Time For Truth

A place to grow in the Grace & Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ

Social justice does not mean socialism – so stop it!

The National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, supported by most mainline denominations including the PCUSA has a clear liberal/progressive socialist agenda and they do so under the auspices of this being Christian. It has become quite fashionable, even for many evangelicals to think of quasi-economic socialist policies as more Christian than Capitalism. They therefore feel justified for supporting liberal/progressive politicians and political policies. When did this become fashionable? It is clearly not biblical. Dr. Douglas Groothuis on his blog linked to an excellent 1985 article by Dr. Ronald Nash, titled Socialism, Capitalism, and the Bible”. Here is an important portion of the article:

One dominant feature of capitalism is economic freedom, the right of people to exchange things voluntarily, free from force, fraud, and theft. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to replace the freedom of the market with a group of central planners who exercise control over essential market functions. There are degrees of socialism as there are degrees of capitalism in the real world. But basic to any form of socialism is distrust of or contempt for the market process and the desire to replace the freedom of the market with some form of centralized control. Generally speaking, as one moves along the continuum of socialism to capitalism, one finds the following: the more freedom a socialist allows, the closer his position is to interventionism; the more freedom an interventionist allows, the closer his position is to capitalism. The crux is the extent to which human beings will be permitted to exercise their own choices in the economic sphere of life.

I will say nothing more about that deplorable economic system known as interventionism, a hopeless attempt to stop on a slippery slope where no stop is possible. The only way the half-hearted controls of the interventionist can work is if they become the total controls of the socialist. Anything less will result in the kind of troubled and self-damaging economy we have had for the past several decades in the United States.

It fascinates me that in the year 2009, we have reverted to interventionism once again. In our arrogance that we are doing something new and our fervor for change, we have neglected to learn from history, and are therefore doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

I shall attempt to get a clearer fix on the real essence both of capitalism and socialism and then see which is more compatible with the biblical worldview. The best starting point for this comparison is a distinction made most recently by the American economist, Walter Williams. According to Williams, there are two and only two ways in which something may be exchanged. He called them the peaceful means of exchange and the violent means of exchange.

The peaceful means of exchange may be summed up in the phrase, “If you do something good for me, then I’ll do something good for you.” When capitalism is understood correctly, it epitomizes the peaceful means of exchange. The reason people exchange in a real market is because they believe the exchange is good for them. They take advantage of an opportunity to obtain something they want more in exchange for something they desire less. Capitalism then should be understood as a voluntary system of relationships that utilizes the peaceful means of exchange.

But exchange can also take place by means of force and violence. In this violent means of exchange, the basic rule of thumb is: “Unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you.” This turns out to be the controlling principle of socialism. Socialism means far more than centralized control of the economic process. It entails the introduction of coercion into economic exchange in order to facilitate the attainment of the goals of the elite who function as the central planners. One of the great ironies of Christian socialism is that its proponents in effect demand that the State get out its weapons and force people to fulfill the demands of Christian love. Even if we fail to notice any other contrast between capitalism and socialism, we already have a major difference to relate to the biblical ethic. One system stresses voluntary and peaceful exchange while the other depends on coercion and violence.

Some Christian socialists object to the way I have set this up. They profess contempt for the more coercive forms of state-socialism on exhibit in communist countries. They would like us to believe that a more humane, non-coercive kind of socialism is possible. They would like us to believe that there is a form of socialism, not yet tried anywhere on earth, where the central ideas are cooperation and community and where coercion and dictatorship are precluded. But they provide very little information about the workings of this more utopian kind of socialism, and they ignore the fact that however humane and voluntary their socialism is supposed to become after it has been put into effect, it will take massive amounts of coercion and theft to get things started.

Dr. Nash is absolutely correct. The naive attitude that claims that coercion does not occur in a socialistic system, forget that by its very nature it coerces a “redistribution of wealth”.

To that paradox, add one more: the fact that socialists need capitalism in order to survive. Unless socialists make allowance for some free markets which provide the pricing information that alone makes rational economic activity possible, socialist economies would have even more problems than those for which they are already notorious. Consequently, socialism is a gigantic fraud which attacks the market at the same time it is forced to utilize the market process.

But critics of the market try to shift attention away from their own embarrassing problems to claims that capitalism must be abolished or restricted because it is unjust or because it restricts important human freedoms. Capitalism is supposed to be unchristian because it allegedly gives a predominant place to greed and other unchristian values. It is alleged to increase poverty and the misery of the poor while, at the same time, it makes a few rich at the expense of the many. Socialism, on the other hand, is portrayed as the economic system of people who really care for the less fortunate members of society. Socialism is represented as the economics of compassion. Socialism is also recommended on the ground that it encourages other basic Christian values such as community.

If these claims were true, they would constitute a serious problem for anyone anxious to show that capitalism is compatible with the biblical ethic. But, of course, the claims are not true. People who make such charges have their facts wrong or are aiming at the wrong target. The “capitalism” they accuse of being inhumane is a caricature. The system that in fact produces the consequences they deplore turns out to be not capitalism, but interventionism.

Capitalism is not economic anarchy. It recognizes several necessary conditions for the kinds of voluntary relationships it recommends. One of these presuppositions is the existence of inherent human rights, such as the right to make decisions, the right to be free, the right to hold property, and the right to exchange what one owns for something else. Capitalism also presupposes a system of morality. Capitalism should be thought of as a system of voluntary relationships within a framework of laws which protect people’s rights against force, fraud, theft, and violations of contracts. “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not lie” are part of the underlying moral constraints of the system. Economic exchanges can hardly be voluntary if one participant is coerced, deceived, defrauded, or robbed.

While I agree with Dr. Nash in how Capitalism has functioned in the past, there has been a significant shift in recent decades. Capitalism needs an underlying Christian ethic/character. As Western world has moved further away from a conservative Christian ethos, capitalism needs greater oversight and legal/regulatory control.

Once we grant that consistency with the biblical doctrine of sin is a legitimate test of political and economic systems, it is relatively easy to see how well democratic capitalism scores in this regard. The limited government willed to Americans by the Founding Fathers was influenced in large measure by biblical considerations about human sin. If one of the more effective ways of mitigating the effects of human sin in society is dispersing and decentralizing power, the conservative view of government is on the right track. So too is the conservative vision of economics.

The free market is consistent with the biblical view of human nature in another way. It recognizes the weaknesses of human nature and the limitations of human knowledge. No one can possibly know enough to manage a complex economy. No one should ever be trusted with this power. However, in order for socialism to work, socialism requires a class of omniscient planners to forecast the future, to set prices and to control production. In the free market system, decisions are not made by an omniscient bureaucratic elite but made across the entire economic system by countless economic agents.

At this point, of course, collectivists will raise another set of objections. Capitalism, they will counter, may make it difficult for economic power to be consolidated in the hands of the state; but it only makes it easier for vast concentrations of wealth and power to be vested in the hands of private individuals and companies. But the truth turns out to be something quite different from this widely accepted myth. It is not the free market that produces monopolies; rather it is governmental intervention with the market that creates the conditions that encourage monopoly.

As for another old charge, that capitalism encourages greed, the truth is just the reverse. The mechanism of the market neutralizes greed as selfish individuals are forced to find ways of servicing the needs of those with whom they wish to exchange. As we know, various people often approach economic exchanges with motives and objectives that fall short of the biblical ideal. But no matter how base or selfish a person’s motives may be, so long as the rights of the other parties are protected, the greed of the first individual cannot harm them. As long as greedy individuals are prohibited from introducing force, fraud, and theft into the exchange process, their greed must be channeled into the discovery of products or services for which people are willing to exchange their holdings. Every person in a market economy has to be other-directed.

New Religion of the Left

Finally, some examples of the way in which attempts to ground American liberalism and interventionism or Latin American liberationism on the Bible involve serious distortions of the biblical message.

For instance, consider how radical American evangelicals on the Left abuse the biblical notion of justice. The basic idea in the Old Testament notion of justice is righteousness and fairness. But it is essential to the Leftist’s cause that he read into biblical pronouncements about justice, contemporary notions of distributive justice. When the Bible says that Noah was a just man, it does not mean that he would have voted the straight Democratic ticket. It means simply that he was a righteous man.

Likewise, many Christians on the Left seek to reinterpret Jesus’ earthly mission in exclusively economic and political terms. In their view, Jesus came primarily to deliver those who were poor and oppressed in a material sense. But every member of the human race is poor in the sense of being spiritually bankrupt. Jesus came to end our spiritual poverty by making available the righteousness that God demands and that only God can provide.

It is heresy to state that God’s love for people varies in proportion to their wealth and social class. It is nonsense to suggest that all the poor are good and all the rich are evil. Once we eliminate the semantic game-playing by which some refer to a non-coercive voluntary utopian type of socialism, it becomes clear that socialism is incompatible with a truly free society. Edmund Opitz has seen this clearly: “As History’s vice-regent, the Planner is forced to view men as mass; which is to deny their full stature as persons with rights endowed by the Creator, gifted with free will, possessing the capacity to order their own lives in terms of their convictions. The man who has the authority and the power to put the masses through their paces, and to punish nonconformists, must be ruthless enough to sacrifice a person to a principle…a commissar who believes that each person is a child of God will eventually yield to a commissar whose ideology is consonant with the demands of his job. ”

And so, Opitz concludes, “Socialism needs a secular religion to sanction its authoritarian politics, and it replaces the traditional moral order by a code which subordinates the individual to the collective.” All of this is justified in the cause of improving economic well-being and in the name of compassion.

The Choice I Make

I think I have said enough to allow me, at least, to make a reasoned choice between capitalism and socialism on the basis of each system’s compatibility to the biblical worldview. The alternative to free exchange is violence. Capitalism is a mechanism that allows natural human desires to be satisfied in a nonviolent way. Little can be done to prevent human beings from wanting to be rich. But what capitalism does is channel that desire into peaceful means that benefit many besides those who wish to improve their own situation.

Which choice then should I, as a Christian, make in the selection between capitalism and socialism? Capitalism is quite simply the most moral system, the most effective system, and the most equitable system of economic exchange. When capitalism, the system of free economic exchange, is described fairly, there can be no question that it, rather than socialism or interventionism, comes closer to matching the demands of the biblical ethic.

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February 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Wolfhart Pannenberg on gay marriage and homosexuality

Should We Support Gay Marriage? NO
by Wolfhart Pannenberg
from
Good News Magazine

   Can love ever be sinful? The entire tradition of Christian doctrine teaches that there is such a thing as inverted, perverted love. Human beings are created for love, as creatures of the God who is Love. And yet that divine appointment is corrupted whenever people turn away from God or love other things more than God.

   Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matt. 10:37, NRSV). Love for God must take precedence over love for our parents, even though love for parents is commanded by the fourth commandment.

   The will of God be the guiding star of our identity and self- determination. What this means for sexual behavior can be seen in Jesus’ teaching about divorce. In order to answer the Pharisees’ question about the admissibility of divorce, Jesus refers to the creation of human beings. Here he sees God expressing his purpose for his creatures: Creation confirms that God has created human beings as male and female. Thus, a man leaves his father and mother to be united with his wife, and the two become one flesh.

   Jesus concludes from this that the unbreakable permanence of fellowship between husband and wife is the Creator’s will for human beings. The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9). Since on this principle the Bible is not time bound, Jesus’ word is the foundation and criterion for all Christian pronouncement on sexuality, not just marriage in particular, but our entire creaturely identities as sexual beings. According to Jesus’ teaching, human sexuality as male and as female
is intended for the indissoluble fellowship of marriage. This standard informs Christian teaching about the entire domain of sexual behavior.

   Jesus’ perspective, by and large, corresponds to Jewish tradition, even though his stress on the indissolubility of marriage goes beyond the provision for divorce within Jewish law (Deut. 24:1). It was a shared Jewish conviction that men and women in their sexual identity are intended for the community of marriage. This also accounts for the Old Testament assessment of sexual behaviors that depart from this norm, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual relations.

   The biblical assessments of homosexual practice are unambiguous in their rejection, and all its statements on this subject agree without exception. The Holiness Code of Leviticus incontrovertibly affirms, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22 NRSV). Leviticus 20 includes homosexual behavior among the crimes meriting capital punishment (Lev. 20:13; it is significant that the same applies to adultery in verse 10). On these matters, Judaism always knew itself to be distinct from other nations.

   This same distinctiveness continued to determine the New Testament statement about homosexuality, in contrast to the Hellenistic culture that took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans, Paul includes homosexual behavior among the consequences of turning away from God (1:27). In 1 Corinthians, homosexual practice belongs with fornication, adultery, idolatry, greed, drunkenness, theft, and robbery as behaviors that preclude participation in the kingdom of God (6:9 10); Paul affirms that through baptism Christians have become free from their entanglement in all these practices (6:11).

   The New Testament contains not a single passage that might indicate a more positive assessment of homosexual activity to counterbalance these Pauline statements. Thus, the entire biblical witness includes practicing homosexuality, without exception among the kinds of behavior that give particularly striking expression to humanity’s turning away from God. This exegetical result places very narrow boundaries around the view of homosexuality in any church that is under the authority of Scripture. What is more, the biblical statements on this subject merely represent the negative corollary to the Bible’s positive views on the creational purpose of men and women in their sexuality.

   These texts that are negative toward homosexual behavior are not merely dealing with marginal opinions that could be neglected without detriment to the Christian message as a whole. Moreover, the biblical statements about homosexuality cannot be relativized as the expressions of a cultural situation that today is simply outdated. The biblical witness from the outset deliberately opposed the assumptions of their cultural environment in the name of faith in the God of Israel, who in Creation appointed men and women for a particular identity.

   Contemporary advocates for a change in the church’s view of homosexuality commonly point out that the biblical statements were unaware of important modern anthropological evidence. This new evidence, it is said, suggests that homosexuality must be regarded as a given constituent of the psychosomatic identity of homosexual persons, entirely prior to any corresponding sexual expression. (For the sake of clarity it is better to speak here of a homophile inclination as distant from homosexual practice.) Such phenomena occur not only in people who are homosexually active. But inclination need not dictate practice. It is characteristic of human beings that our sexual impulses are not confined to a separate realm of behavior; they permeate our behavior in every area of life. This, of course, includes relationships with persons of the same sex. However, precisely because erotic motives are involved in all aspects of human behavior, we are
faced with the task of integrating them into the whole of our life and
conduct.

   The mere existence of homophile inclinations does not automatically lead to homosexual practice. Rather, these inclinations can be integrated into a life in which they are subordinated to the relationship with the opposite sex where, in fact, the subject of sexual activity should not be the all-determining center of human life and vocation. As the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly pointed out, one of the primary achievements of marriage as an institution is its enrollment of human sexuality in the service of ulterior tasks and goals.

   The reality of homophile inclinations, therefore, need not be denied and must not be condemned. The question, however, is how to handle such inclinations within the human task of responsibly directing our behavior. This is the real problem; and it is here that we must deal with the conclusion that homosexual activity is a departure from the norm for sexual behavior that has been given to men and women as creatures of God. For the church this is the case not only for homosexual, but for any sexual activity that does not intend the goal of marriage between man and wife particular, adultery.

   The church has to live with the fact that, in this area of life as in
others, departures from the norm are not exceptional but rather common and widespread. The church must encounter all those concerned with tolerance and understanding but also call them to repentance. It cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and behavior that departs from that norm.

   Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

   Wolfhart Pannenberg, arguably the preeminent contemporary theologian, recently retired after 27 years as professor of systematic theology at the University of Munich, Germany, and director of the Institute of Ecumenical Theology. Translated by Markus Bockmuehl for publication in the Church Times; copyright Wolfhart Pannenberg.

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Treating gossips justly: a parody

My mother is a gossip. There I said it. She came out of the closet and let everyone know how proud she was of her identity as a gossip. Some might even refer to her as a flaming gossip. Lord knows it was not a choice. Who would choose to be a gossip? You are derided and treated like a second class citizen. People do not want to be your friend or confide in you. No one would ever choose to be a gossip. She told me about the first experience she has as a child speaking about a friend behind their back. What a feeling of exhilaration and euphoria! She knew who she was, but her family and friends made her ashamed of herself. She carried so much pain, denying who she was for so long. But for years now she has lived as a serial unrepentant active proud gossip. She’s lost jobs and even many friends and family have abandoned her ever since she came out.

The traditional view is that the Bible is against gossips, but this is the farthest thing from the truth. In reality the Bible only condemns oppressive, abusive forms of gossip and gossip against slaves and those who are weak and marginalized. But loving forms of gossip out of the desire to see people change is never condemned. The first century Greek, Roman and Jewish culture was dominated by oppressive gossipers and had no knowledge of monogamous loving gossips. Sections of scripture that condemn gossips, are really only condemning a lack of hospitality. God did not condemn Sodom and Gomorrah for talking about those strangers behind their backs and plotting against them, but because they didn’t offer them welcoming gossip about their clothing. It does not go against nature to gossip. It is the most natural thing for some to reflect with others about how others dress, look, act, etc.

Today science is zeroing in on the gossip gene. I know that all recent studies have not shown a decisive gossip gene, but it is only a matter of time. How many of us know loving gossips?

It is time to embrace…to embrace our brothers and sisters who out of no choice of their own find their identity as gossips. It is time to welcome and embrace them as ordained pastors, elders and deacons. It is the just and right thing to do.

Warning: Just don’t tell them any secrets.

February 18, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrate Darwin, celebrate death…in your church?

Eugenics is usually defined as the study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.

On this anniversary of Darwin’s 200th birthday it is good to be reminded that eugenics is exactly what Darwinian evolution leads to. A few weeks ago I wrote about how thousands of clergy are actively promoting the clergy letter project – a movement formed to bring Darwinian evolution to full acceptance within Christian churches (signed by over 11,800 clergy, a great many of whom are Presbyterians). They are either through ignorance or pernicious purposefulness promoting the clear logical conclusion of eugenics along with the bad science of macroevolution.

Here is Darwin in his own words from the Descent of Man:

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health…We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propogate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed…If various checks…do not prevent the reckless, the vicious and otherwise inferior members of society from increasing at a quicker rate than the better class of men, the nation will retrograde, as has occurred too often in the history of the world. We must remember that progress is no invariable rule.

These were the kinds of thoughts and conclusions that lead directly to Hitler’s ideas, who credited many of his ideas to Darwin. While today, our culture shies away from these conclusions it was not always so. Witness this discussion from a U.S. high school biology text dated 1917:

Improvement of Man…If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask If the health and and vigor of future generations of men and women on the earth might not be improved by applying to them the laws of selection (e.g. Darwinian natural selection)…epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.

These were also the same kinds of conclusions of Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood).

These clergy (and I use the term loosely) who promote Darwinian evolution are knowingly or ignorantly also promoting eugenics, abortion and death. If you are not outraged yet, you should be.

 


 

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Middle Way is really a winding trail leading to the Left: Part 4 of Pluralism, Inclusivism and Exclusivism are they all equally Christian?

I would propose that there are five main problems with middle way thinking in areas that Christians have traditionally consider to be essential beliefs to the faith and ethical imperatives. No problem exists in areas that are non-essential. Should the pulpit be in the middle, at the side, or no pulpit at all? While that can be a vexing and concerning issue, I know of no one who considers this an essential of the faith.

Problem #1: By their very nature those aspects of the faith that people consider essential or imperative are not open to compromise, otherwise they would not be considered essential.

Do you believe in the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? The vast majority of Christians throughout history and in all parts of the world would consider this to be at the heart of the Christian faith and an absolute essential. Is there an acceptable “middle way” option on this? I would boldly affirm – absolutely NOT!

Problem #2: Essentials &ethical imperatives are gleaned from rigorous biblical exegesis examined and tested over centuries. “Middle way” options tend to give higher priority to modern critical thought and political correctness (what the Bible often refers to as worldliness).

Problem #3: In a connected church system like the PCUSA there is a requirement of all involved to affirm at least on some level the “middle way” option. Therefore, in this issue, all active members would be obliged on some level to affirm serial unrepentant sexual immorality as acceptable for church leaders.

Problem #4: The major point of using the analogy of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is to show that the “middle way” option always purposely and by design leads toward the liberal viewpoint. In the inclusivist position, the objection to pluralism is softened by offering a philosophical twist to include “Jesus only” language. If I can still hold that people are still saved only by Jesus Christ, I can then “feel good” about the position. When in effect, the position does violence to the Reformed positions of conversion and regeneration, either by completely destroying the need for them or completely reinterpreting them, thereby doing further violence to the biblical texts. The final effect of the middle way option is still a form of pluralism with an overlay of exclusivist language. Theologically you completely undermine the need for evangelism in the process.

In the current debate over the ordination of unrepentant self-affirming practicing homosexuals you have the same dynamic going on. For instance in Dr. Robert Gagnon’s excellent review of Jack Rogers’ influential, but error-ridden book, Jesus the Bible and Homosexuality, he writes this:

Rogers isn’t really interested in finding out what Scripture says. He is interested in pacifying Scripture so that it does not oppose his desire to support homosexual practice reached on grounds other than Scripture. Any argument will do for disabling Scripture’s statements that appear to speak absolutely against homosexual practice. Consistency of argumentation is secondary to this overall goal.

This is the major damage that is caused by the “middle way” attempts where there is no ambiguity and clear unequivocal biblical witness. You do violence to the biblical witness by pacifying it (as Gagnon rightly puts it) and you force an accommodation of sin (doing even greater damage to those caught in the trap of this sinful lifestyle).

Problem #5: The middle way option never turns out to be an end-point. In a theologically broad denomination, you have those who will always see this as a justice issue since they are convinced that there is nothing inherently sinful about homosexual acts, but rather view this as an identity issue – despite the fact that there is no scientific or biblical witness to that effect. Therefore, they will continue to pull the issue further toward the liberal side of the aisle until they are victorious, at which point the line will move even further to the left.

My conclusion is that “middle way” options, while well intentioned, ultimately leads in the liberationist direction. If we truly believe that scripture is our final authority on these issues, then there can be no “middle way” on issues about which Bible speaks so strongly. Fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman and chastity in singleness is just as clear a biblical requirement for followers of Christ now as it has been for 2000 years (how much more so for Christian leaders). The biblical witness has not changed. Exclusivism remains the clear biblical position when it comes to soteriology, despite the best efforts by many. These are essentials to our faith just as much now (maybe even more so because of the attacks on them) as they were in past centuries.

February 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Exclusivism vs. Inclusivism (the middle way) [part 3 of Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Exclusivism: are they all equally Christian?]

Exclusivists:

“Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offered unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” Westminster Confession of Faith

The Exclusivist position has been the most widely held position by Christian leaders through the vast majority of Christian history. The position simply stated is that salvation is in Jesus Christ alone and requires both the objective knowledge element as well the subjective personal authentic commitment and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (with elements of repentance of sin, and a trusting in the historic work of Jesus on the Cross).

While Inclusivists such as John Sanders believe that an act of faith is necessary, they insist that this faith need not have the historical Jesus as its direct object.  “Saving faith…does not necessitate knowledge of Christ in this life.  God’s gracious activity is wider than the arena of special revelation.  God will accept into his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus.”

Exclusivists understand the Biblical data to clearly and unequivocally require the objective side as well as the subjective side.  Faith in a generic God (personal or impersonal) along with a sense of remorse or repentance is insufficient, without some rudimentary level of understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done on the cross and through the resurrection.

A very brief Biblical defense (focusing just in Acts) of Exclusivism: (much of this is on one of my previous blog entries here)

Paul referred to conversion when he said to the Ephesian elders, “I have declared to both Jews and Greek that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). In the book of Acts we also discover that genuine conversion involves believing in the truth (Acts 11:21; 15:11), a turning from evil (8:22) and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation (20:21). Luke records the message of the physically resurrected Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:15-18). Clearly the reception of forgiveness and a place among those who are sanctified is by faith, which requires a turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. This chapter serves as a bookend to Peter’s sermon/speech in chapter 2. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation'” (2:37-41).

Faith is belief in the truths of the Gospel and a commitment and obedience to Jesus. We can see this in the fact that the object of faith was to be the person of Jesus (Acts 11:17; 14;23; 16:31) as well as the preached word (4:4; 17:11) and the full message of saving doctrine (6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5). This clearly indicates a certain minimum knowledge of the gospel message with the focus being a trusting in the person of Jesus Christ for salvation.

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Middle way – the Inclusivist position [part 2 of Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Exclusivism: are they all equally Christian?]

The current moderator of the PCUSA Bruce Reyes-Chow and others are currently advocating for a “middle way” when it comes to such issues as the ordination of homosexuals. Throughout this series I will show that when it comes to “essentials of the faith” or moral imperatives, the so-called “middle way” always leads toward the liberal position or a “soft liberal” position. It is true when it comes to a foundational aspect such as the issue of salvation, and it is true on the major issue of the moral imperatives in areas of sexuality. Only if the issue is relegated to the arena of non-essential is a middle way possible. In this blog entry I will continue my review of Ronald Nash’s excellent book Is Jesus the Only Savior as I present the inclusivist (middle way) position on salvation, highlighting in general terms the problems with this view. Part 3 will focus on exclusivism with a review of the important biblical texts on this issue. Part 4 will be my assessment of this middle way more thoroughly and how this “middle way” is analogous with the so-called “middle way” on the issue of the ordination of self-identified unrepentant homosexuals.

The Inclusivist position is summed up well by John Sanders in the following quote:

“The unevangelized are saved or lost on the basis of their commitment, or lack thereof, to the God who saves through the work of Jesus. Inclusivists believe that appropriation of salvific grace (grace that is able to save) is mediated through general revelation (knowledge of God through nature, culture and our inner-consciousness) and God’s providential workings in human history.  Briefly, Inclusivists affirm the particularity and finality of salvation only in Christ but deny that knowledge of his work is necessary for salvation – The work of Jesus is ontologically necessary for salvation (that is no one would be saved without it) but not epistemologically necessary (that is one need not be aware of the work in order to benefit from it).”

Pluralists (part 1) believe that sincere followers of non-Christian religions can experience salvation through those religions, but Inclusivists insist that devout believers of other religions will be saved, but only on the basis of Christ’s atoning work.

 There are two basic maxims of Inclusivists:

1.      Particularity – Jesus Christ is the only mediator of salvation.  Jesus is Lord and Salvation is only available in and through Jesus Christ.

2.      Universality – God intends his salvation to be available to all (1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11). God must therefore give everyone a chance, because he wills that everyone be saved.  Therefore, God must make available salvation to all including those that were outside the sphere of Hebrew influence in the Old Testament, and who have never heard the gospel after the resurrection of Christ.

 
 

According to Ronald Nash and others who have studied the statistics on this, well over 50% of those who consider themselves Evangelicals are Inclusivists, other statistics indicate 75% and above are inclusivists in mainline denominations. The statistics vary depending on how the questions are asked.

 
 

Catholicism & Inclusivism:

Modern day Catholicism also is not immune to this.  It is considered the majority view of Catholicism today.  The second Vatican Council (1962-65) issued this statement: “They also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”  Karl Rahner is a major Catholic theologian who coined the term “anonymous Christians.”  He believed that God worked through other religions to save people (anonymous Christians), then when the church (Catholic) becomes established in that area, God no longer needs those other religions.  Rahner held a very high view of other religions.

 
 

Evangelical Inclusivism:

 
 

Clark Pinnock, a leading advocate for Inclusivism writes, “We must not conclude, just because we know a person to be a Buddhist, that his or her heart is not seeking God…What God really cares about is faith and not theology, trust and not orthodoxy.”

Evangelicals historically have held that a person’s faith must be directed toward the right object, and that faith must include the right subjective attitudes such as sincerity, genuine commitment and trust in a personal Lord.  What Pinnock’s view does is minimize or completely remove the first aspect, which is directing faith toward the right object. Pinnock also writes,

“Faith in God is what saves, not possessing certain minimum information…A person is saved by faith, even if the content of faith is deficient (and whose is not?). The Bible does not teach that one must confess the name of Jesus to be saved.”  

John Sanders another defender of Inclusivism writes this:

“People can receive the gift of salvation without knowing the giver or the precise nature of the gift…’Saving faith’…does not necessitate knowledge of Christ in this life.  God’s gracious activity is wider that the arena of special revelation.  God will accept into his kingdom those who repent and trust him even if they know nothing of Jesus.”

 
 

What Inclusivism does not do is affirm Universalism (Everyone will be saved).

Key assumption #1:  General Revelation (what might be known by God through nature, history and one’s inner conscience) is sufficient to bring salvation.  The term gospel tends to be used for more than simply the good news of God’s saving work through the Second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, but also what God is revealing through nature and history. 

Major Problem: There is no biblical warrant for using the term “gospel” this broadly. Rather the term always focuses on the work of Christ in redemption.

Key assumption # 2:  People who lived before Christ are in the same position as those who have not heard of Christ or have had a bad presentation of the gospel.  Therefore Old Testament Jewish believers are on the same footing as present-day non-Christians who believe in some form of God.

Major Problem: There are major biblical problems with this assumption that adherents tend to avoid:  Both Old and New Testament believers share a covenantal relationship that was based and grounded on special revelation (The Bible, and prophets who speak for God).  The Old Testament foreshadowed the coming Messiah and his death and resurrection, and they were to trust in what the true God was doing and revealing in that.

Key assumption #3:  The existence of “holy pagans” such as Job, Jethro, Naaman, the Roman centurion Cornelius, the Magi, and most especially Melchizedek.  

Major Problem: Unfortunately this argument has no biblical warrant for all these supposedly “holy pagans” respond in the O.T. to what Yahweh is doing and revealing through his prophets by faith, while in the N.T. it is their response to Christ that is key. The Magi were in fact seeking Jesus, not just some unknown god, possibly by what was imbedded in their culture through special revelation through Balaam in the Old Testament, who prophecies were revealed to him by Yahweh about a kingly star. 

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pluralism, Inclusivism, and Exclusivism – Are they all equally Christian? (Part 1)

Recently I have been reading on some of the Presbyterian blogs and web sites a discussion about whether there is such a thing as a “middle way” on issues that divide the PCUSA and most mainline churches in general. The current issue has to do with the ordination of homosexuals and the full acceptance of homosexual practice as good (not a sin). Many have indicated that the issue lies deeper in the differences in understanding the authority of Scripture. I agree that it has much to do with our view of Scripture, but the issues in my opinion are even deeper than this. I believe there is a fundamental difference in understanding what it means to be a Christian, and whether or not there should even be “beliefs” associated with Christianity. I will begin this series with a discussion in honor of Dr. Ronald Nash, who passed away two years ago, summarizing and reviewing some of the main points from Dr. Nash’s book “Is Jesus the Only Savior and interacting with those ideas. I recommend the book highly and hope that you will consider purchasing this wonderful book. 

Is Jesus the only way to heaven?
(In a world where we are likely to have neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc., of differing faiths, is it not arrogant and intolerant to profess Jesus as the only savior?) 

Pluralists answer the question: “NO.  Jesus is not the only way.”

Inclusivists answer the question: “Yes, but….”

Exclusivists answer the question: “Yes, period.”

Let’s look first at the pluralist position. 

Pluralists often begin with criticism of the exclusivist’s view of truth in the area of religion, by rejecting either-or language in favor of both-and.  Pluralists believe that while it might be impossible to dispense with either-or language in the everyday world, in the area of religion, we must be rid of it.  Here is an example: “either this mushroom is poisonous or it is not.”  It would be nonsensical to say; “both this mushroom is poisonous and it is not,” yet that is precisely how pluralists believe we must think about religion.  Pluralists want us to believe that fundamental laws of logic have no place in religious discussions.  Therefore there is a major problem for this perspective right from the beginning, because those logical laws are not something humanly created, but are the foundation for “all significant thought, action, and communication” (Nash, p.55).  For more on this topic I recommend Douglas Groothuis’ Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism.

 “Philosophers often distinguish between two kinds of believing, belief that and belief in…In belief that, my act of believing is directed toward some proposition (Barack Obama [I took the liberty to update the reference] is the current president of the U.S.A)…If I believe in my friend, Joe Smith, it means that I trust him…when I believe in God, it means that I trust God and have committed myself to him…It is very important to see that belief in presupposes belief that. If I believe in God, it is because of all the propositions about God that I believe are true (e.g. He is wise, loving, kind, forgiving, holy, etc.)” (Nash p.57). 

Many today believe that Christianity is a “belief in” religion and therefore does not require us to believe that…certain propositional truth statements are true.  The idea is this: Christianity depends on a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and that is all.  The rest has simply arisen from ignorance, or what-have-you, and not from the actual core of the faith.  If we simply see Christianity as a belief in… faith, then we can dispense with the prepositional truths that have normally been associated with Christianity.  What Ronald Nash points out in his book is that belief in… is meaningless without belief that…  How can one believe in God or another person, without believing certain prepositional truths about someone?  How can someone be asked to trust someone of whom you have no knowledge?  Biblically, belief in God requires knowledge of the character of God.  Therefore, I must believe that God is trustworthy, faithful, kind, loving, knowledgeable, full of wisdom, capable of accomplishing what he has willed, truthful, etc.

 Here is the form of a religious pluralists’ argument:

1)      All religions are ultimately myth.

2)      Most adherents of those religions are ignorant of this, since they believe that their truth claims accurately reflect reality.

3)      In actuality, reality is unknown (or for many a pantheistic worldview).

4)      Therefore, language like, “Jesus is Lord,” is just as valid as saying that, “the only God is Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet.”

5)      The experience of the divine of each adherent is what is important.

6)      Ultimately each one has a legitimate experience of the divine, and therefore all views are valid.

Pluralists such as John Hick (a leading writer in the pluralist camp), usually recognize that their views will not stand if certain historic positions of the Christian church are true, and therefore they will often go about the task of attempting to dispute them.  They often begin with criticism and deconstruction of the historical reliability of the New Testament documents, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the deity of Christ. All of these things are myth – not literally true, but practically true.

“Hick develops a clever analogy in defense of his view of myth: He tells the story of a man in love who declares that his Helen is the sweetest and prettiest girl in the whole world.  While such an exaggeration cannot be literally true, it may be mythically true if it expresses an appropriate attitude of the lover toward the person he loves.  In a similar way, early Christians took the simple expression ‘Jesus is my Lord and Savior,’ a psychological statement and transformed it into a metaphysical claim; ‘Jesus is the only Lord and Savior.’  Hick wishes people would stop thinking of the Incarnation as a metaphysical ‘truth’ and regard it as an ‘imaginative reconstruction’ that expresses ‘the Christian’s devotion to Jesus as the one who has made the heavenly Father real to him.’ Jesus is not the Savior; he is only my savior” (Nash, p.72). 

Christian Liberals, Neo-orthodox, and even many that consider themselves Evangelicals that ascribe to the pluralist view, relegate the views that Jesus atoned for people’s sins on the cross, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, and that Jesus was literally God incarnate to the realm of myth with meaning.  Jesus was god-conscious (a human being who achieved a special awareness of God and God’s love), but certainly not the third person of the Trinity.  For pluralists, all of these things should be understood to be metaphorical language that speaks of experiences with the divine, rather than literally describing reality.

Next, I will be looking at inclusivism – the so-called middle way and a favorite of Barthian Neoorthodox and even many modern evangelicals, such as William Young (the author of The Shack) and Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz).

February 8, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Some who call themselves Christian believe that Jesus Never Existed

Sometimes it is hard to believe, but there are actually people who hold ordained ministerial positions in churches who believe that Jesus never existed. For this group of “Christian” (I am using the term very loosely) leaders, the Jesus Seminar was simply not liberal enough. Yes, they discarded most of the words of the gospels as original. Yes, they rejected any form of supernatural miracle. But what was left, was a human guy, who said a few nice sounding things (not much reason to crucify the guy). But for many who wish to completely shed the shackles of orthodoxy, this was simply not going far enough. We must discard the person of Jesus entirely. He never lived. He is entirely fictional. There is even a so-called scholarly group that is working on this – funded by universities (many of which were originally founded by completely orthodox Christians) and I am guessing even a few denominations. They call it the Jesus Project of all things. As I thought about this group, it occurred to me that they need a theme hymn. So with apologies to Anna Warner and David Rutherford McGuire (the writers of Jesus Loves Me), I offer up a reworded theme hymn for the Jesus Project and all those who think there is something to this bovine excrement. (For a full refutation of all of this bologna there is an excellent and highly scholarly book entitled Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, written by Richard Bauckham, which I will be reviewing in an upcoming blog entry.)

(REFRAIN) Yes, Jesus loves me! Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me! For I made him so.

  1. Jesus loves me! This I know,
    Because he’s fiction, I made him so,
    Little ones are ignorant;
    They’ll believe everything I chant.
    (Refrain)
  2. Jesus loves me! This I know,
    That and water make plants grow,
    You’ll not find him in history,
    He is myth and mystery.
    (Refrain)
  3. Jesus loves me still today,
    If you think he existed, that’s o.k.,
    He’s the bread and he’s the vine,
    He’s just a story and not divine.
    (Refrain)

February 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A murder is a murder is a murder!

The Florida case of an infant born alive during an abortion, highlights the fundamental illogic and utter heinousness of the very act of abortion. This Florida case refers to the events as a “botched abortion”, because the woman went into labor and gave birth. The abortion facility worker then simply puts the baby (alive at the time) into a bag, effectively suffocating the baby, then proceeds to dump the baby into the trash. Why is this abortion any more “botched” than a standard abortion? If the abortion was done according to proper procedure the baby would have been murdered inside the womb of the mother, then dumped into the trash. Why should one be considered murder, while the other is not?

I would love to have someone who is pro-choice explain to me why it is that one scenario should be considered legal and moral, while the other is both illegal and immoral. Why should one be punishable in a court of law as a form of homicide, while the other is legal, rewarded financially in a handsome way, and now encouraged around the world by our tax dollars (thanks to the act of President Obama)? We have become a culture of death, but above this, we have become a culture that sacrifices life, logic and all ethical standards to the gods of self, choice, ease and comfort.

 

February 5, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

How Ironic: Obama, Phelps and drugs

I just recently read about the hubbub over Michael Phelps being caught doing drugs. It is truly very sad reading about a man that many young people idealize failing and sinning so publicly. Yet the “anointed one”, Barack Obama, who so many look to be the one to lead the U.S. into the Liberal Promised Land, had a similar and probably worse moral failing. The idealized current president of the United States admitted to cocaine and marijuana abuse and yet is perceived by many millions as the moral leader of the free world, while a wonderful athlete is vilified for a lesser abuse. Is there any irony here? Is there a double standard? Decide for yourself.

February 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments