Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Brief: Left Behind

Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last DaysLeft Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days by Tim LaHaye
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Certain types of evangelicals look down on the Left Behind series, and I suspect that this is mainly due to the eschatology that the books assume. The series operates with a very specific and detailed viewpoint on the end-times: pretribulational premillenialism, which is really just one of about four major eschatological viewpoints. So if you happen to hold to a different viewpoint than the one that’s assumed in Left Behind, then you might be inclined to disparage the books as a load of hogwash.

And that’s fine as far as it goes. It’s okay to disagree with the eschatology that the series assumes. But that doesn’t mean you have to think they’re bad stories.

If you’re going to criticize the series, at least know what it is that you’re criticizing. Sometimes the quality of the writing itself is belittled, as if it’s poorly crafted fiction. But personally, I don’t buy that. My impression is that Jerry Jenkins did most of the story-telling legwork, and I think he did a good job with it. The narrative was interesting. The action was entertaining. The characters were believable. And the dialogue was many times enjoyable.

Jenkins and Lahaye took their own eschatological belief system (debatable as it is), and they imagined what the real-world implications would be if such events were to actually occur. Then they crafted an interesting story around that premise. And I just think that’s pretty cool. It also makes me wonder: Are there any postmillenialists out there who are creative enough to do something similar with their own eschatological viewpoint?

Moreover, the characters’ experiences and circumstances are in many ways relevant to believers in general, regardless of what your eschatology might be. Rayford Steele is desperate for his daughter to come to Christ, but he wrestles inwardly about coming off too pushy. A number of characters struggle with the truth because of how unpopular it is, or how crazy it sounds. And that kind of stuff resonates with the average believer.

So maybe you don’t believe that the last days will shake out exactly as the Left Behind books assume they will. But if nothing else, you could read the series as an extended parable. I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading the other books, but I at least had fun with this first one.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Brief: The Twilight Zone Companion

The Twilight Zone CompanionThe Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this. It gives summaries, production notes, and background info for every TZ episode. Rod Serling was an interesting guy.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Brief: Twice-Told Tales

Twice-Told TalesTwice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't always riveted by the stories. Some of them are just descriptive sketches of nature and such. But I can't imagine anyone having a greater command of the English language than Hawthorne. He crafts so many wonderful sentences and expressions. Truly a master.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Like Classroom Talk

I’ve already stated, in no uncertain terms, that Trump’s crass conversation about women — what he refers to as his “locker-room talk” — was depraved and inexcusable. But I have to confess that I’m a little bit incredulous to the people I’ve been seeing on Twitter who make as if comments like those are actually not locker-room talk; as if they’re in fact abnormal or something. I find that extremely naive.

Just today I was a substitute at the local high school, where right there in the classroom I had to reprimand a group of otherwise decent girls for singing Afroman’s “Colt 45” word-for-word for all to hear. I would say look it up, but you probably shouldn’t. Trump’s remarks are tame by comparison.

There’s Twitter world, and then there’s the real world.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Another Trump Post

First, I have a comment on the politics of what happened Friday. On the one hand, a video surfaced that showed Trump making crass remarks about women. On the other hand, something came out about Hillary saying that politicians need to have both a private and a public opinion. And both of these things came out on the same day, just two days prior to the second presidential debate. This is all part of the political game that’s being played.

Personally, I think Trump’s apology was a political apology more than anything. I suppose it might have been sincere to a degree, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Trump continued to talk and behave this way in private settings.

It does puzzle me that many people act as if these remarks somehow add something new to what we know about Trump. But it’s not really surprising that Trump made unguarded comments like these in a private setting eleven years ago, when the prospect of running for president likely wasn’t even on his radar. Frankly, I’m a little bit surprised there aren’t more videos out there like this one (although thirty days is a long time). My point is that we already knew Trump was crass. We already knew he said offensive things about women. We already knew he was sexually promiscuous, if not now then in the past. And those things are just as morally reprehensible as they’ve always been.

As is often the case, however, some of the mud that’s been slung does need to be cleared away. A lot of people are describing this latest disgrace in terms of “abuse” or “assault” on Trump’s part — some are even referring to him as a predator — but that’s not a very honest assessment. Trump’s comments were obviously derogatory, but speaking crassly about women to your guy friends in private is not the same thing as abusing or assaulting them.

Furthermore, Trump’s remarks make it pretty clear that he was speaking about women who let him make such advances. In our cultural crusade to denounce anything and everything that might possibly be perceived as misogyny, we sometimes forget that women are themselves more than capable of being perfectly wicked. And I don’t doubt for a second that Trump has been involved with those sorts of women — married ones even — who gladly allowed him to do whatever he wanted, just like he described. My only point in saying this is that those kinds of situations ought not be called abuse or assault. That’s just consensual depravity.

It is depravity nonetheless. Which is why my vote in this election, more so than in any other, truly does feel like a choice between the lesser of two evils. At the same time, the release of this video doesn’t magically make an illogical inference logical. As I observe the reactions of never-Trumpers, the reasoning appears to be the same as it’s always been: if Trump is sexually immoral, then that means he wouldn’t do anything good for the country as president. And I’m running out of ways to express how manifestly illogical that is.

But for other never-Trumpers, I think this is simply a matter of being principially unwilling to vote for someone who has bad character, even if that person would do wonderful things on all the issues that Christians care about. Doug Wilson exemplifies this perspective in a post he wrote a couple weeks ago (scroll down to the last several paragraphs). With people like Wilson (assuming I’m reading him correctly), I don’t have to waste my breath trying to establish that Trump is likely to aid the pro-life cause, because Wilson still wouldn’t vote for Trump even if it were virtually certain that he would do wonderful things for the unborn. That’s a breathtaking admission, but I appreciate the fact that Wilson is honest about it (again, assuming I’m reading him correctly).

I do want to try and avoid saying the same things that I’ve said many times before, so let me offer a thought that I don’t think I’ve fielded yet. When it comes to this thing called voting, I think it stands to reason that a person’s vote means whatever he says it means. For example, when I voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, it was my prerogative as a voter to determine that my vote was not an endorsement of his Mormonism. And by the same token, when I vote for Donald Trump, it’s my prerogative as a voter to determine that my vote is by no means an endorsement of his personal immorality. And get this: since I say that my vote is not an endorsement of his immorality, that means (like, by definition) that it isn’t. So all of the never-Trumpers who keep saying “You vote for him, therefore you endorse his character” really need to put a sock in it. You don’t determine what other people’s votes mean.

Along the same lines, a lot of never-Trump evangelicals are stressing out about Christians “losing their witness” by voting for Trump. But this falsely assumes that a vote amounts to condoning everything a candidate has ever said or done. Votes have never meant that. Why have they suddenly started meaning that now?

I recently made a comment on Twitter in regards to so-called “principled” voting, and a friend of mine said it was compelling and deserved to be elaborated on. So that’s what I’d like to do now.

In my experience, some of the people who care the most about “principled” voting also speak of their vote as a protest. They say that a principled vote — for a third party or whoever — is a way of letting the government know that we’re not going to be bullied into voting for the lesser of two evils. And the idea, I assume, is that a large number of principled votes will perhaps in some measure motivate politicians to straighten up and be less evil. But that rationale is itself pragmatic to a degree, and not purely principled. If you’re truly committed to a pure-principle standard of voting, then you ought to vote that way regardless of whether anyone ever sees or takes note of who you voted for.

Moreover, it seems to me that regardless of what names end up on the ballot, there would virtually always be someone else out there who better aligns with your personal principles. So here’s my question to anyone who’s planning to vote third-party out of a stated commitment to vote their principles: Is there really no one else in the entire world whom you think would be a better candidate than the third-party guy you’re voting for? And if there is someone else out there who aligns more with your views, then wouldn’t a pure-principle standard require you to write that person in?

The rest of this post will be a running commentary on some of the things I’ve seen on Twitter over the past couple days. First is this comment from David French:
Honestly, pro-Trump evangelicals, in future elections don’t try to argue that character matters. Just don’t.
Character matters just as much as it always has. But for French, character doesn’t even matter enough for him to do what he can to help the candidate with the least atrocious character get into office. For anyone who’s thinking realistically, this is a binary election. You have two choices. Barring an act of God, the winner of this election is going to be either Trump or Hillary. This being the case, you can’t talk about Trump’s character without comparing it to Hillary’s.

It seems to me that, for some reason, we’ve practically limited the concept of character to matters of truth-telling, personal manners, and sexual conduct. But am I being crazy to suggest that if someone promotes and celebrates the systematic destruction of millions of babies, then that kind of amounts to a character problem, and a rather severe one at that? Why does it feel like abortion has become so taken for granted in our society that individuals who promote such atrocities can still be viewed, even by Christians, as having decent character?

What is more, not only does Hillary’s abortion-consecration amount to a severe character problem, but it’s also the kind of problem that will have a direct and massive impact on the nation as a whole — far more so in my judgment than would Trump’s character problems. So as admittedly repulsive as Trump’s character is, I still feel obligated to vote for him. Because it’s a vote against Hillary, whose character I find to be not only more atrocious, but also far more dangerous to the nation.
@LoveLifeLitGod (Karen Swallow Prior)
A winning election for abortion either way. With one candidate you get supply. With the other, demand.
Never-Trumpers are fond of punchy one-liners that have the appearance of wisdom, but are actually quite simplistic and unhelpful. It’s true that sexual immorality and the abortion industry are interrelated on a macro level. But again, Hillary’s radically pro-abortion values would directly impact the direction in which she takes the country on that issue, and I simply can’t see how Trump’s personal immorality, repulsive as it is, could have the same impact. The vast majority of pro-choice voters are backing Hillary for a reason, and it’s because her election would be a palpable victory for abortion as opposed to a conceptual, ethereal, or theoretical one.
@drmoore (Russell Moore)
The damage done to the gospel this year, by so-called evangelicals, will take longer to recover from than the ‘80s TV evangelist scandals.
Moore has been unimpressive to me lately, but even for him this was a surprising statement. Does he really think the gospel is so weak as to be seriously damaged, or damaged at all really, by this stupid election? Talk about dramatic.

Perhaps Moore only means to say that the church’s witness will be damaged. I still say that’s dramatic. But if the church’s witness (at least its witness at the politico-national level, where Moore resides) is damaged at all, it won’t be due to the fact that many Christians chose to (begrudgingly) vote for Trump. Rather, it’ll be because of the Christian leaders who have admittedly been far more gung-ho for Trump than they ought to be. I readily grant that people like Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson have gone off the deep end in trying to paint Trump as a baby Christian. That really needs to stop.
If you have a daughter and plan on voting for Trump then you should listen to that audio with them and explain to them why you are able to
That would be the easiest conversation ever. The opposing candidate wants America to keep killing millions of babies.
It is now time for Donald Trump to step aside and let Mike Pence be the Republican nominee. It would be a delight to support Pence.
A lot of people seem to be calling for this, but I don’t see it happening. I like Pence a lot, and would obviously vote for him gladly. But I do wonder what effect that would have on electability. Would Pence be able to beat Hillary? If that isn’t likely, then Trump should stay put.

One concluding thought: As I consider the policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and as I read the party platform that they represent, it seems obvious to me that they are most likely, considering the opposition, to take our country in the right direction. So I have no problem giving them my vote, because I want to see that happen.

But let the record show that I think it’s certainly possible Trump would be a disaster as president. And just for fun, let’s imagine that’s what happens. Let’s imagine that he wins the presidency, keeps none of his promises, and basically takes the nation down the same path that Hillary would have. Even if that were to happen, I’d still feel that I had good cause to vote for him, based on the knowledge that I had at the time.

And down the road, if an unbeliever ever says to me, “I don’t want your Christianity if you voted for Trump,” then I’ll just know that I’m talking to a supremely unreasonable person.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Trump Talk with Jared Wilson

Twitter is an odd thing to me. It seems as if all the people who care the most about expressing their opinions on controversial issues decided to pick the social media platform that is least suited to that end. Sometimes we’ll see people stringing together ten tweets in order to make a single point, which is odd. Why not just let us type more than 140 characters? For all of the hate that Facebook gets, it’s vastly superior to Twitter in this regard.

Nevertheless, the other night, I gave in to one of those irksome retweets that occasionally find their way into my feed through some friends of mine. It was this tweet from Jared Wilson:
The moral contortions evangelicals are doing to demonize HRC while defending Trump are breathtaking. The butt fumble of political discourse
There’s nothing particularly unique about this tweet. It’s pretty much par for the never-Trump course. It’s just that sometimes all of the anti-Trump rhetoric reaches a breaking point, where I can’t seem to resist the urge to fire back. And that’s what this tweet happened to be for me. I’ve already said that Twitter isn’t built for thoughtful dialogue, and the debate that ensued between myself and Wilson proved no exception. So I’m writing this post in order to say everything that I wanted to say during that exchange.

Here’s the first part of our exchange:
@jaredcwilson Trump’s flaws don’t even begin to compare with Hillary’s evil. This choice is not the least bit difficult.
@JoelGriffis You’re right. And it begins with soberly realizing that Trump’s “flaws” are equally evil.
@jaredcwilson Please write a blog post explaining how Trump’s flaws are just as evil as promoting and celebrating infanticide. Please.
So my request was for Wilson to explain how Trump is just as bad as Hillary. And I was looking for some detailed and thoughtful ethical comparisons. So Wilson linked me to a post he wrote back in June. In that post, he repeatedly asserts, in variously smug ways, that Trump is just as bad as Hillary and that evangelicals who vote for him are morally compromised. So of course, I was still left with my original question: How is Trump just as bad as Hillary?
@jaredcwilson That’s just a frustrated rant. You make the same assertion in half a dozen different ways. It doesn’t answer my question. 
@JoelGriffis If you are familiar with Trump’s career and lifestyle and cannot call it evil, I’m sure I can’t help you.
I’m perfectly willing to say that Trump is evil. That’s the whole point of voting for the lesser of two evils. But the reason I tend to refer to Trump’s problems as “flaws,” and Hillary’s problems as “evil,” is because I think there’s a vast difference between the two as it relates to their potential roles as president, and I want that to be reflected in the language that I use. Wilson, on the other hand, likes to simplistically refer to both Hillary and Trump as “evil,” without any distinction of language, because that plays better into his insistence that Trump and Hillary are equally evil. But that’s the whole debate.
@jaredcwilson You can’t seriously place “race-baiting” alongside abortion-celebrating. Wake up man. 
@JoelGriffis His serial adultery, pornography, *and* ambiguous abortion views are very much on par. I am awake. You’re a relativist
To give some context to these remarks, let me quote something Wilson said in his June post:
“You want me to avoid the race-baiting, womanizing, greedy and boorish dullard by voting for the abortion-consecrating, national security-compromising, rapist-supporting liar? Or vice-a versa? No.”
It truly does surprise me that when Wilson wrote this sentence it didn’t hit him like a ton of bricks just how vastly more egregious Hillary’s flaws are than Trump’s. And that’s even assuming the ones he listed for Trump are accurate, though I don’t think all of them are. I’m afraid the whole race-baiting thing is something I just can’t take seriously. Boorish means he’s bad-mannered, which Wilson apparently thinks is morally comparable to abortion-consecrating. And to call Trump a dullard – a stupid person – is absurd. You don’t become a billionaire by being stupid. Lacking personal morals and manners is not the same thing as lacking intelligence. Trump is far more intelligent than the majority of his critics.

Note also that Wilson called me a relativist, which I found odd. A relativist is someone who thinks that moral laws are subjective; that what’s immoral for one person may not be immoral for someone else. But where did I even vaguely communicate such an idea? Trump’s womanizing is just as morally reprehensible as anyone else’s womanizing. But if you’re accusing me of thinking that there are in fact degrees of sin, and that some sins are more relevant to the task of presidency than others, then I’m happily guilty as charged. Only that’s not relativism.
@jaredcwilson But they’re not on par at all. How can that be obvious to you? 
@JoelGriffis Unsurprised it’s not obvious to you. He’s GOP, ergo his evil gets a pass. Porn/adultery directly related to abortion culture
Wilson truly went out on a limb insinuating that I’m a blind follower of the GOP. I couldn’t care less about the GOP as such. But I do pay enough attention to notice that the GOP consistently produces the most conservative electable candidate, so that’s the candidate I vote for. But if Hades freezes over one day, and the democrats produce that candidate, then I’ll gladly abandon the GOP.

Wilson does make a decent point about the inter-relatedness of sexual immorality and abortion culture. I’ll readily agree that those two issues, generally conceived, are related on a macro level. Although I’m not sure we can say definitively which problem facilitates the other. Does sexual immorality facilitate abortion culture, or does abortion culture facilitate sexual immorality? Be that as it may, it seems obvious to me that Trump’s personal promiscuity, while morally reprehensible, is not a direct contributor to the institutional slaughter of millions of unborn babies. But Hillary’s personal “abortion-consecrating” values, on the other hand, would be a direct contributor if she became president.
@jaredcwilson Don’t give a rip about the GOP. I’m after the candidate who will do better things for our country, and its unborned citizens. [edit: unborn, lol]
@JoelGriffis If you’re convinced that’s Trump, like I said, I can’t help you. Too many wrong paradigms leading to that relativistic choice
The “paradigms” leading me to conclude that Trump would aid the pro-life cause are the same “paradigms” leading me to conclude that Hillary would hinder it. Is Wilson even sure that Hillary is pro-abortion? If so, how does he know that? Is it not based on what Hillary says and does? What else does he have to go on?

Someone else in the Twitter conservation made the oft-repeated point that Trump described himself as pro-choice in 1999, which should make us suspicious. But what kind of sense does it make to assume that someone is probably not pro-life today if he was pro-choice 17 years ago? By the same logic, we can’t be too sure that Hillary supports gay marriage today, because at one time (very recently actually) she didn’t support it.
@JoelGriffis There is zero evidence to point to Trump as pro-life and a lot that points the other way. Racism, misogyny are pro-death too
Let’s review some of the evidence that Wilson says isn’t evidence: Trump picked an unquestionably pro-life vice president in Mike Pence. Trump has repeatedly vowed to appoint conservative, pro-life, Scalia-like justices to the Supreme Court, and has released a list of potential appointees showing that he knows what kind of people to look for. Trump has repeatedly denounced the horrors of Planned Parenthood, and has consistently supported defunding the organization. Trump also created a pro-life coalition within his campaign, headed up by Marjorie Dannenfelser and a number of additional pro-life leaders. In light of all this, it’s no surprise that pro-life organizations keep endorsing Trump. He has even caused fear and trepidation within the pro-choice camp, who seem to be taking him far more seriously on this issue than they’ve taken previous GOP candidates.

So I have to confess that if people like Wilson continue to insist that none of this stuff really counts as evidence that Trump will aid – or will even likely aid – the pro-life cause, then I’m not sure what else to say. The commitment to #NeverTrump seems to have reached a level that’s impossible to reason with.

I hesitate to comment on Wilson’s remark about racism and misogyny, because I find it so completely unfounded. If Trump were a racist, why are there a large number of black people who don’t think that’s true? Why doesn’t Ben Carson think that? David Clarke? Perhaps Don King is a little off the wall, but what about all those other people in that black church? Why don’t any of these individuals think that Trump is a racist? I would submit that it’s probably because Trump is actually not a racist, and that the people who view him as such have an extraordinarily poor understanding of what racism actually is.

And I would say the same as it relates to misogyny. Trump has certainly been nasty to a number of his female critics, but he isn’t any more or less nasty with his female critics than he is with his male critics. There’s no reason to think that he harbors some kind of particular animosity toward women in general.

But here’s the fundamental problem with Wilson’s remark in my mind: It’s one thing to maintain, for bad reasons, that Trump is a racist and a misogynist; but it’s another level of absurd to claim those problems are as equally life-destroying as the pro-death policies that are explicitly written in to the party platform that Hillary proudly represents. I simply can’t take that seriously.

Another stream of the debate went like this:
@JoelGriffis I for one cannot bend biblical morality to fit my preferred political party. 
@jaredcwilson David and Solomon were womanizers who were celebrated in their role as kings. 
@JoelGriffis Oh brother. Now he’s King David. Evangelicals have lost their minds, traded in morality for political soup
With what little bit of a mind I’ve got left, I’d like to respond to this. Wilson made as if I was claiming Trump would be the next king David, as if I was saying Trump is a man after God’s own heart or something, which I obviously wasn’t saying. I was pointing out that if Wilson wants to present himself as a champion of the Bible’s civil leadership standards, then he should probably pay attention to the fact that a number of celebrated kings in the Bible were womanizers to a degree that makes Trump look like a one-woman man.

Wilson’s correct in that the Bible makes no excuses whatsoever for their immorality, but it does celebrate them in their role as kings. So if a womanizer could be a good king (who has total power) in Old Testament Israel, where godliness was far more expected of the leadership; then surely a womanizer could be a good president (who has limited power) in these pagan United States, where godliness has virtually no place in the political realm.

To give a more modern example of the same kind of thing: I suspect that most people would speak positively about the presidency of JFK, even though by all accounts he was a serial adulterer. As morally inexcusable as his adultery was, it didn’t keep him from being an effective president who did good things for the country.

And once again, none of this is said in order to excuse womanizing even a little bit.
@jaredcwilson Why are you shallowly deflecting my point? I didn’t say he was David. I said womanizers can be good kings. It’s in the Bible. 
@JoelGriffis You are the one who calls such things “flaws.” The Bible calls it evil. David was a murderer too, so I guess HRC is exonerated
So if David was also a murderer, then maybe Hillary gets a pass too? That’s a fair reductio, although I’d say an isolated instance of purposefully facilitating the death of a military commander by means of a particular battle formation (evil as that is) hardly compares to authorizing and celebrating nation-wide policies that lead to the destruction of millions of babies. I’ll let the point stand regardless.

It was Wilson who wanted to paint himself as the one who’s being most faithful to the Bible, so I simply offered a biblical consideration. But all he did was run a reductio on it, like I was being silly to talk about biblical kings and such. So I guess all I’ll say is that if Wilson doesn’t think biblical civil leaders are relevant to a debate concerning the Bible’s view of . . . civil leaders, then that’s fine. Let’s talk about some other part of the Bible that Wilson thinks is relevant. (And I’m only being a little bit facetious, because I do think it’s reasonable to question the relevance of Old Testament monarchy to our present-day American experience.)

Let me try to make some concluding remarks now.

I’ve said often that Trump’s promiscuity is easily the most regrettable thing about him for me, and it’s something for which he should be deeply ashamed. But as the old saying goes, I’m voting for a president, not a pastor. And despite how much scorn has been heaped up against that sentiment during this election cycle, it remains a perfectly valid consideration. Your auto-mechanic can do a fine job fixing your car regardless of what his personal morality looks like.

I anticipate that here someone might respond by saying that the president’s job is much different than the auto-mechanic’s. It’s the kind of job where character really matters. I think that’s a fair point, and very true to an extent. But let’s chase that thought further.

What kind of character matters? Would never-Trump evangelicals be willing to vote for a candidate who was not a Christian? I assume that most of them would say yes. But what does a candidate’s unbelief say about his character? Well, he presumably is someone who thinks he has no need for Jesus, so he’s self-righteous and prideful to some degree. That’s a character flaw. But is it the kind of character flaw that matters? If not, then what kind of character flaw does matter?

To bring it right down to the point: Which one of Trump’s character flaws will render him incapable of putting policies into place that are going to be good for the country as a whole? How will sexual immorality, for instance, keep him from being able to defund Planned Parenthood, or reform immigration, or fix the economy, or keep the nation secure? Do that math for everyone, and show your work.

But now let’s see if there are anywhere near as many steps in the math when it comes to Hillary and her flaws. Wilson described Hillary as “national security-compromising.” So how will Hillary’s tendency to compromise national security keep her from being able to maintain national security? You see how the question sounds silly, because it basically answers itself? You see how there’s a direction correlation between Hillary’s flaw and her role as president?

And how will Hillary’s consecration of abortion keep her from being able to fight against abortion? Once again, no math required. The question answers itself, because there’s a direct correlation between Hillary’s flaw and her role as president. Only this time, it really is wildly inappropriate to use the term “flaw,” because we’re talking about the destruction of millions of unborn lives.

A good friend of mine recently told me that he can’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump, because he would view such a vote as an endorsement of Trump’s character. But if you vote for a non-Christian, is your vote an endorsement of their unbelief? If you voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, was your vote an endorsement of his Mormonism? If you voted for George Bush or John McCain, did that mean you endorsed everything they supported? Did it mean you endorsed everything they ever said or did? If not, then why does voting for Trump have to be seen as an endorsement of his personal character? Why are only certain kinds of flaws, and not others, seen as being practically endorsed by a vote?

Regardless of how these questions get answered, at the end of the day, if my friend simply can’t vote for Trump in good conscience, because he would view his vote as an endorsement of Trump’s character, then I sincerely respect that. I do wish he thought differently, but I’m perfectly willing to respect his conscience in the matter, and I have no intention of demonizing him. And I feel confident that this friend would say the same back to me. That’s the kind of #NeverTrump I can live with.

But speaking for myself, my conscience refuses to let me sit this election out, when I’ve been privileged with a vote that can help put someone in office who will be far more likely to make this country even just a little bit safer for its unborn citizens. My conscience also refuses to let me sit this election out in a different way by voting for a candidate who has about as much chance of winning as my grandma does.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

All Things in Moderation

Al Mohler has a lot of good things to say on today’s Briefing about last night’s presidential debate. But I don’t agree with what he says about Lester Holt’s moderation. To paraphrase Mohler, it’s true that Holt was not a neutral and objective moderator; but we shouldn’t fault him too quickly, because no individual is truly neutral and objective.

Now in one sense, that’s very true. No individual is perfectly neutral about anything. But I don’t think this acknowledgement should cause us to wave off the fact that Holt was blatantly going after Trump in a way that he never even came close to doing with Hillary.

It shouldn’t be difficult for a moderator to refrain from rebutting or correcting a candidate during the course of a debate. That’s not his job any more than it is the job of a random studio audience member. The moderator’s job is to ask the questions and make sure everyone more-or-less sticks to their time limits. That’s it. He is not in any sense a participant in the debate itself.

So if one of the candidates says something that’s factually inaccurate, the moderator has no business correcting it. It’s the opponent’s job to point out such things, and our job as viewers to discern such things. (The moderator also shouldn’t even be drawing attention to the fact that a candidate hasn’t adequately answered a question, as was true of Trump several times.)

Moreover, Holt was “correcting” Trump about things that are so obviously subjective and disputable. For example, at one point, Trump stated that he had opposed the war in Iraq, to which Holt quickly responded, “The record shows otherwise.” Excuse me, Lester? First off, what exactly is this objective and omniscient “The Record” to which you are referring?

But the main problem with this is that it’s precisely the kind of thing that a debate moderator has no business doing, whether he be Lester Holt or Chris Wallace.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Impossible to Restore

Hebrews 6:4–6 is often associated with the perennial debate as to whether or not Christians can “lose” their salvation. Here’s that passage:

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”

To my knowledge, there are basically three views as to what exactly is going on in this passage, and each of them, in my assessment, has strengths and weaknesses.

The first view is, to an extent, the most straight-forward. It maintains that the people here spoken of are indeed true believers who are sincerely born again, and that they lose this salvation once they “have fallen away.”

But one of the main problems with this view is that those who hold to it typically believe that once a person has “lost” his salvation, he can still be saved again at some point in the future. In other words, he can still be restored. But that’s precisely what the passage says is impossible. So whoever wants to maintain this first view needs to make sure they’re willing to stand toe-to-toe with everything that the passage says.

The second view argues that the people in view in this passage are those who outwardly appear to be believers, but are not in fact true believers. Those who hold this view are thus faced with the task of explaining the numerous ways in which these supposed non-believers are described in the passage. These are people who have been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, have shared in the Holy Spirit, have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and have experienced the powers of the age to come. Yet for all this, these people are not truly born again, according to proponents of this view.

Being enlightened is said to refer to the general sense in which every man is enlightened by the incarnation of Christ and the message of the gospel (John 1:9). Tasting the heavenly gift might refer to participation in the Lord’s supper, or to an acceptance of salvation in a general sense. But the notion of “tasting” indicates a very momentary and fleeting experience, rather than something deep and heart-felt. Sharing in the Holy Spirit might simply refer to a close proximity with the Spirit through participation in corporate worship, and not necessarily an experience of regeneration. Tasting the goodness of the word of God might simply refer to hearing the preaching of the word, while experiencing the powers of the age to come could simply refer to the witnessing of miracles. And none of these experiences necessarily indicates that a person is truly born again.

One initial weakness in this view is that it seems to fight against a face-value reading of the passage. This isn’t a critical flaw, since face-value interpretations aren’t always best, but it’s at least noteworthy. Yet this view has a greater problem, in my judgment. If the people spoken of are not truly born again, then why does the passage say that it’s impossible to restore them? Restore them to what? Restore them to something they never had to begin with? How does that make sense?

There’s a third view which might seem fanciful to some, but I think it deserves a place at the table. This view holds that the people spoken of in the passage are in fact true believers, but that their falling away is being presented as a hypothetical scenario, rather than something which might actually happen.

To draw an analogy, consider the way Paul talks in Galatians, when he says, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Here, Paul’s clearly not talking about something that might actually happen. He’s not telling the Galatians that an angel of heaven might actually preach to them a different gospel. Rather, he’s presenting this as a hypothetical scenario in order to make a strong point about something else, namely their commitment to the true gospel.

A similar rhetorical technique could be happening in Hebrews 6. When the writer speaks about true believers falling away, he’s not presenting this as something that might actually happen. Rather, he’s presenting this as a hypothetical scenario in order to make a strong point about something else, namely the finality of Christ’s work on the cross. Which is why the writer goes on to say, “they are crucifying once again the Son of God.” If someone truly becomes a partaker in the salvation that Christ purchased on the cross, and then somehow removes themselves from that salvation, then there’s no possible way to be saved again, as that would require Jesus to be crucified all over again, which is absurd.

Like I said earlier, I think each view has strengths and weaknesses. But as for my own perspective, I tend to be pulled back-and-forth between the second and third views. Just depends on the day of the week.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

On Trump and Conscience-Voting

Andy Naselli wrote a widely-circulated article about Trump a few months ago. Reading through it sparked a lot of thoughts and responses in my mind, so I figured I would put them down in writing.
“If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States, can you vote for him with a clear conscience?”
Yes. In fact, it’s the only thing I can do this November with a clear conscience.
“Here’s how I am currently thinking through that question as an evangelical theology professor who just coauthored a book on the conscience and the Christian.”
Not to make mountains out of molehills, but I find it really funny when people feel the need to introduce their arguments in this way. Grudem does the same kind of thing in his article: “As a professor who has taught Christian ethics for 39 years, I think their analysis is incorrect.” So I guess I’ll follow suit, just for fun: As a seminary graduate, supply preacher, and substitute school teacher, here’s my take on the matter.
“Trump publicly brags about committing adultery.”
That’s true, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. This is easily the most regrettable thing about Trump for me. It’s depraved and shameful.

But we still have to ask the question: Does a president need to be a faithful one-woman-man in order to enact policies that are going to be good for the country? Why? What’s the logical connection there? Take Jack Kennedy for example. He was by all accounts a serial adulterer, but most people would still affirm that he was the right man for the job, and that he was good for the country. Does Kennedy’s adultery somehow nullify the ways in which he was able to better the country as president? Do we now have to pretend like he didn’t do good things? Why?

Again, this isn’t about whether or not adultery is morally excusable. It isn’t, and it ought to be denounced in the strongest terms. But the question here is to what degree something like adultery should impact our assessment of a man’s ability to be an effective president. Which job that Trump would have as president requires him to be a faithful one-woman man?
“Trump mocks and disrespects people—women, the disabled, even prisoners of war.”
Does Trump disrespect women? Naselli makes it seem like Trump has a unique animosity toward women in general, but there’s no real reason to think that. Trump has certainly attacked particular women (Rosie O’Donnell, Lena Dunham, Hillary, etc). But he’s attacked plenty of men just as fiercely. Trump doesn’t attack women any more than he attacks men.

Does Trump mock the disabled? Personally, I think this one is difficult to buy. I assume that Naselli’s referring to the moment in a South Carolina rally speech where Trump waves and shakes his arms in imitation of Serge Kovaleski, a reporter who had been trying to back-peddle something he wrote years ago. But consider a few things:

(1) Trump later said that he had never seen the reporter about which he was speaking. Obviously that could have just been a lie to cover up his mistake, but it’s at least worth noting that he claimed to have no knowledge of what Kovaleski looks like. It’s true that just before Trump made the arm motions, he said, “You gotta see this guy.” But I think in context that can reasonably be taken to mean, “You gotta see what this guy is saying now.”

(2) And when you think about it, doesn’t it honestly seem likely that Trump wouldn’t have known what Kovaleski looks like? Of all the news articles you’ve ever read, how many were authored by people whose physical appearance you would recognize? I would venture to say not many. Kovaleski does claim to have been personally acquainted with Trump back in the 80s, but given the number of reporters that Trump deals with on a daily basis, you can’t seriously expect him to remember one guy from 30+ years ago.

(3) Trump was waving and shaking his arms erratically, but from what I can tell, Kovaleski doesn’t move his arms at all. A freeze-framed photo was circulated that shows Trump’s arm positioned in a way that looks similar to Kovaleski’s. But that’s just a cheap media trick.

(4) Moreover, the motions that Trump was making are a typical way of representing someone who’s nervously trying to explain themselves after being cornered. And Trump has done the same sort of thing on other occasions as well. This video shows some examples.

The third example in that video (when he’s mimicking Cruz) is taken from a rally that happened a few months after the rally where Trump had allegedly mocked Kovaleski. So that particular instance could have been a tactical move on Trump’s part. But I think it at least shows that those same arm motions can naturally be used to imitate anyone who’s nervously trying to defend themselves.

All of this to say, I don’t think Naselli is warranted in stating that Trump mocks the disabled, as if that were an indisputable fact or something.

Does Trump disrespect prisoners of war? This is in reference to Trump’s feud with John McCain, during which Trump apparently said, “I like people who weren’t captured.” There isn’t really an excuse for this. It was a moment of poor judgment on Trump’s part. I think he let the heat of the feud get to him and resorted to a cheap shot.

I will say that I think it’s a bit naive to expect a politician to flatly admit to his mistakes and beg for forgiveness. So of course Trump tried to paper over his comments and make it seem like he never said what he said. That’s not admirable, but it’s standard fare in the world of politics. It’s certainly not a flaw that’s unique to Trump.
“Trump lacks a pro-life record.”
Naselli doesn’t elaborate on this statement himself, but he links to a National Review article by Lisa Smiley that lists out several reasons for thinking that Trump is not really pro-life. Here are some of the points made in that article:
Smiley: “In 1999, Trump described himself as ‘very pro-choice.’”
Okay? So you can’t be pro-life in 2016 if you were pro-choice in 1999? What kind of sense does that make?
Smiley: “Yet Trump has said his extremist, pro-abortion sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, would make a ‘phenomenal’ justice. . . . Of course, he said a few months later that he’d have to rule her out now.”
Actually, he said both of those things in the very same interview, and in basically the same sentence. You can watch it here, around the 16:30 mark. Every time Trump has even mentioned this idea of his sister being a Supreme Court nominee, he has unequivocally dismissed it. This past February, he said, “My sister . . . also happens to have a little bit different views than me, but I said that in a very joking manner. But my sister obviously would not be the right person. It’s a conflict of interest for me.”
Smiley: “During this year’s March for Life, [Trump] was the only Republican candidate who said nothing about abortion.”
Assuming that’s true, it’s certainly something I would have liked to see from him. And perhaps it shows that he’s less enthusiastic about the pro-life cause than he ought to be. Trump admittedly focuses most of his energy on things other than abortion, and I think he probably cares more about his presidency being remembered for things like economic growth and military success. But that doesn’t mean he’s not pro-life, and won’t appoint pro-life justices. He’s already picked an unquestionably pro-life vice president in Mike Pence.
Smiley: “[Trump] has also gone on record saying he is for the status quo of funding Planned Parenthood as it is currently funded. Yet when he was forced to clarify his stance, he finally said he would sign a bill to defund it if he became president.”
That’s a wildly inaccurate representation of the facts. He didn’t praise Planned Parenthood one day and then “finally” agree later to defund it. At about the 3:40 mark of this interview, from all the way back in July of last year, Trump said that Planned Parenthood should “absolutely” be defunded, giving no qualifications. Later, in an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said this: “There’s two Planned Parenthood’s in a way. You have it as an abortion clinic — now that’s actually a fairly small part of what they do, but it’s a brutal part. . . . I’m totally against the abortion aspect of Planned Parenthood.”

Do I agree with Trump’s assessment of Planned Parenthood? No, of course not, and I wish he were a lot harder on the organization than he is. But I’m at least sensible enough to recognize that every time he does speak to this issue, he clearly repudiates Planned Parenthood’s practice of abortion and supports defunding that “aspect” of the organization. Now compare his outlook to Hillary’s.

Now I’m switching back to quoting Naselli’s article.
“[Trump] is no pro-lifer.”
Again, Naselli doesn’t elaborate. But he links to an article by Robert George, who argues that Trump gave himself away as a phony pro-lifer whenever he said that women who have illegal abortions should be punished. I’ve already responded to this incident here on the blog, and I think it was an extremely silly criticism of Trump that frankly shed light on the desperation of many within the never-Trump cause.

As a side note, consider that Robert George argues that Mitt Romney similarly gave himself away as a phony conservative whenever he described himself as “severely” conservative, because “no conservative would ever describe conservatism (or his own conservatism) as severe.” Talk about superficial.
“[Trump] can’t even defend the pro-life position.”
Here, Naselli links to a post by Denny Burk, who comments on a video of a Face the Nation interview with Trump. Here are my thoughts on that video, and the comments Trump made in it.

I’ll probably get laughed out of court for this first remark, but for what it’s worth, it’s really hard for me to bank very much on a video interview that shows so many obvious signs of having been edited. I’m not even trying to say that it was maliciously edited necessarily, but in order to accurately follow conversations like these, you really need to be sure that you’re hearing all that was said, and in the exact order that it was said. And this video gives me multiple reasons to doubt that that’s what we’re getting. But even if you think I’m grasping with this point, there are still other points to consider.

It’s important to keep in mind that in this interview, Trump was trying to clarify his earlier comments about illegal abortions being punishable. That’s why he was emphasizing the fact that the question he had been asked on that occasion (by Chris Matthews) pertained to a hypothetical scenario in which abortion is illegal. And it’s in that context that Trump clarifies his stance by saying, “The laws are set now on abortion, and that’s the way they’re going to remain until they’re changed.” What he’s doing is clarifying that he doesn’t believe women should be punished for abortions in the here and now, with the laws currently as they are.

Eventually, the interviewer asks Trump if there were any specific things about abortion law that he would like to change, to which Trump responded: “At this moment, the laws are set and I think we have to leave it that way.” Now, assuming this was precisely the way the Q&A transpired, I think Trump’s actually just dodging the interviewer’s real question and repeating the same line from earlier.  I think that for Trump, this whole interview was about defending himself against criticisms of his earlier remarks.

I do think it was a sloppy answer on Trump’s part, and he should have done better. But I don’t think that this by any means exposes him as a phony pro-lifer who won’t do anything to help the pro-life cause. Give me a break. He has repeatedly denounced abortion, repeatedly supported defunding Planned Parenthood, repeatedly affirmed that he would appoint pro-life justices, and has already picked a pro-life VP. Now compare that with Hillary.

Is Trump pro-life? I think he is, although he’s far more timid about it than I would like him to be. Yet in November, when I’m faced with a choice between someone who’s timidly pro-life and someone who’s radically pro-abortion, who should I choose? The question answers itself. It’s not even a little bit difficult for me.
“Trump is a demagogue. He appeals to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”
Aside from the fact that this is an extreme generalization, we’re talking about the world of politics here. What presidential candidate doesn’t seek to appeal to popular desires and prejudices? How often do you hear a rational argument come from any presidential candidate? It’s really surprising that Naselli and others find this to be a characteristic that’s unique to Trump.
“We cannot trust what [Trump] says because of his character.”
There is an internal tension in the never-Trump mindset. They insist that we can’t trust what Trump says. Unless of course, he says something damning – then we can trust what he says unquestionably. They go back-and-forth between “His word means nothing” and “Look, he said it himself!”
“He lacks sound principles and judgment. The only principle that Trump seems to follow is self-interest. Like the dwarves in The Last Battle, Trump is for Trump.”
That’s a completely subjective assessment that has no persuasive power.
“But what if the two most viable candidates are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? . . . Can the most viable candidates be so bad that you cannot dignify either of them with your vote?”
I think the disagreement between Christians over Trump has a lot to do with different understandings of what voting means. Here, Naselli describes a vote as a way of “dignifying” a candidate. But in November, I won’t be viewing my vote as a way of ascribing dignity to Trump as an individual. My vote is simply an indication of which candidate, given the options, I believe will do better things for the country. That’s all.
“If the two most viable candidates were Hitler and Stalin, would you feel obligated to vote for the lesser evil?”
Potentially, yes, assuming it was clearly discernible which one was a lesser evil. Although I find it completely ludicrous to compare Trump with Hitler or Stalin. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s a ludicrous comparison when it comes to Hillary.

Frankly, it puzzles me that a lot of evangelicals find it tacky to compare Hillary with Hitler. The Holocaust was obviously horrific, resulting in the deaths of somewhere between six and eleven million Jews. But how does that compare with the abortion industry, which is responsible for the deaths of 60 million babies since Roe vs. Wade? And this is something that Hillary and the Democrats celebrate. They would have that number continue to rise. When people find it tacky to compare Hillary with Hitler, it’s hard for me not to assume that they simply don’t think abortion is as horrendous as it actually is.

Furthermore, it’s odd that there are people who would be fine with comparing abortion to the Holocaust, but not comfortable with comparing someone like Hillary to Hitler. That doesn’t add up to me.
“The strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils breaks down at some point. You must draw the line somewhere.”
These are just empty assertions. The strategy itself assumes that there is a clearly discernible lesser of two evils. So why does the strategy break down at some point? Naselli is assuming what he needs to prove.
“Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore argues, ‘If a Christian doctor were forced to choose between performing abortions or assisting suicides, she could not choose the lesser of these two evils but must conscientiously object.’”
That analogy is patently ridiculous. Voting for Trump is nowhere near tantamount to performing abortions or assisting suicides. This goes back to what I said earlier about how the debate hinges on our different understandings of what a vote means. Your vote does not amount to complicity in anything evil that your candidate might do. This is why if Thabiti Anyabwile ends up voting for Hillary (heaven forbid), I would describe it as foolish, but not as complicity in abortion.
“But remember: It is a sin to violate your conscience—even if your conscience is mistaken. If your conscience tells you that it is wrong to vote for Donald Trump and you vote for him anyway, then you sinned. So unless you can vote for Donald Trump without your conscience condemning you, then you should not vote for him.”
To be honest, I find a lot of this talk about “conscience” to be supremely unhelpful. Naselli himself affirms that “conscience” can lead people in different directions. The Christians who are choosing to vote for Trump are doing so because they believe voting for Trump is the right thing to do in this situation. On the other hand, the Christians who are choosing not to vote for Trump are doing so because they believe voting for Trump is the wrong thing to do in this situation.

So how is it helpful to say, “Vote your conscience”? It’s tantamount to saying, “Just do what you feel is right.” But that isn’t consistent at all with the first part of Naselli’s article, where he was vigorously trying to persuade everyone that it’s wrong to vote for Donald Trump. Don’t say “vote your conscience” unless you truly mean it, because come November, that’s exactly what I and many other Christians will be doing when we go out and vote for Trump.

Now if I may speak candidly, I find that it’s the never-Trump camp who talks the most about “conscience,” and it often feels like they’re just trying to stake the moral high ground in the debate. I frequently get the impression that they’re employing the idea of conscience not as a sincere and friendly equalizer, but as a way of trying to underhandedly prick the consciences of Trump voters.

As a case in point, notice how Naselli only applies his conscience principle in the direction of those who would vote for Trump. He says, “If your conscience tells you that it is wrong to vote for Donald Trump and you vote for him anyway, then you sinned.” But if Naselli were consistent, he should be just as willing to affirm the reverse by saying, “If your conscience tells you that it is wrong to vote for anyone but Donald Trump, and you don’t vote for him, then you sinned.” But Naselli doesn’t apply his principle in that direction. His conscience rhetoric is only employed against Trump voters.
“It’s also worth thinking about how your conscience has worked in the past. Many conservatives argued in 1998 that the Lewinsky scandal disqualified Bill Clinton as president, but some of those same people are planning to vote for Trump. What changed?”
First off, see how Naselli keeps aiming his conscience rhetoric at Trump voters?

Second, the only thing that changed is the whole entire situation. Imagine that the situation back in 1998 had been that if Clinton were to resign, then another president would take over who was manifestly worse than Clinton on all the issues that Christians care about (abortion, religious liberty, etc). Don’t you think this might have changed the way Christians thought through Clinton’s resignation? And rightly so? And if that had been the situation, would people like Naselli have argued that Clinton should resign nevertheless? If not, then I think they should stop trying to castigate Trump voters with this shallow comparison.

Even Naselli himself admits to altering his own principles whenever a new situation presents new challenges. Earlier in the article, he said that he had always consistently voted according to Buckley’s rule (lesser of two evils) until this election, which has caused him to question Buckley’s rule. So we might ask Naselli, what changed? Well, the situation changed, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Answering Vines: Part 2

So it took me a little over a year to get around to this. Just to refresh your memory, Matthew Vines, an advocate of Christian homosexuality, wrote an article titled “40 Questions for Christians Who Oppose Marriage Equality.” I decided to write some responses to Vines’s questions, and you can read the first half of those responses here. Again, I’m not answering every single question; just the ones that particularly interested me.
“Do you believe that the Bible explicitly teaches that all gay Christians must be single and celibate for life?”
I believe that the Bible explicitly condemns the practice of homosexuality. The Bible doesn’t operate with the category of “gay Christian,” so obviously it wouldn’t explicitly teach that “gay Christians must be single and celibate for life.” But if the Bible explicitly condemns the practice of homosexuality (as it does), then it clearly follows that Christians who feel same-sex attraction must refrain from acting on those feelings.

This is not difficult logic. But Vines is trying to get a lot of mileage out of that word “explictly.” And you can excuse a lot of terrible things by claiming that the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid them.
“If not, do you feel comfortable affirming something that is not explicitly affirmed in the Bible?”
Yes, absolutely. And we do this all the time.
“Do you believe that the moral distinction between lust and love matters for LGBT people’s romantic relationships? Do you think that loving same-sex relationships should be assessed in the same way as the same-sex behavior Paul explicitly describes as lustful in Romans 1?”
My short answer (to the second question) is yes. But I’m mainly including these two questions for future reference. Because I’d like everyone to take note of the fact that, at this point, Vines wants us to understand that he’s advocating loving same-sex behavior, which in his mind is entirely different than the purely lustful same-sex behavior described in Romans 1.
“Do you believe that Paul’s use of the terms ‘shameful’ and ‘unnatural’ in Romans 1:26-27 means that all same-sex relationships are sinful?”
Yes. (This question is only asked in order to set up the next one.)
“Would you say the same about Paul’s description of long hair in men as ‘shameful’ and against ‘nature’ in 1 Corinthians 11:14, or would you say he was describing cultural norms of his time?”
I don’t think that Paul was describing cultural norms of his time in that passage either. So I do affirm that long hair on men (as well as short hair on women) is contrary to nature, but that doesn’t make those things morally equivalent to homosexuality. Homosexual practice is regularly and severely condemned in ways that unnatural hair-length is not.

Lying and murder are not morally equivalent, despite the fact that they’re both sins. Similarly, homosexual practice and unnatural hair-lengths are not morally equivalent, despite the fact that they’re both contrary to nature.

But the most interesting part about this question is how Vines has now completely changed his argument. Remember how just a couple of questions ago, he wanted us to think that Romans 1 was condemning only a purely-lustful sort of same-sex behavior (as opposed to loving same-sex behavior)? Well, now he wants us to believe that Romans 1 was simply describing cultural norms of Paul’s day and age. But those two lines of argument don’t fit together. Which is it?
“Do you believe that the capacity for procreation is essential to marriage? If so, what does that mean for infertile heterosexual couples?”
I believe that godly offspring is one of very reasons God established marriage in the first place (Mal. 2:14–15). So anybody who gets married I think ought to be doing so with plans of having and raising children.

Of course, there are married couples who are infertile. But that doesn’t make their marriage pointless. For one thing, infertile couples can adopt. And those adopted children will be better off having a mom and a dad who are married to each other. Yet even if an infertile couple chooses not to adopt, that still doesn’t make their marriage pointless. The intimacy, companionship, and commitment of their marriage is still a valid representation of Christ and the church.

But if two dudes try to emulate this same marital intimacy, then they’re participating in something that the Bible plainly forbids (which in all honesty is really the center of this whole debate).
“How much time have you spent engaging with the writings of LGBT-affirming Christians like Justin Lee, James Brownson, and Rachel Murr?”
Basically none, which is entirely irrelevant. Nobody has to read all the scholars on one side of a debate before they’re allowed to express their own informed position. That’s just silly.

I’ve listened to/watched a couple of debates and presentations that Vines himself has done, and my assumption is that he would present his strongest material in those settings. And yet none of it has persuaded me. To be frank, life’s just too short to spend hours reading authors that are going to make the same feeble arguments that Vines is making, only with scholarly verbosity. I’m happy to leave that sort of thing to the likes of Robert Gagnon.
“What relationship recognition rights short of marriage do you support for same-sex couples?”
The exact same relationship recognition rights short of marriage that I support for heterosexual couples, which is none. Why would the government have any interest at all in relationships short of marriage, whether heterosexual or homosexual?
“Do you know who Tyler Clementi, Leelah Alcorn, and Blake Brockington are, and did your church offer any kind of prayer for them when their deaths made national news?”
Obviously, all three of those deaths were tragic, but the concerns of a local church aren’t determined by what’s in the headlines, especially not when such tragedies are being politicized to promote an LGBT agenda.
“Have you vocally objected when church leaders and other Christians have compared same-sex relationships to things like bestiality, incest, and pedophilia?”
No, I haven’t. But what’s interesting to me is that all three of those perversions that Vines just mentioned (bestiality, incest, and pedophilia) have been gaining more acceptance lately, using many of the same arguments by which homosexuality gained acceptance. So why is Vines so hateful toward those who feel such attractions?

But I have another thought at this point. If you were to try and argue against homosexuality by appealing to Leviticus, Vines’s standard response would be to say that the Old Testament law isn’t binding on Christians. So my question is, how would Vines argue biblically against things like bestiality and incest? Remember, the Old Testament law is off limits, and also recall that, according to Vines, we shouldn’t feel comfortable condemning anything that the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Election (The Political Kind)

Below is a recent Twitter exchange I had with some friends of mine. This post is primarily for the purpose of giving us a place to talk more extensively via comments. We just can’t seem to stop talking about election. Back in the day it was the theological kind. Now it’s the political kind.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hairdo Hermeneutics

A guy named Luke Geraty wrote a piece a while back on the issue of hair length in 1 Corinthians 11. I came across it recently and felt that it would be a good foil to use in putting down some thoughts on the issue. It’s a good example of the standard way in which modern Christians interpret the passage.

But the first thing I want to establish here at the front end is that while everything the Bible says is important, there are some things that are of first importance and other things that are not even close to that. So let it be heard loud and clear that I think the hair-length question belongs in that second category.

I do take a view on the issue, and it’s a view that I think is reasonably defensible exegetically. But I’m open to the possibility that I’ve misunderstood Paul, and I don’t for a minute assume that anyone with a non-traditional hair length is a pagan or a second-class Christian. It just isn’t that kind of issue to me. The topic mainly interests me for the hermeneutics that are involved. Not everything deserves a crusade, and so I tend to scratch my head at organizations that characterize themselves entirely by a particular view on questions of this sort.

With that said, and hopefully heard, here is the passage under consideration:
[3] But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. [4] Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, [5] but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. [6] For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. [7] For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. [8] For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. [9] Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. [10] That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. [11] Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; [12] for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. [13] Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? [14] Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, [15] but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. [16] If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God. (1 Cor. 11:3–16)
Alright, now here are some things Geraty said.
Geraty: “The apostle is discussing the issue of head coverings . . . It has nothing to do with Paul teaching that women were required to have long hair. . . . Again, to make this passage about hair length is to miss the entire point of the text. Garland makes this clear when he writes, ‘That he specifically mentions hair in these verses does not mean that hair has been the topic throughout this section . . . It is brought up only as a final illustration as to why women should have a cover but men should not.’ (1 Corinthians, 530)”
This is an extremely common tactic in exegetical debates: appealing to the main point of a passage as a way of minimizing a secondary point of the passage. It’s as though Geraty and Garland think that if the passage is primarily about head coverings, then we’re somehow taking it “out of context” if we look for it to teach us about anything else. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the passage is primarily concerned with head coverings, but in the course of making God-breathed statements about head coverings, Paul makes God-breathed statements about other things as well. And one of those other things is hair-length.
Geraty: “The apostle is discussing the issue of head coverings and is actually stating that even though the women in the ancient world had longer hair, which was their glory, they needed a head covering. That is the point.
But that doesn’t seem to be the point at all. Isn’t it interesting that I’ve slowly and carefully read this passage multiple times and didn’t take it to mean anything like Geraty’s summary? This leads me to a general observation: In exegetical debates like these, I think we need to be honest about who has the advantage of the most straight-forward reading. And we should feel no hesitation in conceding that advantage to our opponents sometimes, because the most straight-forward reading of a passage is not always the best.

So when it comes to those who argue, based on 1 Corinthians 11, that men should have short hair and women should have long hair, I think it’s fair to say that they have the most straight-forward reading of the passage. Again, that doesn’t mean they’re right. They may still be wrong. But I certainly don’t think it’s fair to characterize their interpretation as fanciful eisegesis.

Be that as it may, let’s examine the specifics of what Geraty just said. First, he emphasizes that the passage is simply about “women in the ancient world” (i.e. not women in our modern world) and how long hair was simply “their glory” (i.e. not modern women’s glory). But what reasons does the passage itself give us for thinking that Paul was simply referring to a cultural custom of that day? Are there any at all? I’m not denying that sometimes our interpretation of a passage needs to be tempered by cultural considerations, but I think we need to at least try to have a sound exegetical basis for it.

Second, Geraty says Paul’s point is that even though the women had long hair, they still needed a head covering. But that doesn’t seem to square with the text either, particularly verse 15: “For her hair is given to her for a covering.” A woman’s long hair is a natural covering that God has given her. So what need is there for an artificial one?

In all fairness, there are plenty of things about this passage that are perplexing to me as well. For example, I don’t understand how verse 15 squares with verse 6: “If a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short.” But if what I just said about verse 15 is right, then the logic of verse 6 doesn’t add up to me. If a woman won’t wear a head covering, why must she then cut her hair short? I digress.

Garety eventually quotes a lengthy passage from Craig Blomberg.
Blomberg: “Careful attention to the nature of Paul’s argumentation in this passage supports these consensus views. When he speaks explicitly of length of hair, he grounds his arguments in what is proper (v. 13), normal practice (vv. 14–15) and contemporary custom (v. 16). None of these verses, as we have seen in the discussion of original meaning, implies a timeless, transcultural mandate . . .”
(1) One thing that we need to keep straight as we interpret and apply this passage is when it’s talking about head coverings vs. when it’s talking about hair-length. Blomberg seems to conflate the two ideas. He makes points about hair-length by appealing to verses that are talking about head coverings. In verse 13, Paul doesn’t even mention hair length. He’s talking about head coverings there.

(2) In verses 14–15, what version is Blomberg reading? By what scholarly sorcery does he take something that Paul says nature teaches, and turn it into a simple cultural norm? If there is one word in this entire passage that keeps me from buying into the idea that Paul’s hair-length standards were simply cultural, it’s the word nature in verse 14. Nature is what teaches us that “if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory.” Not culture. Nature.

(3) Verse 16 is admittedly tough to pin down: “If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.” I’m not sure what this “practice” is intended to refer to. It could be referring to the practice of artificial head covering. Or it could be referring to the inclination to contentiousness. I don’t think it’s likely that Paul’s referring to hair length here, since he’s already grounded hair length in nature (vv. 14–15). And keep in mind that Blomberg is presenting verse 16 as an example of when Paul “speaks explicitly of length of hair,” despite the fact that the verse says nothing about hair length.
Blomberg: “When Paul does ground his commands in the order and purpose of creation (vv. 8–9), he does so to support his statements that husbands are the image and glory of God and that wives are the glory of their husbands (v. 7).
Yea, but after verse 9 is verse 10, where Paul says that for those very same creation-order reasons, a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head. And as an additional reason for this, he throws in “because of the angels” at the end of verse 10. Now that’s certainly an obscure reference that I would love for Paul to have elaborated on. But to say the very least, if Paul grounds the practice of head covering by an appeal to some aspect of the spiritual realm, that doesn’t immediately make me think “cultural custom.”

But again, these verses have more to do with head coverings than with hair length per se.
Blomberg: “When in a particular culture, appropriate honor to God and husband cannot be maintained without certain head coverings, such coverings must be used. When covered or uncovered heads and long or short hair imply nothing about one’s religious commitment or marital faithfulness, worrying about the appearance of one’s physical head in these ways becomes unnecessary.”
That’s great practical wisdom as long as it’s true that Paul’s hair-length standards were simply the cultural custom of that day. But I don’t think that’s been adequately demonstrated. Now back to Geraty.
Geraty: “Here are questions I have for those who suggest that Christian women are biblically required to have long hair:”
I’d just like to point out that we’re talking just as much about expectations for men as for women.
Geraty: “Just how long is long enough? Must it be to the middle of the back? Or must it never ever be cut? What is the appropriate length, and how is that determined? What Scriptures give that length?”
Questions like these are an attempt to make the issue seem more complicated than it actually is. But the problems with this sort of tactic are manifold.

(1) The original audience of 1 Corinthians could just as easily have asked Paul the exact same fastidious questions (even if this were all just a cultural custom). My guess is that they probably never did ask Paul such questions. Why? Because figuring out what’s long hair as opposed to short hair is not rocket science. Not then and not now.

(2) I imagine that people who argue for traditional hair-lengths are often characterized as pharisaical. But nothing is more like a Pharisee than to become preoccupied with the minutia of law-keeping. This is the kind of mindset that would lead some Jews to start wondering whether or not they were allowed to pee on the Sabbath day. I’m not really interested in wranglings of that sort.

(3) By the way, does Geraty ask these kinds of a questions when it comes to other biblical requirements? Flee fornication! “Well, what exactly is fornication? Just how chaste is chaste enough?” I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is just a debate tactic for this particular occasion.

(4) For the first 75% of Geraty’s post, he was expressing his disapproval of the view that men should have short hair and women should have long hair. But in order to even disapprove of that view, you have to have an idea in your mind of what it means to have short or long hair.

And of course Geraty already has such an idea in his mind. Because he’s a normal human being. My guess is that if Geraty witnessed a robbery, and the police needed to know if the suspect’s hair was short or long, he would be able to tell them without any difficulty. This is ordinary human language we’re using. There’s no need for a precise number of inches to be prescribed. A variety of lengths can fall under the category of long, and a variety of lengths can fall under the category of short.
Geraty: “The Bible can also be read in a way that would require women to never wear gold because both Paul and Peter state that women should not wear gold (1 Tim. 2:9; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3). . . . Who gets to decide which cultural standards still matter?”
Well, I think that’s just a simple misunderstanding of those verses. Peter and Paul both say that a woman should not adorn herself with such things: gold, pearls, braided hair, etc. But what does adorn mean? Peter says that the woman’s adorning should not include clothing: “Do not let your adorning be . . . the clothing you wear” (1 Pet. 3:3). Of course, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t wear clothes. So adorning is not the same as simply wearing.

A woman’s adorning is whatever she puts forth as the most valuable things about her as a person. It’s the things she most desires for others to see about her. So both Peter and Paul are telling women not to let their adorning be material things like their jewelry and such, but immaterial character qualities like good deeds, modesty, self-control, the hidden person of the heart, a gentle and quiet spirit, etc.

So bringing this back to the issue at hand: There are good exegetical reasons for rejecting the idea that women shouldn’t wear gold, but are there good exegetical reasons for rejecting the idea that men should have short hair and women should have long hair? That’s what Geraty still needs to demonstrate.
Geraty: “I have also observed that many of these same people who state that women with short hair are disobeying Scripture rarely wear head coverings (hats?) during public worship gatherings. Why? Because that was “cultural” and women in America aren’t required to wear a head covering anymore. Hmmm. Sounds like selective biblical interpretation to me!”
Here I’ll just reiterate something I said earlier. Even though head coverings and hair length are closely tied together in this passage, they’re not the same issue. It seems to me that there’s plenty of room for taking the position that Paul’s statements about hair-length are transcultural, while his statements about artificial head coverings are not:

(1) Paul never says that artificial head coverings are something that nature teaches, but he does say that about hair length (v. 14).

(2) Paul says that a woman’s long hair is a natural covering (v. 15), which would seem to remove the need for an artificial one.

(3) Paul may be referring to artificial head coverings in verse 16, when he says “we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”