently a turning point in counseling (p. 212).
Isn't it odd that such a prevalent biblical theme as lust or sinful desire plays only a supporting role (if it gets any stage time at all) in some of the most popular Christian books while the concept of emotional needs (which at least at first glance don't seem to be prominent in the Bible) gets top billing? Like other authors on the topic, Feldhahn seeks to ground biblical support for the "women need love and men need respect" model in Ephesians 5:33: "However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." But this doesn't seem to me to be what the verse, considered in its context, is getting at. I suspect that this commonly held interpretation of the verse is due to our adopting Maslow's hermeneutic for interpreting people.

Next, drawing from Feldhahn and others, I want to discuss the implications of this view for our understanding of the nature and cause of sinful behavior. 

Oh, in case anyone's wondering, I haven't overlooked the question someone asked in response to Part 2. It's an important one that I intend to address in a future post. Your patience is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Worthwhile Reads About Christian Marketing and Media

Murdock at The A-Team Blog conducted an interview with Richard Abanes, author of Rick Warren and the Purpose that Drives Him. He posted Part I today. In it he asks Abanes to respond to the suspicion of some that his book is a part of the Purpose-Driven marketing strategy.
Speaking of Purpose-Driven marketing, Tim Challies thinks there's reason to believe that the release of a new book by the marketing genius behind The Purpose-Driven Life is being stalled due to pressure from Rick Warren.

Phil Johnson, the Pyromaniac, says that virtually all of the people on Time Magazine's list of "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals" are "fadmakers." Phil's answer to why evangelical churches are so prone to jumping on bandwagons? "A few years ago, marketing experts learned how to tap into evangelicals' infatuation with the cheap and tawdry and turn it into cash." (Something tells me Phil could come up with some winning "Pious Products").
Of all Phil says, I found the following most disturbing though not surprising:
When it comes to books, have you noticed how few truly timeless and significant volumes are being published? That's because nowadays, decisions about what to publish are driven by marketeers who have little concern for the spiritual or editorial content of a book. I have sat in meetings with publishers while their marketing experts vetted concepts for new books. "That one's too biblical." (Those are the exact words one of these Christian kitsch-peddlers actually once said in my presence to a roomful of nodding experts from the Christian publishing industry...)
Doug Groothuis explains why he thinks television doesn't lend itself to apologetics (despite Lee Strobel's commendable efforts) and calls for "medium exegesis":

American evangelicals are populists. They have always labored to reach as many people as possible for Christ using every available means and method. This motivation is praiseworthy, but should be tempered with media exegesis. Some media are not well suited for some topics and issues. Television, as I have argued in Truth Decay, favors the image over the word; it also favors certain kinds of personality (the charismatic, simplistic, telegenic, image-oriented communicator) over character and intellectual ability. Television has little patience for carefully developed arguments or nuances.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

This Little Light of Mine

After tossing and turning due to the unbearable heat a few mornings ago, I finally went downstairs to turn on the air conditioner. Wanting to give time for the cool air to circulate upstairs I plopped down on the couch and turned on the television. Flipping through the myriad of early morning infomercials, I came upon The New Jim Bakker Show, broadcasting from the entertainment capital of the midwest, Branson, MO.
The scene was disturbingly familiar - Jim seated next to his new wife, looking into the camera and asking viewers to send a "donation." You know, those "suggested donations" in exchange for which the donor receives a "gift" from the ministry. The gift Jim was promoting was a battery-free flashlight that gives an hour of light after being powered by 60 seconds of cranking with a detachable crank. But this isn't just any flashlight. It's a "Revelation Generation LifeLight" with the reminder that "Jesus is the light of the world" printed in gold on its side. (It occurred to me today that this isn't really a gospel searchlight since one only receives illumination by works but that's another story.)

It wasn't long before my twisted sense of humor went to work thinking of other common objects that could be Christianized with the addition of a Bible verse. Here are two potential items:
  • Plant food with "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten" printed on the package
  • Permanent markers reading "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Feel free to leave your ideas for Pious Products in a comment.

Of course, one doesn't have to suffer from bouts of insomnia to find similar objects. Christian bookstores (do they still call them bookstores?) are filled with them. Consumerism is in large part the force behind the marketing of prooftexted merchandise but I think Mike Wittmer is right when he traces this phenomenon to a deficient doctrine of creation and its goodness. In Heaven Is a Place on Earth he writes:
....we don't need to stamp Christianity on something before we can enjoy it. In fact, our feeble attempts at baptizing creation tend to cheapen both it and the gospel. Printing "cross-training" or "cross-eyed" on a T-shirt trivializes both the cross (do we really want to compare Jesus' suffering to a type of exercise or astigmatism?) and ordinary T-shirts (which are perhaps not as good as those with religious slogans). The same holds true for spill-proof cups emblazoned with John 4:14 -- "whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst"; key chains that parody milk advertisements with the probing question "Got Jesus?"; dinner plates that claim to be "Home Grown and Heaven Bound"; and stuffed ducks wearing rain gear on account of recurring "Showers of Blessing" (honestly, I could not make this stuff up). Rather than improve creation, such silliness only distracts from the goodness that is already there while mocking the gospel it seeks to advertise (p. 67).
Well, it's early yet and I've not fully woken up so I'm going to get some coffee. Now, where'd I put my Miracle Mug?

Friday, July 22, 2005

My Friend Jerry

"Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, 'What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'" - C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The friendship Lewis wrote of is the salve to the loneliness Blamires described in The Christian Mind (see the quote in the banner above). Like many of you, I’ve experienced the painful solitariness of not having someone to talk with who shared the doubts, thoughts, cares, and aspirations that stirred within. I also know the joyous relief of encountering people who, upon hearing my heart, asked, “You too?” Jerry Foote is one of those traveling companions for whom and to whom I’m deeply grateful.

Jerry supervised my pastoral internship when I was a seminarian. When it was done, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving with him on the pastoral staff of the church I’ve served for almost 13 years. By his words and example, I learned a lot about what it means to be a shepherd of God’s people. I remember frequently asking myself, “Why didn’t I think to do that?” when he humbly served others in unglamorous but loving ways. I also recall with fondness, conversations about theology, literature, evangelical fads, and bad puns (Jerry’s, not mine). Because I so appreciated his friendship, I was very sad when, a few years ago, he moved away to serve as the senior pastor of a church in Iowa.

Jerry’s familiarity with the Old Testament and ability to trace themes through the Bible are impressive. He helps people see that the Bible isn’t an assortment of unrelated texts but a unified record of God’s redeeming activity. Despite emphatic professions to believe in biblical inspiration and authority, Christians frequently adopt interpretive practices that contradict this affirmation. Whenever we disregard literary considerations, such as context, we fail to treat the biblical texts as authoritative. This has always been of great concern to Jerry.

I received an email from Jerry a few days ago notifying me that he has taken up blogging. This is welcome news because I’m one of many who have encouraged him to write (though I had books, not blogs, in mind). Jerry’s blog is called
Read with Open Eyes and is devoted to commonly misinterpreted and misapplied passages of Scripture. In his blog's banner Jerry says:
Many things we think the Bible teaches aren't really there. We need to read the Bible with our eyes open. That is, pay attention to what is actually written, even if it overrules things we have always believed. It is the Bible (not our concepts about the Bible, or sermons we have heard, or songs that we learned) that is God's revelation to us.

I'm looking forward to profiting again from Jerry's insights and hope you'll avail yourself of them as well. As you do, you may even find yourself thinking, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Good Morning, Joel Osteen

[NOTE: A number of visitors have arrived here as the result of searching for information about Joel Osteen's October 15, 2007 appearance on Good Morning America. If that is what you are seeking, go here.]

Watching Good Morning America while sipping coffee is a daily ritual for me. This morning's program highlighted Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, the largest in the United States. The segment focused on the church's recent move into the Compaq Center (after $75 million in renovation), former home of the Houston Rockets. (By the way, the unveiling of Lakewood's new facility is GMA's free video clip of the day.) Osteen's message was described as "motivational Christianity" and of course, mention was made of his bestseller, Your Best Life Now. A clip from an interview with Pastor and Mrs. Osteen answers why this man is so popular. Osteen said, "Today, people aren't so much looking for doctrine. They want to know how to live their lives." So, if you're not looking for biblical doctrine, look no further than Joel Osteen. You won't be disappointed. You won't find what you're not looking for. But, if what you're after is biblical instruction about how to live, then you should also stay clear of Osteen since that too is a matter of doctrine.

This morning I also received an email from a friend who recently discovered this post about Osteen written earlier this year by Michael Spencer. An excerpt:
Joel makes a remarkable shift away from his father's style of more traditional Pentecostal/Charismatic preaching. He becomes a positive thinker- Peale and Schuller style. A preacher of "think positive and be blessed" principles. Prosperity preaching, but not with some tangled version of the Gospel at the center like so many on TBN (take Kenneth Copeland as an example.) It's "have a better attitude and be blessed" motivational talks that have no relation to the essentials of the Christian Gospel. You rarely hear any theology or Gospel preaching. God is good and wants to bless you. Period. That's it. Instead, Osteen's messages are about "God's Favor" on marriage, finances and career. Sin is never mentioned. In well over 25 hours of preaching that I listened to this year, Jesus was almost never mentioned, and when he was mentioned, it was in a perfunctory prayer in the last minute. Sin, the Cross, the atonement? Not there.

Osteen preaches about positive thinking, being blessed, resurrecting dreams and taking risks. His book is called "Your Best Life Now." Despite endorsements from at least one preacher who supposedly understands the Gospel, the message of the Cross of Jesus Christ isn't the focus of Osteen's message- ever. It's positive thinking. Good advice for people who need a lift relationally or financially. It's the message of a good God who wants to bless you with a bigger house, a better job and, of course, a better attitude.

If, like me, you missed this when it was originally published, I encourage you to make time to read it and consider taking up MIchael's challenge.
UPDATE: Did someone declare this Joel Osteen Day and forget to tell me about it? I just found out that even the New York Times has a story on the megachurch pastor. Dr. Alan Wolfe, one of the people quoted in the article, describes Osteen as being very telegenic and "in the tradition of Jim Bakker, but focused less on financial prosperity than psychological well-being." The article also illustrates Joel's ecumenical appeal. A self-described "hard-core Catholic" testifies that he was drawn by Mr. Osteen's motivational messages. Concerning this point the article states:
If not for the religious references, Mr. Osteen's sermons, on topics like procrastination, submitting to authority and staying positive, could be secular motivational speeches. This is by design. "The principles in the Bible will work for anybody," he said. "If you give, you will be blessed. I talk about things for everyday life. I don't get deep and theological."
If you too would like to preach to an arena-sized crowd each week, just follow Osteen's sermonic formula:
Mr. Osteen begins each sermon with a joke and follows with anecdotes from his own life, about how through faith he received a house, a parking space, a happy marriage. There is no time to ruminate on theological puzzles, like why God allows people to suffer.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I Read Him But Now My Ears Have Heard Him: Another Skype Testimonial

After reading Adrian Warnock's announcement that he finally converted to Skype and Dr. AJ's enthusiastic report about a recent Skype exchange, I decided to see what all the hype was about. I'm glad I did. Today, on my maiden voyage, I had the pleasure of talking with David Wayne, a.k.a. The Jolly Blogger. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear and get to know David. "Jolly" is an apt description of this winsome brother. 

Let me add that Skype's audio quality is impressive. I was expecting a walkie-talkie like interaction like that of Paltalk's but this was just like being on the telephone sans the cost. I agree with Dr. AJ that this is a promising medium for fostering an enhanced sense of community among Christian bloggers.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sowing Abraham's Seed (Part 2)

In the first in this series of posts I offered a brief sketch of Abraham Maslow's theory of human nature and motivation. Maslow's assumption of the inherent goodness of human nature led him to trace the source of what, from a Christian perspective, would be called evil or sinful behavior, to unsatisfied psychological needs. Evil is, therefore, a response to psychological malnutrition. Quoting again from the second edition of Toward a Psychology of Being:

"Evil" behavior has mostly referred to unwarranted hostility, cruelty, destructiveness, "mean" aggressiveness. This we do not know enough about. To the degree that this quality of hostility is instinctoid, mankind has one kind of future. To the degree that it is reactive (a response to bad treatment), mankind has a very different kind of future. My opinion is that the weight of the evidence so far indicates that indiscriminately destructive hostility is reactive, because uncovering therapy reduces it, and changes its quality into "healthy" self-affirmation, forcefulness, selective hostility, self-defense, righteous indignation, etc.
Contrary to the Bible, which attributes the corruption that is in the world to sinful desire (2 Peter 1:4), Maslow contended that cruelty and inhumanity owe their existence to deficiencies of love, acceptance, security, and respect. According to Maslow, deprivation, not depravity, is humankind's root problem. Stated that way, it's apparent how opposed his anthropology is to that of Scritpure. Nevertheless, as I said in my previous post, a lot of Christian counseling, teaching, and writing bears more than a vague resemblance to the humanist psychologist's model. Today I'll cite one example.

A recent World Magazine article called "The Secret Sin," focused on infidelity among Christian women. The article reported George Ohlschlager, director of policy and public affairs with the Association of Christian Counselors as saying that such affairs stem from numerous issues including marital or childhood emotional deficits and in some cases, a lack of spiritual maturity. According to Ohlschlager, many Christian women, "are not practicing spiritual disciplines, and are not really pursuing an intimacy with Christ that would go a long way toward filling up some of those emotional needs."

Notice the crucial role the concept of deficiency needs plays in this interpretation. Marital infidelity is not primarily the outward expression of powerful, misguided desires or lusts. It is, rather, a response to "emotional deficits." What is most fundamentally responsible for the sinful behavior is an inadequate meeting of psychological requirements. A major problem with this kind of diagnosis is that it is operating with concepts and categories at odds with those of Scripture. Does the Bible ever account for sinful acts in terms of unsatisfied needs? Jesus identifies adultery as one of the various forms of evil that spring from the heart (Mark 7: 21-23) and doesn't even remotely suggest that this is due to some psychic lack. Sexual immorality is a manifestation of the desires of the flesh that war against the desires of the Spirit (Gal. 5:17-21). Maslow pictures the heart as a fragile plant in need of nourishment. I think the Bible pictures my heart more like the insatiable, carnivorous plant in Little Shop of Horrors, demanding that it be fed and growing hungrier with every meal. If I commit adultery, or any other sin, the Bible doesn't lead me to ask what needs have gone or are going unmet. Instead, it shines its probing light upon my heart and asks, "What is it that you love, trust in, hope for, desire, or crave more than your Creator and Redeemer?"

Take note, too, of how when unmet emotional needs take center stage in our thinking about what motivates us, it transforms how we understand the purpose of spiritual disciplines, not to mention how we conceive of Christ's role in our lives. Without question, Jesus' followers should devote themselves to prayer and meditation on the Word in order to know Christ better. But is this really to "fill up" emotional needs? This is, in my estimation, a superimposition of an alien anthropology over the inspired texts. The beautiful, costly antique furniture of Scripture has been rearranged and pushed to the periphery to make room for a modern piece that doesn't match the decor.

Despite the pervasive assumption that destructive behavior is caused by unmet psychological needs, relatively few Christians consider what a need is and how it differs from an overwhelming want or what the Bible calls lust. Unfortunately, not many Christian self-help books raise those questions or help readers answer them. This is especially so with volumes on marriage. That will be the topic of my next post in this series.

In the meantime I urge you to read an in-depth article by Edward T. Welch called "Who Are We?: Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man." Welch surveys the history of need-based theory and critiques its adoption by Christian counseling.

The Triumphant Image at the Christian Booksellers Convention

Doug Groothuis reflects on his visit to the recent Christian Booksellers' Association Convention and what it tells us about American evangelicalism. Among his observations:
....nearly everything was advertised by video screens. One children’s video, "Angel Wars," was hawked by a mountain of various screens all showing the same hyperactive, violent, and nightmarish images. It must have taught "family values."
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Illinois Governor Orders Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich pulled a fast one this week reminiscent of Mayor Richard Daley's decision to bulldoze Meigs Field under the cover of darkness. The governor's decision is more grave, however, as it will result in the taking of human lives and that at the expense of taxpayers opposed to having their money used to fund such actions.

On Tuesday, Gov. Blagojevich issued an executive order earmarking 10 million dollars of the state's 55 million dollar budget for stem cell research, including that which requires the destruction of human embryos. The Chicago Tribune (free registration required) reports that Blagojevich asserted that his was the "morally right" decision and quotes the Democratic governor as saying that he is prepared for any backlash he receives as a result of it: "So whatever criticism and remarks that come my way--and I suspect there will be a firestorm of criticism because I'm using executive power--I enthusiastically embrace it. I feel very good about this decision." Frankly, I don't care how the governor feels about his decision. I'm interested in hearing his reasons for believing, as he surely must, that embryonic human life is not deserving of protection.

The Trib article describes the governor's underhanded methodology:
The governor's order follows the defeat of several stem-cell research measures in the spring session of the legislature. The most ambitious plan, pushed by state Comptroller Dan Hynes, proposed increasing taxes on cosmetic surgery to raise $100 million for research.
Although Blagojevich opposed Hynes' proposed tax increase, he supported allocating more money for stem-cell research, and the two hatched the plan to plug the $10 million into the $55 million budget that took effect July 1.
The money was added as a single line item to the budget of the Illinois Department of Public Health and was listed as being "for scientific research," without mentioning stem cells.
In a response to the governor's order, Peter LaBarbera, Executive Director of the Illinois Family Institute writes, "The governor has done an end-run around the legislative process to fund research that advances a utilitarian agenda in which the end justifies the means."

Sarah Flashing (yes, the Intellectuelle ), Director of Public Relations for the Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, issued the following press release today:
The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD) strongly denounces Gov. Blagojevich's executive order to fund embryonic stem cell research through the creation of the Illinois Regenerative Institute for Stem Cell Research with 10 million Illinois taxpayer dollars.
"Though it's commendable to want to help those who are suffering debilitating diseases and injuries, it is unconscionable to do so at the expense of other human lives," said Dr. John Kilner, president of CBHD. "This is an imposition of morally problematic research on the citizens of Illinois. The people have already spoken through the democratic process- legislation to promote this research failed in the General Assembly. Stem cell research can be pursued ethically by focusing research on adult stem cells, including cord blood cells."
Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Senior Fellow at CBHD said, "The governor's action is not only morally reprehensible, but should be a signal to every Illinois voter. If he will not protect the most vulnerable among us, he cannot be trusted to protect the rest of us."
Gov. Blagojevich's executive order comes on the eve of CBHD's 12th Annual Bioethics Conference, Genetics and Reproductive Ethics, to be held July 14- 16, 2005 on the campus of Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL. A media reception will be held on Thursday, July 14th, from 5 to 6 p.m. Details can be obtained by calling 847.317.4097. Speakers for the Bioethics Conference include Leon Kass, head of the President's Council on Bioethics and Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. Other speakers such as Princeton University's Robert George will explain why the embryos destroyed in embryonic stem cell research should be recognized and treated as the human beings they are. Other conference topics will include reproductive and genetic technologies, cloning, and embryo adoption.
Since Governor Blagojevich is prepared for criticism, I hope Illinois readers won't disappoint him. You can contact his office via the web or by calling (217) 782-0244 or (312) 814-2121.

The Curmudgeon in Cyberspace

I was pleased to learn that Doug Groothuis, philosophy professor at Denver Seminary and author of The Soul in Cyberspace and nine other titles, has decided to experiment with blogging. Why the name, The Constructive Curmudgeon?:
....because I believe that truth-tellers, no matter how maligned or ignored, are crucial for living a serious and honest life. The curmudgeon is bothered by poppycock, humbug, bovine excrement, and any form of lies or intellectually lazy communication or inauthentic living. Curmudgeons have little tolerance for trendiness, cliches, or fashionable nonsense. Although they may be old and jaded, their hero is the little boy in the fable who said, "The emperor has no clothes." Indeed, curmudgeons denude pretense and prevarication for the sake of truth. That is the aim, the goal, the ideal--however inadequately realized. The curmudgeon himself needs to be corrected by fellow curmudgeons.
The curmudgeon is constructive in that half-truths, bovine excrement, fashionable nonsense, unfashionable nonsense, and other offenses to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful need to be exposed that the light may dawn and reality be revealed. Reality denudes us all in the end, no matter how much we hate it. The curmudgeon tries to love reality, whatever the cost. She or he encourages others to love reality as well, come what may.
In this sense, Jesus was the ultimate Constructive Curmudgeon. He brooked no spin. He exposed all pretense. His life was in perfect harmony with Reality. He was the truth teller extraordinaire. If you knew him, you either loved him or hated him. He is my model, although I will fall far short.
I've profited from Dr. Groothuis's writing, particularly his reflections about the wise use of information technology. Therefore, I'm eager to see what shall come forth from his keyboard in the near future.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Sowing Abraham's Seed

Humanist psychologist, Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was very optimistic about human nature, writing in his Toward a Psychology of Being: "This inner nature, as much as we know of it so far, seems not to be intrinsically or primarily evil." On the contrary, human nature is "good or neutral rather than bad." In the introduction to the same volume, Maslow wrote: Destructiveness, sadism, cruelty, malice, etc., seem so far to be not intrinsic but rather they seem to be violent reactions against frustration of our intrinsic needs, emotions, and capacities." In response to the question of the origin of neuroses, Maslow wrote:

My answer...was, in brief, that neurosis seemed at its core, and in its beginning, to be a deficiency disease: that it was born out of being deprived of certain satisfactions which I called needs in the same sense that water and amino acids and calcium are needs, namely that their absence produces illness. Most neuroses involved, along with other complex determinants, ungratified wishes for safety, for belongingness and identification, for close love relationships and for respect and prestige.
Basic needs, said Maslow, possess the following characteristics:
  1. The deprived person yearns for their gratification persistently.
  2. Their deprivation makes the person sicken and wither.
  3. Gratifying them is therapeutic, curing the deficiency-illness.
  4. Steady supplies forestall these illnesses.
  5. Healthy (gratified) people do not demonstrate these deficiencies
Maslow described these "deficits" or "deficiency needs" as: "...empty holes, so to speak, which must be filled up for health's sake, and furthermore, must be filled from without by human beings other than the subject." Elsewhere he says that these psychological needs "may be considered as deficiencies which must be optimally fulfilled by the environment in order to avoid sickness and subjective ill-being." It is as important that psychological needs be met as it is that physiological needs (e.g., the need for salt, calcium, or vitamin D) be satisfied.

Maslow grouped needs into five levels that stood in a hierarchical and developmental relationship to each other. Beginning with the foundational level they are: physiological needs (e.g., food, drink, air, etc.), safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs (respect from others and for oneself), and the need for self-actualization (the ability to make the most of one's potential). Maslow proposed that we are most immediately aware of lower level needs but once they are satisfied, upper level needs become more apparent and have greater motivational force.

In that Maslow was seeking to construct a humanistic model of personality and motivation, it's no surprise that the concept of "sin" is absent from his system. Sommers and Satel write in One Nation Under Therapy:

From the beginning, Maslow's aim was to displace moral philosophy and religion with a science of man. Traditional religion, in his judgment, had proved inadequate. He proposed a "religion-surrogate." He said, "Throughout history [humanity] has looked for guiding values, for principles of right and wrong outside of [itself], to a God, to some sort of sacred book, perhaps, or to a ruling class." Maslow believed that he had found the basis for ethics and personal fulfillment in human nature itself.
Behavior and attitudes that are, from a biblical perspective, sinful, are not, according to Maslow, evidence of a morally corrupt nature but of frustrated needs. Assuming Maslow's diagnosis, the appropriate cure is not a new heart with redirected desires but satisfaction of the natural heart's yearnings. Neither the objects nor the intensity of our desires are the cause of the conflicts among us. Nancy Pearcey notes in Total Truth that "Every worldview...offers a counterpart to the Fall, an explanation of the source of evil and suffering. What has gone wrong with the world? Why is there warfare and conflict?" For Maslow, unfulfilled psychological needs are what bar us from Paradise.
This assumption about human motivation is deeply entrenched in the American psyche even among those unfamiliar with Maslow's work. What I find so astonishing (not to mention disturbing) is how influential and pervasive this perspective on human nature and behavior is among Bible-believing Christians. You don't have to search hard for it. It's propagated in sermons and popular Christian books, particularly those having to do with marriage. It's the lens through which we view life and even the grid through which we interpret Scripture.
Maslow was well aware that his motivational model was part of a larger worldview. In the preface to the second edition of Toward a Psychology of Being he described Humanist Psychology as "one facet of a general Weltanschauung, a new philosophy of life, a new conception of man...." Why, then, do Christians so readily accept and even defend this way of thinking about the human condition? Why does so much Christian teaching about why we do the things we do sound more like Abraham Maslow than Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the patriarch? I share the curiosity David Powlison expresses in his essay in Care for the Soul: Exploring the Intersection of Psychology and Theology:

Why does one or another secular theory of human motivation almost inevitably control the Christian counseling theory at the punch line, where counseling engages the details of life as it is lived? In particular, why have "need" theories that define significance, love and self-esteem as the standard needs been so prominent when they are so alien to the gaze of God and the psychological experience of Jesus? Why has the most typical, and apparently the most vital, external contribution of psychology been secular motivation theory, the very thing that wrenches human life out of its true context and drains psychological experience of its essential characteristics? Why do integrationist theories fail to take seriously the specific, omnipresent nature of sin as the chief and most immediate problem in the hearts of those we counsel?
I'll devote future posts to further exploration of the influence of Abraham Maslow on the children of Abraham, including examples of this influence in Christian literature. Go to Part 2

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Seductive Side of Blogging

As one who's sometime "played" Technorati and Site Meter like they were Las Vegas slots, I found David Bayly's warning about the subtle temptations associated with blogging, convicting:
I've noticed that the availability of statistics in blogging leads almost inexorably to a desire for increased numbers. It's amazing how a ranking instrument such as Truth Laid Bear or Technorati or Site Meter almost automatically turns us into statistics-addicted influence seekers.
Not only are numbers important to bloggers, the more you blog the more you want other bloggers to link to your blog. The result is a self-referential series of quid pro quos wherein we mention other bloggers positively and link to them so that they will in turn mention and link to us.
More often than not, this circularity is accompanied by rather obsequious expressions of praise from smaller blogs to more prominent blogs in the apparent hope that the more prominent blog will link back to the lesser-known blog--a form of vassal-lord relationship in which the vassal renders fealty and honor and the lord in turn grants a place in the penbumbra of his blogging glory. In the end, the outcome is a self-reinforcing system of mutual admiration.
Bayly concludes with the following exhortation and reminder:
Finally, I would encourage bloggers who read this to be on guard against the potential for pride and favoritism in their own blogging life. Blogs can be tools for God's Kingdom, but back-scratching and numbers-seeking is never the path to God's pleasure, no matter how many wise, good things we say along the way.

[HT: Pastor Shaun]

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Challies Reviews New Book on Rick Warren

Rich Abanes' book, Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him will soon be available. Tim Challies received a pre-release copy and reviews it here.

The Tyranny of Therapism and Some Surprising Roots

I've almost finished reading One Nation Under Therapy, a book I referred to here, here, and here. Last night I came across an essay by the authors, Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, called "The Tyranny of Therapism." "Therapism" is a phrase they coined to describe the constellation of assumptions about human nature and well-being promoted and perpetuated by many helping professionals. (The book isn't a rant against mental health professions per se as Satel is a practicing psychiatrist.)

As they describe it, therapism:
....extols openness, emotional self-absorption, and the sharing of feelings. It encompasses the assumption that vulnerability rather than strength characterizes the American psyche and that suffering is a pathology in need of a cure. Therapism assumes that a diffident, anguished, and emotionally apprehensive public requires a vast array of therapists, self-esteem educators, grief counselors, work-shoppers, healers, and traumatologists to lead it though the trials of everyday life. Children, more than any group, are targeted for therapeutic improvement.
Hoffman and Satel state that therapism has many historical and ideological roots among which is the philosophy of Jean-Jaques Rousseau. Freudian psychoanalysis and the human potential movement popularized by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are more recent contributing factors. Secularists don't bear the whole brunt of responsibility, however. The authors also claim that the current preoccupation with feelings "can be traced to nineteenth-century evangelical movements that offered nostrums for liberating their followers from negative emotions." Ouch!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Trinitarian Living

Tim Challies reviews and heartily recommends Bruce Ware's Father, Son, & Holy Spirit and David Wayne reports from the Jonathan Edwards Institute Conference on a message by Sinclair Ferguson titled "The Trinity: The Life of God in the World of Eternity." Both emphasize the relevance of the doctrine of the Trinity to Christian life and therefore reminded me of how John Frame applies the doctrine in The Doctrine of God:
Jesus prays in John 17:22 that his people may be "one as we are one." How can the church possibly be one as God himself is one? The church is not divine, and so it can never achieve the perfect oneness of the Father, Son, and Spirit. But the passage does help the church to set some goals to achieve with God's help. One way toward a oneness that reflects the Trinity is for us to glorify one another as do the persons of the Trinity. That means loving one another, serving one another, praising one another, honoring one another. If we really sought to glorify one another, we would seek, even across denominational and traditional lines, to make one another look good, to enhance one another's reputations rather than to make ourselves look good at everyone else's expense (p. 595)

United Church of Christ Officially Supports Homosexual Marriage

I grew up in the United Church of Christ. From as early as I can remember through my high school years my unbelieving family faithfully attended. For those aware of the denomination it won't come as any shock that I can't recall ever hearing the gospel. Sermons were moralistic. When Jesus was mentioned, he was presented as an example but not as the Savior from sin and its penalty. Much attention was given, from the pulpit as well as from the denomination's Sunday School curricula, to issues of social justice, world peace, and environmentalism. I'll never forget the time I heard one of the pastors explain the feeding of the 5,000 naturalistically. According to him, the real "miracle" that took place that day was that a small boy who unselfishly gave of his loaves and fishes shamed the large crowd whose members had been hiding their food under their cloaks.

When, in college, I understood my need for God's pardon and the gift of righteousness, I was angry at this church that had deprived me of the gospel. Mine was an attitude of "Why didn't you tell me?! Why did you keep the truth from me?" It took a while for me to realize that nothing had been intentionally kept from me. There was no clandestine plot to prevent me from learning the truth. The sad fact was that the leaders themselves were in darkness. That darkness showed itself yesterday when the UCC became the first mainline Christian denomination to officially support homosexual marriage. The New York Times reports that following the synod's vote, UCC President, Rev. John Thomas declared:
"On this July 4, the United Church of Christ has courageously acted to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of gay - of same-gender - couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate those marriages."
The same article illustrates the contradictions that groups like the UCC have to embrace in the name of "tolerance" and "open mindedness." The female pastor of a predominantly black UCC congregation described many blacks as being more "orthodox" in their biblical interpretation and gave the following reason for her vote against the resolution: "There are those of us who live in the tension of affirming love and relationships for people who have not had enough of that, and feeling like the theological evidence for it just hasn't been presented." An associate who voted in favor of the resolution stated, "I voted for it, and I agree with everything she's saying."

I doubt I could have remained in the UCC but some evangelical believers have chosen to work and pray for renewal and reform from within. The Biblical Witness Fellowship is a network of such Christians whose work, in light of this recent decision, will be all the more challenging.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

A Fictitious Dialogue Between Paul Helm and John Sanders (Part 4)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

PH: John, I think your criticism is based on a misunderstanding of my position. Believe it or not, my understanding of divine guidance is not that divergent from yours. While I do believe that God has a detailed plan for each of our lives, I don't believe that the Scriptures instruct us to try to discover this plan before it unfolds so as to bring our lives in conformity to it. What God has decreed is only known before it happens in the event that God makes it known by means of prophecy. Otherwise, we don't know what he has ordained except as it is worked out in history. What we ARE responsible for is our obedience to the revealed moral will of God. It's from this that we are to seek guidance for life. We are to apply God's commands and revealed principles to our specific situations and on that basis make our decisions. The leading of the Spirit, as I understand it, is the Spirit's work of inclining our wills and enabling us to walk in the ways of God's law. I conclude this on the basis that the two instances where the apostle Paul writes of being "led by the Spirit," Galatians 5:18 and Romans 8:14, are in the context of sanctification.

KP: I'm glad you brought that up, Dr. Helm. It reminds me of another important biblical theme I wanted to discuss. Clearly, the concept of covenant is prominent throughout the Bible. God makes covenants with individuals like Noah, Abraham, and David. He enters into a covenant with the nation of Israel to which they are repeatedly disloyal. And through the prophets, he promises a day in which he will make a new covenant with Israel which will be far better than the Mosaic Covenant.

Dr. Sanders, I was disappointed that you failed to make any mention of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant because I wanted to see how you saw them fitting in with your model of providence. The passage that I kept hoping you'd interact with is Ezekiel 36:27 where God says, "And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." Jeremiah 31:33 is, of course, a parallel text in which God promises to write his law upon human hearts. My question to you, Dr. Sanders, is given your view of human freedom, in what sense can God cause anyone to walk in obedience to his statutes?

JS: I'd have to examine the text in question more thoroughly before giving a definitive answer. Offhand, I'm not sure of the Hebrew word translated as "cause" in the version you're quoting. I doubt seriously though, that the intended meaning is that God will cause people to act in some mechanistic way. God interacts with people as persons, not billiard balls involved in some chain reaction.

PH: John, this biblical theme is very pertinent to our discussion because I think it addresses a number of the objections you raised to the no-risk model's understanding of salvation. You say that sin is a broken relationship as opposed to a condition. Certainly sin results in severed relationships but I don't think that they can be equated. The Bible does depict sin as a corrupt condition of fallen humanity. In fact, the promises of the New Covenant recorded in the Old Testament focus on the heart's need to be renewed and transformed by the gracious activity of God. Our hearts in their natural condition are unresponsive to God which why the Lord promises that he will remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh in Ezekiel 36:26. The corrupt condition of the heart is described throughout the Bible.

God's promise of a New Covenant, in which he will so act in the hearts of his people that they will obey him, also appears problematic for your view of omniscience. You allow God to have certain knowledge of what he intends to do in the future yet deny that he can have such certainty regarding the free acts of human beings. However, in this case, we see God not only declaring what he will do, but also what humans will do as a result of his action. It's as if their actions will somehow be guaranteed as a result of his own. How could this possibly be according to your model? Are we to take this divine prediction as nothing more than an educated guess on God's part? I don't think so.

It's because of what the Bible says about the efficacy of God's grace that I reject the idea that providence is "risky." If humans have the kind of freedom you propose, and God cannot ensure that anyone will trust in Christ for redemption, then promises such as these are meaningless. This, not my loyalty to Plato, is why I believe that we must understand those biblical passages that describe God as repenting and being ignorant of certain things as instances of accommodation on God's part.

JS: Paul, you and Keith have raised some very challenging topics that I'll have to give further thought to. Nevertheless, I fail to see how what you're suggesting differs from puppetry or rape on God's part. There is no genuine responsiveness in what you're saying. God may be personal in the model you're presenting but we are not.

PH: Perhaps we need to ask whether our understandings of what it means to be a person in relationship with another originates from the Scriptures or from some outside source. 

KP: That would be very interesting, I'm sure, but I think we'll have to draw our discussion to a close. Gentlemen, thanks again for making time to talk about this very important doctrine. There are so many more related topics I'd like to discuss with you. You've both obviously spent a long time thinking about and researching this issue. For my part, I have to say that I find Dr. Helm's case to be most persuasive because I believe it more comprehensively and coherently accounts for the biblical data.

I'm sorry we never got back around to the problem of evil in more depth but perhaps that's something we can devote an entire discussion to in the future. I know all of our schedules are quite full but perhaps we'll be able to meet again to pick up where we left off.

JS: Who knows? That just might happen.

PH: Lord willing, it shall.

A Fictitious Dialogue Between Paul Helm and John Sanders (Part 3)

Part 1 Part 2

PH: Keith, the answer to your question is complex but I'll give it a shot. Yes, I believe that even the thoughts and intentions of the human heart are under the sovereign direction of the Lord. Concerning God's justice in holding us responsible for those intentions, I think it's necessary to refer to the Bible to see what it has to say about the grounds for our culpability. I think John and I agree that a necessary condition for moral responsibility is knowledge of what is required. Furthermore, it's necessary that we consent to an action in order to be responsible for it. In other words, we have to be acting voluntarily and not under compulsion. I know John thinks that my view involves God's "forcing" us to act in certain ways but in this he is mistaken. Finally, it must be within our power to produce an outcome at will.

There's a need to make further distinctions, though. God does ordain both good and evil in order to accomplish his purposes. However, God does not intend evil as evil in the same way that the human agent does. That this is so is evident from the Isaiah 10 passage you mentioned. It can also be seen in Joseph's words to his conniving brothers in Genesis 50:20: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Notice that the same verb is used with respect to God and Joseph's brothers. What the brothers intended for evil, God intended in order to accomplish his good purpose. So, God does not intend evil as evil. He cannot, because he is the absolute measure of goodness. He finds no pleasure or delight in evil as such, but ordains it in order to accomplish the ultimate good, namely, the manifestation of his glory. His relationship to evil acts, then, is not symmetrical with his relationship to righteous acts. Although he ordains both, he does not cause evil as he does good since he is the source of moral perfection. This we must affirm in order to be faithful to his revelation in Scripture.

As for your interjection, John, I think you're being woefully inconsistent.

JS: What do you mean? I've never suggested that God has ordained what is clearly contrary to his will.

PH: Well, you claim that if God does indeed control all that comes to pass, then there is no reason for his being angry with those who disobey his commands. yet, in your book you cite a biblical example of that very thing, namely the Lord's inciting David to number Israel and then becoming angry with him for doing so.

JS: As I say in the book, this is a problematic text. However, I believe that the mercy of God as well as his covenant love for his people is evidenced even in that passage.

PH: John, that's not being disputed. My point is simply that here we have at least one case in which God is said to be angered by an act that he caused to come about.

JS: Point taken.

KP: Dr. Helm, in your book you write about the need to distinguish between different senses of what is meant by "God's will." Is that at all relevant here?

PH: Most definitely. You'll notice that throughout John's book he speaks of God's intention or will univocally. He regards the distinction I make between God's will of decree and will precept as unnecessary and contrived. However, I think that it's biblically warranted and that unless we recognize this distinction, we have no choice but to conclude that the Bible contradicts itself.

KP: Can you give us an example?

PH: Sure. In Romans 9:19, the apostle Paul anticipates an objection to his teaching about God's sovereign right to dispense mercy and compassion to whomever he desires as well las to harden whomever he so chooses. To paraphrase, the objection sounds something like this: "If God's sovereignty is as exhaustive as you claim it is, then why does God still hold us responsible for our actions, for who can resist his will?" As an aside, this is exactly the kind of objection that John and other "relational theists" raise against my understanding of the extent of God's sovereignty. Such an objection would never arise if Paul had been advocating libertarian freedom.

Anyway, the will of God referred to here cannot be a reference to his moral precepts. The force of the anticipated objector would be gone if that were the case, because people break the law of God all the time. So, what is in mind here is God's sovereign will by which he ordains whatever comes to pa ss, including the actions of men and women. You find the same idea in James 4:15 where the author rebukes those who boast of their future plans as though they were the ultimate determiners of what will be. "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.'" Again, this is a reference to God's sovereign will, which is incapable of being thwarted. Elsewhere, however, the term "God's will" is used with reference to God's moral statutes and commands, that which he enjoins upon us and which we are responsible to obey. First Thessalonians 4:3 is an example of this: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality." Taken in this sense, God's will is violated all the time. So, we have some passages that declare that God's will is incapable of being violated and others that identify God's will with his law, which we know is violated all the time. Unless we make the distinction I'm defending, we're faced with the conclusion that the Bible is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.

JS: But Paul, if what you're saying is true, then however we interpret our circumstances at any given time, is exactly how God wants us to interpret them. Even if our conclusions about what God is up to in our lives are faulty, they are exactly the conclusions that God wanted us to have. We couldn't be sure about what God was leading us to do since even our misinterpretations of God's guidance would be divinely ordained. When David's men sought to persuade him that God had delivered Saul into his hand to kill, David denied that this was the case. But if everything turns out just as God wants it, including my misguided notions about what God wants me to do, then how can I ever discern his leading with assurance?

A related difficulty that I see for your view is that it allows me to excuse my sinfulness and lack of holiness by appealing to god's will. After all, he's in control of everything. If I'm not making efforts to grow in my relationship with him and to resist temptation, then it must be because that's what he wants for the time beginning. Isn't that a lot like Adam saying, "The woman you gave me....?"

Part 4

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Fictitious Dialogue Between Paul Helm and John Sanders (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

KP: Dr. Sanders, your understanding of the nature of God's divine project obviously plays a crucial role in your thinking. Dr. Helm, do you agree with Dr. Sanders about God's ultimate purpose?

PH: Well, I don't deny that God is desirous of loving relationships with His creatures (though John and I certainly don't see eye to eye concerning what constitutes a genuine, personal relationship). However, I don't see the Bible presenting this as the ultimate end of all that God does. Rather, I see God's utmost purpose as displaying his own glory in all its fullness: His goodness, mercy, grace, and wisdom, as well as His justice and wrath. God Himself is uppermost in his own affections, as Jonathan Edwards was fond of saying. And He does all things for the sake of his own name and glory. This was his reason for creating the nation of Israel as is stated in Isaiah 43:7 and this is his ultimate aim in redemption as well. 

Keith, a little while ago you mentioned the first chapter of the book of Ephesians. This wonderful doxology is emphatic that God's purpose in redeeming us is the display and praise of His glory. In verses 5 and 6 we read: "....he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace...." Again in verse 12, Paul gives the reason for God's choosing us: "so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory." Finally in verse 14, the apostle says that our redemption is "to the praise of his glory." 

If I may, though, I'd like to return to something John said earlier.

KP: Please do.

PH: Thank you. John suggested that my reason for believing in specific sovereignty has to do with the imbibing of extrabiblical philosophical categories. That's not the case. I'm not beginning with some abstract idea of the most perfect being and superimposing it on the Scriptures. My reason for believing as I do about the relationship between God and the world is that I can't make sense of much of the biblical narrative given the model that John is proposing. There are a number of biblical accounts in which human agents make uncoerced decisions for which they are held morally responsible although the divine intention is offered as the ultimate cause for their actions. Moses says the reason that Sihon, King of Heshbon was unwilling to allow the Israelites to pass through is land was because "the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your had, as he is this day" (Deut. 2:30).Those cities which refused to make peace treaties with Joshua, acted as they did, according to Joshua 11:20, "For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction." Eli's' wicked sons refused to heed his rebuke concerning their immoral behavior "....for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death" (1 Samuel 2:25). 

John does not even acknowledge these references in his book and I imagine the reason for such an omission is because they are completely unintelligible in terms of the kind of freedom he insists we have. However, all of these are perfectly consistent with compatibilism and it is because of biblical data such as these that I hold the view I do.

JS: Paul, it wasn't my intent to provide an exhaustive biblical exegesis of every relevant text. I did acknowledge what I consider a problematic text for my position, namely God's inciting David to number Israel and then punishing him for it. That's in note 170 on page 298.

PH: Yes, I recall reading that but you failed to offer any explanation as to how that is at all compatible with your indeterminism.

JS: I'll have to give some more thought to that as well as the other passages you cited.

KP: Related to that, Dr. Sanders, I had a question about your treatment of other passages that at first glance seem to teach that God's sovereignty extends to the acts of humans. I'm thinking about texts such as Proverbs 21:1 and 16:9. You call it "hermeneutical malpractice" to universalize particular statements like these, right?

JS: Yes. I think these have to be taken in context of the overall purpose of the book, which is to instruct in wisdom. God eagerly desires that his people not rely on their own understanding but that they rely on his wisdom and truth. Understood in light of the whole, all these verses are saying is that God gives direction and guidance to his people when they seek him for wisdom.

KP: OK, I can understand how a case might be made for that in the case of those verses, but what of verse 4 of Proverbs 16? It says, "The LORD works out everything for his own ends - even the wicked for a day of disaster." Now, the wicked wouldn't be seeking God for wisdom, would they?

JS: No, they wouldn't.

KP: Then how could God make sure that even they will accomplish his purpose?

JS: He can't. And I don't believe that the verse in question is intended to be understood as a blanket statement about God's control of the evil actions of people. Keep in mind that the book of Proverbs is filled with general principles and maxims, not all of which are to be taken as universal absolutes that are applicable in every particular situation. God cannot ensure that evil people will conform to his purposes but this is not a mar against him since it was his sovereign choice to create a world filled with authentically free, personal beings, capable of giving and receiving love, affecting, and being affected.

Though he can't guarantee that every little detail works out as he would like, God is nevertheless very wise and resourceful, adopting his plan in response to our actions - including our wicked actions.

KP: Thank you, Dr. Sanders.

Dr. Helm, I have a question for you. If, in fact, God exercises meticulous control over all that he has made, then doesn't it follow that even the intentions and motives of men's hearts are directed by him? And if so, is it really fair or just to hold people responsible for desires and intentions that have their ultimate cause in God? I see the force of the biblical case you make for compatibilism yet there's something that still doesn't sit right with me. Take Isaiah 10:15-19, for example. Here, God says that he has sent Assyria against Israel for her ungodliness but he also pronounces woe on Assyria's king because he didn't intend to serve God but rather sought only to destroy Israel for his own gain. Now, if what you're saying is true, isn't it also true that the king's intentions were under God's control?

JS: Exactly my point! If God controls everything that happens, then nothing can thwart his will. He gets everything He wants and there is no reason for him to be angry. Paul's view leads to the logical conclusion that God intends sin and is therefore not fundamentally opposed to it - a blasphemous thought! Furthermore, this kind of doctrine suggests disunity between the members of the Trinity. If God, the Father, actually intended the sin and disobedience that exists in the world and made sure that it was actualized, then Jesus has come into the world to clean up after what his Father wanted to happen.

To be continued....