February 28, 2015

The Official Southern Baptist Position on Peace and War

Many Evangelicals (including quite a few Southern Baptists) seem to be itching for the U. S. to become entangled in another interventionist war in the Middle East. In the midst of all the calls to war, I thought it might be helpful to remind everyone of the SBC's official position on peace and war as found in our confession, the Baptist Faith and Message.

The Baptist Faith & Message (2000):
XVI. Peace and War
It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war.

The true remedy for the war spirit is the gospel of our Lord. The supreme need of the world is the acceptance of His teachings in all the affairs of men and nations, and the practical application of His law of love. Christian people throughout the world should pray for the reign of the Prince of Peace.
I'm not, strictly speaking, a pacifist, but I am an advocate for just war.

The Pocket Dictionary of Philosophy & Apologetics:
just war theory. The ethical theory that Christians may legitimately fight in wars, but only when certain conditions are met. Those conditions include the following: the cause must be just; the war must be waged by a legitimate government; the means used must be moral; the war must be a last resort; and there must be a reasonable chance of achieving the goals of the war.
Ask yourself: Are we really at the point of last resort (or are we merely reacting to the fear-mongering and propaganda of the government and the mainstream media)? Do we really have any reasonable chance of achieving our goals (the primary goal being lasting peace in the Middle East)?

And, if you really want to have some fun, ask yourself this: Has any conflict in which the U. S. has been involved since WWII fit the above definition of just war?

We would do well to remember these words from our Lord, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).

Does the Bible Support Libertarianism?

Political libertarianism, that is (as opposed to the metaphysical libertarianism associated with Arminianism and Open Theism).

Here's a definition from The Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy:
libertarianism (political). In political philosophy, the view that individual human freedom is a primary value and that government restrictions on that freedom should be limited to what is necessary for the maintenance of a society that is conducive to freedom. Thus libertarianism offers a justification of state power over against anarchism, but it holds that there is moral justification only for a minimal state sufficient to defend citizens against attack and protect against crime.
Does the Bible offer any support for this kind of libertarianism? I believe that it does.
Proverbs 3:30
Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.

Romans 12:18 
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 13:3-4
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

February 24, 2015

Evanescent Grace

evanescent - tending to vanish like vapor (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

John Calvin:
I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instils into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure for ever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent. (Institutes III, ii, 11)

February 11, 2015

Review: Stealing from God by Frank Turek

 Turek, Frank. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (NavPress, 2015), 270 pp.

Frank Turek's latest makes the case that atheists, in order to argue against the existence of God, actually rely on aspects of reality that depend upon God for their existence. "These aspects of reality," Turek says, "are so much part of our common sense that many atheists take them for granted. But they simply can't exist if atheism is true. Theism can explain them, but atheism cannot" (p. xviii). These aspects of reality include causality, reason, information and intentionality, morality, evil, and science (represented by the acrostic CRIMES).

Turek avoids a problem that seems to plague many contemporary apologists (particularly those who subscribe to Reformed theology)—that of dwelling too much on apologetic methodology. Rather than devote half the book or more to discussing apologetics, Turek gets right down to the business of actually doing apologetics.

In keeping with his classical approach to apologetics, Turek first argues for theism in general before turning his attention to Christianity in particular. He devotes one chapter to each subject, explaining how causality, reason, morality, etc. each depend on God for their existence. When atheists build their arguments on these presuppositions, Turek argues, they are inadvertently making the case for theism rather than against it, because their assumptions only make sense given a theistic worldview. After making his case for theism, Turek presents his "four-point case for mere Christianity" in chapter 7. He concludes in chapter 8 with a brief summary and a gospel presentation.

My only complaint is with Turek's answer to the problem of evil (pp. 129-139). When attempting to answer the question, "If God, why evil?", Turek assumes the libertarian view of free will before mounting a speculative, soul-making theodicy. Though there is some truth here, it is intermingled with error (particularly Turek's assumptions about the nature of free will). There is a better answer to this question, one which takes into account several biblical teachings ignored here (for a more biblical response to the problem of evil, I suggest that the reader consult The Grand Demonstration by Jay Adams). Though I believe Turek's answer to the problem of evil detracts from the book, readers of a different theological persuasion may disagree.

While Stealing from God doesn't offer anything new or groundbreaking, it is a a welcome addition to the growing field of popular apologetics and a fine example of the classical approach. Recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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February 09, 2015

Did Jesus Command Us Not to Judge?

Frank Turek:
     Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of you eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank our of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
     Is Jesus telling us not to judge? No, He's commanding us to take the speck out of our brothers' eye—that involves making a judgement. He simply tells us to get our own house in order first so we judge rightly, not hypocritically. In other words, Jesus isn't telling us not to judge; He's telling us how to judge. Elsewhere Jesus tells us, "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."
     Just think about how impossible life would be if you didn't make judgements. You make hundreds, if not thousands, of judgements every day—judgments between good and evil, between right and wrong, between danger and safety. You'd be dead already if you didn't make judgements. . . . Have you ever noticed that when you complement people, they never say, "Who do you think you are? You shouldn't judge me! Stop being so judgmental!" See, it's not judging they find offensive, just judgments they don't like. [1]

1. Frank Turek. Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case (NavPress, 2015), pp. 182-183.

February 03, 2015

Review: Counter Culture by David Platt

Platt, David. Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortions, Orphans, and Pornography (Tyndale, 2015), 289 pp.

David Platt's new book shows all the signs of being the latest in a long line of Evangelical Jeremiads lamenting the fall of Western civilization. It's not. Instead, it is a plea for Christians to live counter-culturally, and, in so doing, to love our neighbors.

In the introduction, Platt asks, "What if Christ in us actually compels us to counter our culture? Not to quietly sit and watch evolving cultural trends . . . but to courageously share and show our conviction through what we say and how we live, even (or especially) when these convictions contradict the popular positions of our day" (p. xiv). Platt is concerned with what he calls "selective social injustice" (p. xv). There is, he says, a hypocritical kind of political correctness in Evangelicalism causing us to counter the culture only on select issues while ignoring grave sins and injustice in other areas (pp. xiii-xv, 18).

The issues which Platt adresses cut across party lines. He takes on poverty (ch. 2), human trafficking (ch. 5), and race relations (ch. 8), but he also addresses abortion (ch. 3), marriage (ch. 6), sexual morality (ch. 7), and religious liberty (ch. 9). No matter which side of the political fence the reader falls on, he will most likely agree with Platt at times and disagree at others. Though I could probably raise a few minor objections here and there, I think that, overall, Platt does an admirable job of applying sound, biblical thinking to each issue he addresses. Each chapter ends with a few suggestions to help the reader counter the culture through prayer, participation, and proclamation.

This book made me uncomfortable at times. That's not a criticism. It resulted in some prayerful self-examination, which is, I think, exactly what Platt intended.

I do, however, have some concerns. First, I think this book could potentially lead to mission drift within the church. There is a tendency in Evangelicalism to confuse the good works that individual believers do in order to love our neighbors (the primary concern of this book) with the much narrower mission of evangelism and discipleship that belongs to the church as a whole (Matthew 28:18-20). Platt does, however, attempt to alleviate this concern in his final chapter by reminding his readers of the importance of gospel proclamation (pp. 244-247).

Another concern is a subtle shift that takes place within the book. In chapter 1, Platt says, "The gospel . . . provides the foundation for countering culture. For when we truly believe the gospel, we begin to realize that the gospel . . . creates confrontation with the culture around—and within—us" (p. 1). However, by the final chapter, the focus has shifted from countering culture to changing or transforming the culture (pp. 245, 253). To put it bluntly, nowhere in Scripture is the church called to change the culture. Instead, we are called to be a faithful presence in a fallen world (Matthew 5:13-16). Cultural transformation, when it does take place, is a byproduct of the church's work rather than the focus of the church's work. Though Platt affirms this truth as well (pp. 245-246), the overall tone of the book is a bit too triumphalistic. Yes, we should hope, pray, and work to see greater obedience to God at every level of society, but we must also realize that, regardless of how faithful we are to our mission, we are not guaranteed to see any kind of grand, societal transformation this side of Christ's return (contra postmillennialism). Again, Platt makes all the proper concessions and qualifications (pp. 244-246, 253), it's just that the overall thrust of the book seems to be going in a transformationalist direction. While this detracted from my overall appreciation of the book, others who differ with me on the relationship between Christianity and culture may view it more favorably.

Counter Culture is not new territory for David Platt. Much like his earlier book, Radical, Counter Culture is an attempt to afflict the comfortable in order to spur us on to action. Also like his earlier book, Platt's newest is not perfect. It is, however, a much better book than its predecessor, and I hope that it enjoys similar levels of success. Recommended.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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February 01, 2015

Status Update

Various factors have contributed to the recent dearth of updates.

Rest assured, though, there are some new blog posts coming down the pike, including a review of the new David Platt book (out this week).

That is all.

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