P.T. O’Brien and Plagiarism

Over on Aquila Report, I just read the article on P.T. O’Brien and the plagiarism that was found in his commentaries. I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it can definitely be said that he should have been more careful with how he used his information. Now, no details were given in the report as to the person(s) he plagiarized and where in his commentaries. So, we need to be cautious about how much we can say.

On the other hand, plagiarism might just be the easiest thing to do in commentary writing. Indeed, in some ways, it seems endemic to the genre. I read my commentaries in chronological order so that I can get a sense of the history of interpretation on a particular passage. Unattributed references to ideas introduced by previous commentaries are everywhere. Honestly, I am fairly certain that I see this every week. Sometimes, they fall into the category of things that they all say, and can fairly be categorized as forming part of the common stock of knowledge. Many other times this is not true. All it seems to take is one unattributed instance of copying, and then subsequent commentators seem to think that the tidbit is fair game.

This makes me wonder whether someone has it in for P.T. O’Brien and just pointed out what just about every other commentator does all the time. Take the Ephesians commentary, for instance. First of all, it was published 17 years ago (the Philippians commentary is 25 years old now!). Why hasn’t any expert in the secondary literature on Ephesians (or Philippians) caught that plagiarism until now? More importantly, why didn’t D.A. Carson, one of the most well-read and erudite New Testament scholars of the present age, catch the plagiarism when he edited the book? Why did Carson continue to recommend these commentaries so highly in his book on commentaries? The Ephesians commentary is one I’ve read all the way through, and I don’t remember having any of those moments where I thought to myself that O’Brien had plagiarized anything, and I read at least 30 commentaries on Ephesians when I was preaching through it. This is suspicious to me.

What I would rather have from Eerdmans is a chart listing the instances so that I can make up my own mind about it, because there is no way I am giving my O’Brien commentaries back to Eerdmans for a refund. They are just too good to give up. A chart would be far more helpful to scholars and pastors so that they will not perpetuate the plagiarism, but will track down the ideas back to their original source and attribute properly. With the current policy, the O’Brien commentaries will live in a sort of no-man’s land, with people not sure what to do with them. I am quite sure that there is still plenty of O’Brien left in his commentaries, and it would be a pity to waste it. Eerdmans, please let us sort out the wheat from the chaff. Do the pastoral and scholarly world a favor, and let us see the findings for ourselves. That way, we can still salvage what is good from his commentaries, and there is a lot of that.

Corporate and Individual Responsibility: An Introduction

I want to write some posts about corporate and individual responsibility in the Bible. This is an extremely thorny issue. At the moment, I am only beginning my investigation of the biblical texts. Thus, this post will raise more questions than answers. In the future, I will be focusing major attention on Ezekiel 18, and what it does and does not say. Other related passages are Joshua 7 (the account of the failed attack on Ai), 2 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Kings 14:5-6, Daniel 9, and Exodus 20:5-6. Assessing how these texts relate to each other to form a coherent picture is a very thorny task. The reason I am addressing this issue is that the PCA has addressed and will be addressing corporate responsibility regarding the race issue.

What are some categories that the Bible uses to address the question of corporate and individual responsibility? The first category is a distinction between guilt and consequence. Obviously, guilt is one consequence of sin. However, there are other consequences that can be incurred by someone who has no direct guilt. This might be a helpful way of understanding why it is that 36 men get killed in the attack on Ai for something that they themselves did not do. One might say that Achan murdered those 36 men by transgressing the ban.

A second category distinction is between human retribution and divine retribution. Who assesses the punishment, in other words? Does human retribution apply to corporate guilt, or that only the purview of God? Bear in mind that this particular distinction is not the same question as repentance, and whether repentance needs to be corporate or individual.

A third category distinction is between sins of omission and sins of commission. This one should be familiar to most of my readers. A sin of omission is something that we (or I) should have done but failed to do, whereas a sin of commission is something that we (or I) should not have done, but did anyway. This has a bearing on possibly composite sins. On the racism issue, for instance, if a church committed racist acts, and the presbytery of which it was a part failed to discipline that church for said actions, then the presbytery incurs the guilt of omission. While the presbytery may not, as a whole, have committed the action itself, it is still responsible for its required and biblical response. The same is true on a denominational level.

The fourth, and perhaps stickiest question of all, is the question of covenantal continuity. There is a tension between the continuity (on the one hand) that the true church has with itself in all generations, regardless of denominational boundaries; and the discontinuity of governing bodies that are directly responsible for the discipline of members within its scope. In the case of the PCA churches that Sean Lucas has in mind, for instance, the question will revolve around some of these questions: have these churches ever repented? Did the southern presbyterian denomination repent before the founding of the PCA? Is there continuing sin on the matters of racial equality? If so, what is the responsibility of current bodies within the PCA, and is the whole denomination at fault, or only some presbyteries?

A fifth question to ponder is a very important question: what constitutes racism? I have addressed this question briefly before. Having read a bit more, and done a bit more thinking, there are some things I might say differently. For instance, the question of how the biblical passages relate is a far more difficult question than the previous post would seem to indicate. I still hold to my position on affirmative action being inherently racist. I also hold that evolution and a theory of polygenesis (that we do not all come from Adam and Eve) open the door to racism.

Why talk this way about all these careful distinctions? One reason is that we want to tell the truth. It is not truth to confess to sins for which we have no guilt any more than it is truth not to confess for sins of which we are guilty. We need to assess carefully and biblically what guilt we have in the question of racism. Whatever truth of guilt we have can then lead us to repentance and restoration.

I attended recently a memorial service for the Charleston Nine at a black church in Winnsboro. It was a wonderful experience. I was afraid at first that the talk would all be about social justice. Instead, it was focused on Jesus Christ and the gospel, while mentioning racial issues in the context of the gospel. Yes, there was much talk about the unity that the church has in Christ, as was appropriate. But it did not sideline the gospel, for which I was very thankful. As was mentioned by my black brothers at GA this year, any repentance that we do needs to have feet, so that actual change can happen in our churches. Some churches are further ahead in this process than others. Some degree of compassion and understanding will need to be present.

What Is Racism?

Racism is a very serious thing these days. We hear of race riots in America, just when some people thought we had moved past all that. There are blatant forms of racism, and more subtle forms of it. But before we get into that, we need to ask an important question: why is a white guy like me talking about this subject, and what right do I have to do so? There are two ways of answering that question. The first is that racism can be just as much against white people (theoretically) as against any other race. We haven’t seen much of that in America. But it does exist, especially in more subtle forms of racism, which we can get into below. The second part of the answer is that a white person can and should care about what happens to other parts of the human race. Just because I have not been a victim of racism doesn’t mean I can’t say anything about it. I haven’t been a victim of mugging either, but I presume that would not preclude me from saying something about it. I do have an imagination, and I hope all my readers do, too.

The biblical truth is that all humans come from Adam, and all humans come from Noah. As C.S. Lewis might say, that is grand enough to exalt any person, and humble enough to remind anyone that we are but dust. One of the most important features of racism, then, is either a partial or full denial of this fundamental truth. This goes a long way towards a definition. If we are not all from the same origin, then we have room to claim that one race is superior to another. This is one of the biggest problems with the theory of multiple origins of the human race. Evolution and the denial of the historical Adam will have racism as its intended or unintended consequence. Ben Stein showed this quite eloquently in his movie “Expelled,” which you should see if you haven’t yet. Since we are all from one origin, then no one part of the human race can lift itself above any other part of the human race. We are all one human race. The image of God is stamped on every human being. That image of God commands respect and dignity. To denigrate an image bearer, making the person somehow less than human, is therefore a direct attack on God.

There are, however, more subtle forms of racism, and here I am going to get very politically incorrect (as if my statements on evolution were not!). I believe that affirmative action is racist. When it comes to college scholarship and such things, I believe that those who hand them out should be color-blind. However, making a certain quota of African-Americans, or any other minority, is basically saying to them, “You can’t make it without our help.” I know very well the counter-argument: African-Americans have not had access to the kind of schooling that white children have had. But I would remind people of the arguments of Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams (especially the first named): anyone working hard can overcome any obstacles. They have all argued, in one way or another, that affirmative action and the welfare state have wreaked havoc on the black community. The disintegration of the family is another serious factor. These things are harming African-Americans today more than other factors, I believe. The Japanese faced incredible prejudice after World War II. So did the Germans and Italians. They didn’t have access to the best schools either. What did they do? They worked hard and overcame the obstacles. Many African-Americans have done the same. But not all of them have. Many believe that they are owed something for what they or their ancestors suffered. What do I owe them? I owe them the respect and dignity that is owed to all human beings. I do not owe them for what my ancestors may or may not have done. Ezekiel 18 is very important here (I will be writing a post on the relationship of Daniel 9 and Ezekiel 18 at some point in the near future, Lord-willing). The fathers are not responsible for the guilt of the son, nor is the son responsible for the guilt of the father. Acknowledging the sin that someone else has done is one thing, and is very understandable (and can certainly help in the case of race relations today). But that does not mean the same thing as what some seem to be claiming: that there is actual ontological transference of guilt. I have had it said to me that I am guilty of racism simply because I am white. Folks, that is just as much the sin of racism as saying that an African-American is not human because he is black.

What difference does the amount of melanin in the skin make? This is simply micro-evolution. The African-American has more melanin in the skin. Over many generations in the incredibly hot climates of Africa, the people developed darker and darker skin in order to adapt to their surroundings. This is the beauty of the adaptive characteristics of humans. The flip side of this adaptive characteristic is the very pale complexion of Norwegians. They adapted to their frigid climate in the opposite way. If lots of Africans migrated to Norway, over a period of a few hundred years, their skin would lighten quite noticeably. Similarly, if the Norwegian migrated to Africa, his skin would darken quite a bit just in his own lifetime. It is quite silly to make skin color determinative of worth.

The much more difficult question is that of different cultures. It is here, for instance, that Martin Luther King and Malcolm X differed. King was in the south and argued for racial integration and desegregation. The south was segregated (and still is in some ways, though not in transportation and education, the issues that were uppermost in the Civil Rights era). Racism showed itself in exclusion. In the north, however, where Malcolm X mostly lived and spoke, there was no segregation. More subtle attitudes were the problem. This is why (so argues James Cone) King argues for desegregation while Malcolm X argues for segregation. They had different contexts. Which of them is correct? This is not an easy question to answer. There is nothing wrong with desiring to keep a particular culture stable (anyone seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”?). Any minority group that comes to America usually desires to keep its traditions alive and well, and those traditions can come into jeopardy when full integration is encouraged. On the other hand, segregation can result in exclusion, which is not healthy. The influence of other cultures is usually salutary, if for no other reason than that one knows one’s own culture better and values it more when compared to other cultures. This comparison itself has pitfalls, of course, because non-moral cultural issues can become a subtle basis for racism quite easily when non-moral issues become “better” or “worse” than what other cultures have.

To conclude, racism as usually understood means a person believes his race is better than another race. This can be blatant, or it can be subtle. We need to be very careful about how we think through these issues, and we need to do a lot of listening. I learned a lot, for instance, about ministering in an African-American context this year at General Assembly by listening to my African-American brothers. Avoiding racism is actually pretty simple: treat each person you meet as an image-bearer of God. That person deserves dignity and respect.

Niceness or Love?

Among members of the PCA, there is a huge dissatisfaction with how blogs are run today. Lack of love, harshness, unfounded accusations, and many like things are par for the course, they say. There is certainly an element of truth to this. Many people do not exercise self-control in what they say on the internet, because it is more anonymous. They say things to another person or about another person, which they would probably not say if that person were standing there in front of them. This is a large problem on blogs, and I certainly cannot claim that my blog (including my own statements) has been immune from this problem.

However, there is another side to this question, that raised by the title of the post. Most of the people I have seen talk about this issue are confusing niceness and love. By the former term, I mean never saying anything harsh towards someone else. By the latter, I mean seeking the best interests of the other person in an unselfish way. These are not the same things! Let me demonstrate from the actions of Jesus, surely one of the best places to go in examining this question.

Jesus used the proverbial carrot or the stick, depending on the audience. If He was talking to sheep, or to the disciples, or to ignorant Gentiles, He typically used the carrot (though He addressed His dense disciples on occasion with somewhat sarcastic harshness, and Peter once with downright non-sarcastic harshness). He was patiently instructing them about Himself, and about salvation in Him. When He was talking to the wolves (the scribes and the Pharisees), He wasn’t “nice” but rather quite harsh. If Jesus were to blog today about FV guys and use the words “whitewashed tombs,” would He fall foul of the niceness police? He probably would. But would anyone dare to accuse His words against the Pharisees of being unloving? I would hope not. He was loving the sheep by protecting them! It is possible to be loving and yet harsh. This does not compute with the niceness police of today. It is not even a possibility, if you read some accounts. Again, I am not panning exhortations to patience, kindness, politeness or anything else. Those are excellent and wonderful things. What I am doing is saying that there are wolves about, and we should not be “nice” to the wolves. If we are, matters will result in fully satisfied, content, sheep-filled wolves. We will “nice” the wolves straight to the dinner table full of lamb chops. Unless the niceness police wish to deny that there are any wolves about whatsoever, they need to be more discerning about distinguishing the audience. At the very least, they could extend the benefit of the doubt, the judgment of charity, towards those who believe they are addressing wolf problems, and not impute wrongful motivations to bloggers who are trying to protect sheep from the depredations of wolves. Instead, the least harshness, the least lack of niceness, is automatically judged to be from the devil, and lacking completely in the fruit of the Spirit.

One last thing I would ask the niceness police. Is it possible for a teaching elder to be in good standing in the PCA and be a wolf at the same time? Does being in good standing require niceness from everyone else? If so, I could complain about treatment I have received from the FV guys, and others in the PCA. I am not going to do so, however, because defending the sheep means getting scratched by the wolves. What I notice, however, is that the niceness police never slap the wolves’ hands when they take a swipe at confessional ministers in the PCA, if those confessional ministers have been outspoken against liberal creep in the PCA. Something to ponder.

Unjust Weights and the 41st PCA General Assembly

By Bob Mattes

You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin:I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. – Lev 19:36

Unequal weights and unequal measures
are both alike an abomination to the LORD. – Pro 20:10

Unequal weights are an abomination to the LORD,
and false scales are not good. – Pro 20:23

The 41st PCA General Assembly was quite a spectacle. The bulk of the business flowed routinely, and later quickly as we recovered from being over one-half of a day behind at one point. A few issues tied up the commissioners for an inordinate amount of time to cause the schedule digressions. I will only discuss two of these issues in this post. Probably more in a follow-on.

Two particular issues of contention follow from violation of the Scripture quotes above, and I’ll explain how. I’ve written before about the National Partnership, a secret (sorry, confidential) political party started last year in the PCA. I wrote my thoughts on that abomination here, where along with TE Kenneth Pierce I called it sinful. TE Andy Webb’s thoughts can be found here. The pleas of many against this sinful, secret political party went unheeded, and the poison flower bloomed during this GA.

It started in earnest during the PCA Nominations Committee meeting before the GA as documented at the Aquila Report. I also verified the events independently. Part of the plan, which came to the GA floor along with the Nomination Committee report, was to have the moderator change the voting order for some candidates on the fly from that historically used.

The proposed change to the order of voting for candidates for the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) had one purpose – to defeat a candidate that the National Partnership conspired to replace by carefully arranging candidates and changing the voting order on the fly. They did not win the voting change they desired, but we debated it for a long time. The committee never provided any substantial reason for the change, which seems strange, especially given the length of the debate. I argued on the floor against any arbitrary changes in voting procedure which robbed presbyteries of predictable expectations when nominating candidates to the Assembly. That position eventually prevailed.

The fact that the National Partnership’s Chicago-style politics failed to hold sway doesn’t remove the odiousness of their attempt to fix voting outcomes by changing the rules on the fly. Such political maneuvering has no place in the body of Christ.

The second issue arose from the Overtures Committee (OC). Chapter 15 of the Rules of Assembly Order (RAO) clearly state that the OC makes their recommendations to the General Assembly (RAO 15-8 and 15-8a). The plain meaning as used elsewhere in the BCO and RAO holds that the “General Assembly” means the entire collection of commissioners.

On two overtures, one each concerning the Leithart and Meyers Federal Vision trials, the OC violated RAO 15-8 and 15-8a by making what amounted to a point of order directly to the moderator, thereby bypassing the Assembly. The moderator took the point of order well. I challenged the chair over that deviation from the RAO both times, but did not prevail. When challenging the chair, one can only state the underlying rules, not argue the case. My challenge failed on both attempts, largely I believe because a majority of the roughly 1,200 commissioners largely did not understand that their right to debate and even their votes were being stolen by a handful of commissioners in a slick political maneuver for which I cannot find a PCA precedent.

This Chicago-style approach has been the hallmark of liberals/progressives in the PCUS, PCUSA, and now PC(USA) as TE Reed DePace pointed out. It’s how they avoided meaningful debates and votes, thereby bypassed orthodox church officers to bring about women elders, homosexual elders, etc. Eventually, the orthodox officers and members started leaving, providing the liberals a Pyrrhic victory as their formerly God-honoring denomination became more and more apostate.

Acts 15 provides significant guidance on how to conduct our Assembly, from which I believe that our BCO and RAO largely take their cues. The apostles and early believers debated openly until everyone was heard. No secret political parties, no bypassing debate, no stolen votes. The just treatment instruction of Lev 19:36 was honored.

There are no Scriptures that directly address voting itself. That just wasn’t a feature of the ancient world. However, the idea of ensuring just treatment is enshrined throughout. The Scriptures at the top of this post show God declaring the use of unjust balances and weights an abomination. The use of unjust weights destroyed trust in the underlying economic system of trade upon which the ancient world depended. These abominations cheated people out of their rightful due. They stole the buyer’s God-granted capital.

Similarly, taking away PCA commissioners’ ability to debate and vote on issues in accordance with our RAO procedures destroys their trust in the underlying ecclesiastical system. Attempting to fix a vote’s outcome by changing voting order on the fly similarly erodes that same trust. Like unjust weights and balances, unjust political maneuvering should not be named amongst God’s people. Supporting and voting within established rules must be accepted and supported by all officers of God’s church. If one feels that the rules should be changed, then honestly and openly submit the appropriate overtures upon which we can all debate and vote. Chicago-style politics robs commissioners of their debate and votes, just like unjust balances and weights robbed buyers in the ancient world – through deceit.

So, I’m encouraging all who participated in the secret schemes of the National Partnership – and anyone else – to defraud GA commissioners of their ability to debate and vote in accordance with RAO practices and procedures to repent of their sin. Repent of cheating your brothers in a way that parallels that which God calls an abomination – an epithet reserved for the most egregious sins in God’s eyes. Mere participants should repent to their brothers, REs their sessions, and TEs to their presbyteries as appropriate. The leaders of these movements – they know who they are and so do we – should have the courage to repent publicly.

The original National Partnership invitation email contained this observation” “One thing that has made the PCA a healthy denomination is the willingness to be ruled by Scripture.” Time, then, to eschew Chicago-style political maneuvering, pony up to what Scripture describes as an abomination and repent, or be named amongst the hypocrites.

By Bob Mattes

A Biblical Passage Very Relevant to Our Times

Exodus 23:1-2a says this (emphasis added): “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.” The PCA is now plagued by man-fear. Man-fear is on a teeter-totter with God-fear. As man-fear goes up, God-fear goes down. As God-fear goes up, man-fear goes down. This is a zero-sum game, folks. Man-fear exhibits the following characteristics: 1. An obsession with playing the politics of the situation. 2. A corresponding down-playing of truth, especially those aspects of truth that are uncomfortable for other people to hear. 3. An emphasis on love to the exclusion or down-playing of truth. 4. A redefinition of love to be almost exclusively horizontal (love for God takes a very distant second place to love for self and love for others). 5. A redefinition of truth to be what the majority says. 6. An avoidance of accountability, and/or outrage at being called out, and a correspondingly shrill and unloving blast against the “unloving.” 7. Hypocrisy. 8. A good ol’ boys club regarding the people in power. 9. An ignoring of the sheep. 10. A fear of doing the right thing because it is right. 11. Secrecy. 12. Hatred towards open things like blogs. Sound like a whole lot of people you know?

Feasts For All Times?

One argument from the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) that I have heard goes something like this: God does not change, therefore none of His laws will change, and therefore none of the feasts are abrogated. The problem with this kind of argument is two-fold. In one sense, none of the OT laws are abrogated: they still exist to teach us principles of godliness, and to point us to Jesus Christ (this I say in opposition to those who claim we are abrogating the OT law if we say that we do not follow the OT laws in the same way today). They are still written down in the Old Testament. Not one of those words will pass away, not a jot, nor a tittle. However, that does not mean, in and of itself, that the observation and application of those commandments can never change. They can if God says they do. But can God do that? If God doesn’t change, then can His laws change? Well, let’s look at some examples of God giving a commandment for a certain time and place that would not have universal applicability. God told Isaiah to walk around naked. That is a direct commandment from God that had an equally direct (and merciful!) expiration date of three years. This, of course, does not prove (in itself) that any of the Torah had an expiration date. But it does prove that God can give a command that does not last forever. God also told Hosea to take an adulterous wife. Now, scholars debate whether she was unfaithful before or only after marrying Hosea, but it doesn’t really matter. Hosea still knew that her character was an unfaithful character when he married her. This was a very specific commandment given in a particular time and place. Surely, we would not want to say that all prophets of God should marry wives of unfaithful character! There was a specific purpose in what God was doing with that commandment. Again, this does not prove that any particular law in the Torah is expired, but it does prove that God can give a commandment that has an expiration date on it. God has given commands in the past that have limited applicability.

Now the question is this: are there any limitations on the commandments given in the Torah? The Ten Commandments are universally binding moral law. This is the same law that is written on the human heart by God. I will not, at this point, argue the change of day of the Sabbath commandment. That is a subject for another post. But the Ten Commandments are universally binding for all people everywhere (not just for Israel). As that particular point is not really in dispute between the HRM and Reformed theology, I will move on to other areas of laws.

There do appear to be limitations set on other areas of commandments. Deuteronomy 4 is vitally important here. The redemptive-historical situation is that Moses is giving his last will and testament, if you will, to the Israelites before they enter the promised land. In the course of this, he makes a distinction between the Ten Commandments, on the one hand (4:13), and the “statues and ordinances” in 4:14, which are tied to the land: “At that time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to follow in the land you are about to cross into and possess” (emphasis added). The order of Ten Commandments first, followed by statutes and ordinances is then immediately followed in chapter 5 (the second giving of the Ten Commandments and its summary in chapter 6) and the statutes and ordinances that follow. It is revealing that only after the Ten Commandments are given does Moses give specific instructions concerning the holy warfare that is to come (chapter 7). This separation of the statutes and ordinances from the Ten Commandments by the commands concerning holy warfare underscore again the connection of the ordinances that follow with the ownership of the land, as well as the distinction within OT law between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law. Now, it is not quite as simple as this, since there are reiterations of the moral law scattered throughout Deuteronomy. This does not negate the point of the literary separation between the Ten Commandments and the civil and ceremonial law as a whole.

Now to the feasts in particular. Three feasts are limited to the place that God shall choose: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. Deuteronomy 16:16 is quite clear on this point: “All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place He chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths” (emphasis added). That place that God would choose is, of course, Jerusalem. In other words, these feasts cannot be celebrated outside of Jerusalem. They must be celebrated in the place that God chose. There is no commandment later on telling the people that they can celebrate it anywhere else. There is no biblical example of the people of God celebrating those feasts anywhere other than Jerusalem. In fact, we have the exact opposite example in the case of the Exile. During the Exile, the people of God celebrated no feasts of God at all. Why? Because they were exiled from their land. There is no reproach laid on them for not celebrating the feasts while they were in exile. Those feasts are tied to the land of Israel, and in particular, Jerusalem. It is arbitrary to claim that we can celebrate them anywhere else, as long as we follow the specific instructions. Let us not forget either that these three Feasts required gifts to be given to God (Deuteronomy 16:17). We can conclude from this that these feasts had limitations of space set on them, at the very least.

From Isaiah, we learn that God gave a commandment bounded by time limitations. From our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16, we find that God can give a command that has a limitation of space put on it. Therefore, we can conclude from this that a law that is not of the moral law can have a built-in expiration date attached to it. This is not abrogation, as the HRM argue. Even the most die-hard dispensationalist could still agree that there is a relevance of even the most dated commands for God’s people. It is in that sense that not a jot or tittle shall pass away from the law until all is fulfilled. This should make it equally clear, by the way, that if our exegesis of Deuteronomy 16 (not to mention the example of Isaiah!) is correct, then Iesous’ (to use the Greek spelling of Jesus’ name used in the NT where the name Yeshua is NEVER used) words cannot mean what the HRM thinks it means. The HRM says that Iesous’ words mean that the application of the law can never change. It is the argument of the Reformed position that only God can change the application of His own law. No human tradition can do that. But it is also the Reformed position that Iesous Himself changed the application by His words in the NT. That is a subject for another post, however.

Question and Answer Session 2

The panelists are Del Tackett, Michael Horton, Stephen Meyer, Sproul, Jr., and Sproul Sr.

Question 1: does teaching a variety of scientific theories injure students? Meyer says that it is extremely instructive and helpful to teach the variety of theories that are out there. The idea that there is a consensus among scientists is a myth. The fact is that many scientists are calling for a new Darwinian theory.

Question 2: what are the differences among the various methods of apologetics? Sproul, Sr. argues that the circular method of presuppositional gives too much to the unbeliever. He argues that the presuppositional method commits two fallacies: circularity and equivocation. The former because presuppositionalists assume what they need to prove. Equivocation in that the very definition of circularity changes in the midst of the argument. I would say (LK here) that presuppositionalism does not commit the fallacy of circularity. Rather, we argue from the impossibility of the contrary. But we are not trying to argue the existence of God per se. We are trying to say that Christian theism is the only worldview that is not inherently self-contradictory. Everyone has presuppositions. The question is whether one’s life based on those presuppositions is consistent with those presuppositions.

Question 3: what suggestions would you have to avoid secularist indoctrination for Christian students going to a secular university? Tackett says that the university is the most hostile environment for the Christian worldview. We must equip our young people for the battle. Doubt in the classroom feeds on the sexual impulses that make students want to get rid of guilt by getting rid of the Lawgiver.

Question 4: Where do we go from here in terms of education? Sproul, Jr. says that the power of the Word is paramount.

Question 5: What can the local church do to equip our young people? Horton says the home, the church, and the schools are a three-legged stool. But our churches are dumbing down Christians at an alarming rate. Were our children ever in the church? He is attacking an overly stratified approach to church, where our kids are actually never in church. We are not teaching our children the gospel or the Bible. Churches need to teach apologetics to the teens.

Question 6: does the expression “doctrine divides” come out of anti-intellectualism? Sproul, Sr. says “yes.” Truth divides. We don’t need to create hostilities, and yet truth still divides. This is a thinly veiled justification for tolerating the intolerable. We need to contend for the truth without being contentious.

Question 7: Is the difference between young earth and old earth a primary issue or a secondary issue? Sproul, Sr. says that the Bible doesn’t give us a date, though it strongly hints that the earth is young. We can learn from scientists. But something definitively taught in the Bible cannot be challenged by science. Meyer says that ID does not focus on the age of the earth. The age of the earth has become a strangely toxic issue in the church. He views it as a secondary issue. Tackett, however, believes that having lots of time diminishes the glory of God. Tackett believes that the second law of thermodynamics came into being at the Fall, not at creation. If that is true, then trying to determine what happened before the veil of the Fall can be distorted by the wall that separates the unfallen and the fallen world. Our observations must take the Fall into account. This is because if there is no Fall, there is no need for Jesus. Horton believes the Bible doesn’t speak to the issue. Sproul, Jr. believes in young earth creation.

Pragmatism and the Church

The fourth tooth of the wolf is pragmatism, and it is a real doozy. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen people make decisions on this basis, completely ignoring what the Bible might say. Here is Sittema’s excellent definition of pragmatism: “Pragmatism means first you determine whether an act seems practical, whether its consequences bring you pleasure or pain, and by that process you determine what is right or wrong” (p. 67). What is right is what will increase my pleasure. What is wrong is what will increase my pain. Have a difficult marriage? The pragmatic approach says get out, whether or not such a divorce has biblical grounds or not. Have an unwanted pregnancy that will cramp your style? Just get rid of the child in an abortion. We don’t need to worry about what the Bible says, do we? This is the approach of pragmatism, and it is part and parcel of the world’s philosophy of life. Everything is calculated down to a nicety on the scale of pleasure and pain, or convenience, or advantage. But have you noticed what happens in such a philosophy? The Bible gets thrown out the window. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter anymore what the Bible says. What matters is what will work. Another example: if a church is getting low on men who are willing to lead, then since we have to have leaders, why not elect a woman to fill the spot? Pragmatism over-rides the Biblical mandates. This is a very insidious philosophy, since it overturns the law of God, thus constituting a direct attack on the authority of the Law-giver, God Himself.

Sittema makes the excellent point that pragmatism is NOT practical (p. 68). We must distinguish between “pragmatic” and “practical.” They are not the same thing. Being truly practical means putting into practice what the Bible says. Being pragmatic means throwing out what the Bible says. Hard to believe as it may seem, therefore, oftentimes “practical” and “pragmatic” are actually complete opposites.

Sittema’s suggestions for combating this philosophy: 1. Ask “why” a lot as the elder visits his flock. Pragmatism is not that difficult to detect. Most of the time, it is a simple “fly by the seat of the pants” approach without any biblical considerations coming into play whatsoever. 2. Teach God’s standards as eternal, unchangeable truths. God’s unchanging law determines what is right and wrong, not what brings worldly happiness. 3. Discuss case studies with the youth and enable them to see the radically different ways that people make choices, and make clear to them what God says. I would add 4. Keep the law in front of the people often, with all the caveats that needs (distinguishing among the three uses of the law, etc.).

Materialism and the Church

The second “tooth” of the wolf that Sittema talks about is materialism. Secularism is the idea that the here and now is all that’s important. Materialism says that stuff is all that’s important. So, secularism has more to do with time, whereas materialism has more to do with space (see p. 55). The problem here is that the church is incredibly wealthy in the West. Basically, if you have any discretionary income at all, you are wealthy, and that would describe most Americans. But stuff breeds greed for more stuff. It is intoxicating to have more and more. And yet, those who are honest with themselves would admit that it’s never enough. John D. Rockefeller, a very rich American, was asked how much is enough, and his answer was the classic statement of the problem of materialism: “Just a little bit more.” It will not fill the God-shaped hole in anyone’s life.

The advertising world banks on materialism, because it uses the classic hook of dissatisfaction with what you have in order to entice you to want more. The danger here, as Sittema points out, is that materialism denies the spiritual dangers inherent in wealth (p. 58). Sittema is not here saying that wealth is inherently evil. Rather, he is saying that with much comes much temptation, and he’s certainly correct in this assessment. In the rest of the chapter, Sittema outlines a biblical response. I think the most helpful point here that he mentions in combating materialism is the principle of biblical stewardship, which includes a view of one’s possessions as not one’s own, but merely entrusted to us by God to be used for His kingdom. This makes giving away possessions and wealth much easier: it’s not really ours to begin with. Phillip Ryken would put it this way: “What’s mine is God’s.”

And, secondly, we need to realize what a terrible idol wealth has become, and we need to identify it and repent of our own idolatry. Our idolatry may not be as blatant as Rockefeller’s: it may come in the form of desiring our own comfort at the expense of the kingdom of God. But comfort is often just another way of saying “a little bit more.” Comfort is one idol I see up here in the Midwest. And it is not hard to find out why: North Dakota is absolutely brutal in the winter-time. It is not exactly comfortable. But people usually build things in order to make them comfortable here. There are different ways this idol makes itself manifest elsewhere in the US, so I’m not singling out North Dakota, by any means. But that’s just where I am, and that’s what I see.

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