Political Correctness

The Debate

Jordan Peterson has become somewhat of a superstar over the past couple years as he has continued his fight against governmental oversight and left wing censorship.

I have been a little nervous about how much Christians have embraced a non-believing, Darwinian psychologist. Nonetheless, he is a brilliant man and has offered some meaningful responses to much of the culture that Christians also find themselves at odds with.

Because of his popularity, his interviews and lectures are highly anticipated and consumed. But perhaps nothing is more exciting to the general populace than a good ol’ fashioned debate. Recently, Jordan Peterson participated in a debate about Political Correctness with Stephen Fry, arguing against Michael Dyson, Michelle Goldberg. I took the time to listen to the much anticipated debate all the way through.

The debate thesis was not clear to me, and as Stephen Fry rightly recognized, the debate quickly devolved into a debate on identity politics, rather than political correctness. The debate was sloppy and brief. It was also one of the finest showcases of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Langauge.” All of the participants, but Peterson and Dyson especially, used rhetoric, vocabulary, and language that simply muddied the water. They were neither precise nor clear. They spoke in lofty academic language, and utilized mere platforms rather than making specific arguments and points. It was hard to know what either of them said after each spoke.

Dyson and Peterson certainly stole the show. The debate almost seemed as if it were two separate debates in one as Peterson and Dyson quickly honed in on one another, and the tone intensified in an entertaining way.

Being disappointed in all of the presentations (overall, I thought Fry was the clearest and closest to the truth),  I would like to briefly share my thoughts on Political Correctness. Am I for it, or against it, and why?

Political Correctness

One thing which was done excruciatingly poorly was defining terms. What even is political correctness? I am sure there are a variety of ways defining it, some making it less problematic than others. My understanding is that Political Correctness is the publics’ way of policing an individuals language on the basis of offense. In other words, political correctness seems to be a means by which a portion of the population demands certain words and phrases be banned from all people’s vocabulary because of the overall offense they cause certain groups of people.

Do I adhere to political correctness? When I speak, do I take into consideration whether or not I am being politically correct? The answer is no. For entirely separated reasons, I would have been on the side with Peterson and Fry in that debate. I am against political correctness. The reason why is because I am not an idolater.

Blasphemy Laws

The reason I attribute idolatry to political correctness is because that is exactly what I believe is required to submit to these societal codes. Political correctness is nothing more than blasphemy, but it’s the blasphemy of other gods, ones who did not create Heaven and Earth. I do not believe in the gods of Secularism, and therefore I will not pay them homage by subscribing to their cries of blasphemy.

The Relationship Between Political Correctness and Hate Speech

One could not stand on a box in 16th century Geneva, and shout at the top of their lungs, “Jesus is not Lord! He is not God!” Such a person would be hauled away, and likely put to death. Why? For blasphemy. That culture had a shared God, and the God of that culture had certain sacred doctrines which couldn’t be touched.

To take a more modern example,  one could not visit Saudi Arabia today, walk down to Mecca, stand on a box, and in Arabic say, “Jesus is Allah, Mohammed is not a true prophet!” Said person would be hauled away, and likely killed. Why? For blasphemy. That culture has a shared god, and the god of that culture has certain sacred doctrines which cannot be touched.

Notice now the striking similarities between those examples and modern hate speech. Today, a person in America or Canada can get hauled away and “reoriented” or forced into “sensitivity training” on the basis of something they’ve said, for anything which the government has labeled “hate speech.” Why are they getting in trouble? For blasphemy. Our culture has a shared god, and the god of this culture has certain sacred doctrines which cannot be touched.  Hate speech is nothing more than the secular vernacular for blasphemy. Hate speech is to blaspheme the gods of our culture.

The relationship then between these two is that political correctness is the seed of hate speech. When something becomes politically incorrect it becomes a candidate for hate speech. Hate speech is when political correctness is legislated. They are however, very much the same.  They are both language the culture is policing on the basis of offense and emotional distress, and at times, the government decides to attach a legal penalty.

For this reason, I equally oppose the establishment of “hate speech” as well as adhering to standards of political correctness. The reason I cannot submit then to political correct rules is because the gods of this system do not have all authority in heaven and on earth. They do not own my tongue, Jesus does. Jesus gets to police my language. Too often, since the culture’s gods are competing with Christ for dominion, language which has been sanctified by God, is deemed politically incorrect by the culture. And when those are in conflict, the God who laid His life down for me deserves my tongue.

I am not afraid of offending gods that do not exist, and I refuse to bow my knee, and submit to the linguistic expectations of idols and their disciples. I am against political correctness because I am not an idolater. Secularism is a religious system, and to sacred cows of their system demand we watch what we say, but I refuse.

(By way of a side, I take the same issue with the idea of hate crimes. To qualify a crime as hateful is redundant. Qualifying any crime as hateful actually softens the hatefulness in others. To murder my white boss takes the exact same kind of hatred as murdering my black neighbor. They are both hate crimes. To serve a harsher penalty for murdering your black neighbor because he is black, over murdering a white employer because he fired you does not honor the image of God in blacks people, it demeans the image of God in white people. It simultaneously establishes a form of justice not in accordance with the Law of God.)

Avoiding Overreaction

Too often, the requirements of political correctness are so outrageous, they are clearly a power attempt to force us to bow our knees. They are nothing more than a requirement to honor Caesar. They are blatantly a test of obedience, and nothing more. In those moments, we must go out of our way to challenge the authority of the secular gods, and refuse to obey their gods. However, this important act of religious defiance is not the same thing as purposeful offense. To reject politically correct language policing is not the same thing as embracing the role of provocateur.

Often times I do police my own language, and the boundaries I set are in line with what the self-appointed officers on the Political Correctness Enforcement Agency would require of me. In other words, Christians should be against political correctness in principle, but should find themselves accidentally obeying those standards from time to time.

The proper way to fight against political correction is not to be as purposely politically incorrect as possible. We should always seek to offend people as least often as possible so as to make our message received more readily. We should never be proud of our ability to offend. The difference in these situations is that one is not policing their language for political correctness’ sake, but for God’s sake. We control our tongues and use our language wisely because Jesus would have us do so. Obeying a politically correct requirement because we love our neighbor is not the same activity as obeying the politically correct standard out of obedience and reverence for the standard. We are not adhering to that social law, but to God’s moral law. Thus, we may appear to be politically correct, but it is nothing more than a coincidence; it is nothing more than the rare occasion of different standards incidentally lining up.

I will seek to use the language least offensive to those I am speaking with. But when their expectations and God’s collide, political correctness will have no jurisdiction over me. There are some things I must say, and I will say, regardless of the invisible social contract I am expected to assume. I am completely supportive of using language which adjusts to my culture. I want to use the words, phrases, and tones which most clearly and lovingly communicates truth to my neighbor. But those standards are dictated by God and His Word, not by the Secularist’s most aggressive efforts to catechize me.

 

Movie Review — Avengers: Infinity War

The fifth highest grossing movie ever, Avengers: Infinity War, hit theaters late last month. I waited quite some time to share my thoughts as this movie had a lot I would not want to spoil. My assumption is that if you have not yet seen it, you’re not going to be upset by spoilers. Given that, there are spoilers ahead. Here is my review of the movie, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

One of the positive aspects of the movie was the cinematography. I am personally sick of movies which seem almost completely computer generated. I feel like I am watching a video game I cannot play. I very much prefer make up and costumes and sets to CGI. Movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy are great examples of how to approach visual effects. Lord of the Rings mastered an appropriate blend of CGI, make-up, and real sets.

That being said, Avengers was simply visually breathtaking. I think it could have used more costume, but overall, the CGI in the film surprised me, pleasantly. It was a visual masterpiece. There were times where I was unable to tell if Thanos even was CGI. The characters and action sequences were a true joy to watch.

Another great aspect of the movie is comedic relief. This is something Marvel has been doing well since making these movies. In a day and age where humor has degraded into crass, crude, filthy topics, put forward with foul language, appealing to our most base immaturity, the marvel humor is a breath of fresh air. The humor is clean, appropriate, but genuinely funny.  Chris Pratt (Peter Quill) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) lived up to their expectations. They were hysterical together. Robert Downey Jr.’s (Ironman) vintage comedic approach was amplified by Tom Holland (Spiderman) Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange). He was a funny father figure wrestling with an immature, hyperactive superhero sidekick, and also dealt with Dr. Strange who had a very similar personality, one in which Ironman really has never interacted with before. Along with other characters and iconic humorous moments, this movie is genuinely very funny.

Overall the acting is really superb in the marvel movies; the casting choices have been excellent for these iconic superheros.

Because these movies are attempting to appeal to both adult and adolescent audiences, it is also nice to view a movie guaranteed to have no nudity, sex scenes, and clean language. That is unfortunately rare, and is certainly something that needs to be recognized.

Overall, from a cinematic standpoint, the movie was exciting, entertaining, and humorous.

When approaching the movie at the worldview level, there was some good takeaways, although they seem to be entirely incidental.

The first thing I noticed was that Thanos, the movie’s villain, truly represented the evils of communism. Thanos’ general goal was to purposely kill half of the universe’s population due to limited resources. This would then make those left more comfortable and happy.

At one point in the film, Thanos mentions how one of the planets, of which he murdered half the population, transitioned from being impoverished to both flourishing and happy. The concept of an evil, singular force, promising blessing and prosperity at the end of horrific, selfish, means is clearly a portrayal of communist promises. It was a true critique on the evil of communist regimes.

More incidentally demonstrated was a subtle abortion critique. When Thanos first introduced his desire to kill half the population as a means of population control, it was difficult to not immediately think about abortion, since many have made the same claim to justify murdering children in the womb.

Along with that, Thanos bought into the illogical spiral of abortion thinking. For example, Thanos was worried about the fact that the universe has limited resources. Why is that a problem? Is it a problem because some people won’t get what they need, and that they then might….die? Limited resources is a problem because people might die. So what is Thanos’ solution? To kill people. He brings about the very consequences he wants to avoid and calls it a solution.

That is akin to slashing your own tires because you don’t want the hoodlums in your neighborhood to be tempted to slash your tires. And this insane logic from Thanos is reflective of much of the pro-abortive rhetoric. Often times, women will kill their children because “they are poor and cannot give them a good quality of life.” What’s wrong with bad life quality? What happens to children who aren’t fed and aren’t provided with shelter? Might they get sick and….die? How is killing our children the solution to the problem of our children having dangerous or difficult lives? We kill them to avoid death essentially.

The fact that the movie’s horrific, evil villain is essentially spewing abortion logic, whether incidental or not, was a good thing in my mind.

The Bad

Now is the time to lose my Marvel fans. There was much to not like in this movie. I have saved the cinematic complaints I have for the bad, and my worldview issues will be reserved for the ugly.

The movie missed the mark for me theatrically in many ways. First of all, a movie with this many beloved characters cannot be pulled off, at least not in any film of a reasonable length. All of these characters have so much to be drawn to, but in a movie like this, with so many vying for screen time, every character is flattened. They all become static. There is essentially no difference between them. They are simply good guys fighting bad guys. There is no one to love, to follow, to be moved by. They are just superheros. This many heroes in one single film truly makes them static.

That is why I am not at all surprised with what has bothered so many people: Thanos’ screen time. The movie clearly is about Thanos; he dominates the screen and the story. But as the new character and villain, he is the one with a unique story line. Without a showcasing of Thanos, the movie would have been nothing more than a fight.

Along with that, I was completely discouraged by the ending of the film.

I love sad movies. Unlike most, I want a movie to rip my heart out and stir my affections. One would think that a movie with this ending would be tragic and engaging. Why? As you likely know, half of the Avengers are killed. However, nothing about that ending was moving or heartbreaking.

The ending is either predictable or lazy. I consider it predictable. It is clear these characters are not permanently dead. Everyone knows by the end Dr. Strange has something up his sleeve to bring these people back. Everyone knows they will return. That made it impossible to care when they were lost.

However, let’s say that just on the off chance they truly are dead, then that was a lazy way to kill these beloved heroes who deserve better deaths than that. Nothing says “Many of our actor’s contracts are up, and we need a bunch of new superheroes, so we must kill the others off quickly” like the ending of Avengers, provided those heroes are intended to remain dead.

The ending was surprising, that is for sure, but it was still lacking.

The Ugly

By far the most important issue for me was that Marvel certainly seemed to bash religion in this movie, specifically, Christianity.

Thanos is clearly portrayed as a God. In his opening scene, he even has a preacher, heralding the “good news” of “salvation.” Thanos, as a god, has disciples, and preachers, who herald salvation and demand obedience. It is clearly a critique on religion.

Along with that, the evil of Thanos certainly resembles some of the secular culture’s classic arguments and grievances against God. Thanos has this twisted irony where he can be merciless and violent, yet is still praised by his disciples as being merciful, and good. This is a common caricature of God and His people.

The icing on the cake for me was an early line in the film where Thanos identifies as the “I AM.”

“Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here. Or should I say, I am.”

I understand, contextually, Thanos is self-identifying as destiny itself. However, the way the I AM statement was said, and spared for the end of the sentence, it seemed to be a bit on the nose. I certainly does not seem to be a stretch to believe the writers wanted to draw attention to this evil, god-like religious villain claiming to be I AM.

On top of a passing statement made by Chris Pratt, mocking the idea of following Jesus as our Master, this movie seemed to mock and attack the Christian faith.

I recently re-watched Dr. Strange on Netflix. That movie too was a clear apology against the Christian worldview. The evil monster in that worldview promised “eternal life.” Sound familiar? On top of that, one of the big worldview messages in the movie is that life is only valuable when we discover it is not eternal.

I may be overreacting. Perhaps I am missing important context as I have no affiliation or familiarity with the comics, the background to these story lines and characters. But from my vantage point, Marvel seems to be no friend of Christianity. The writers and directors at Marvel are taking their cues from the rest of Hollywood and are using their platform to promote a worldview contrary to the Christian faith.

 

GQ on the Bible

For years thousands upon thousands of people have waited with baited breath, on the edge of their seats, for the competent, genius, academic, scholarly employees at GQ magazine to share their unbiased, objective, and sophisticated thoughts on the Bible. Thousands of years of biblical scholarship be damned, we need those over at a men’s fashion magazine to share their insight on God’s Book.

Thankfully, our prayers have been answered. This article was at least contributed by an actual literary author, Jesse Ball, a writer few have ever heard of, who has written a handful of unimportant novels and poems. Thus, it wasn’t a fashionista who contributed this portion, to GQ’s credit.

Ironically the author owes the Bible quite a bit. Were it not for the Bible, this article would have received close to no attention at all. The popularity of the Bible has made him so popular, which is an ironic way for the Bible to separate and distinguish itself from the other books on Ball’s list. Ball owes the Bible quite a bit.

What are the reasons Ball thinks the Bible is overrated?

The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it.

Ball is clearly under the impression that all professing Christians are hypocrites who don’t actually take the Bible seriously. This critique I have tried to go a little easy on as certainly nominal Christianity, or cultural Christianity, is prevalent in this nation. However, there are still many complaints to be had about the language of this criticism.

First, many of those so-called Christians would not in fact rate the Bible that highly. The progressive view of Scripture (as espoused by men such as Brian Zahnd, Rob Bell, Greg Boyd) is a growing movement among liberal and nominal self-ascribing Christians. Many would agree that the Bible is self-contradictory and foolish. Thus, his criticism of nominal Christianity is misapplied when it is attributed to people who actually take the Bible seriously.

Second, this is the kind of broad brush generalization that only an anti-Christian can get away with publicly. Were a Christian to try and group millions of people into a category like this (especially such a negative one), there would be public outcry. Even among those who have “read” the Bible, Ball continues his hasty generalization.

Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.

Certainly many who have read the Bible agree with his assessment. But millions for the last two thousand have read it and not come to his conclusion.

It is repetitive

Being repetitive is hardly a proper criticism of Scripture. It’s hard to find a book that is like another among the Biblical Canon. They are all unique in many ways. Authors, themes, laws, genres, and writing styles all vary among the Canon of Scripture. It is hard to find how one could possibly come to this conclusion. The only aspects of repetitiveness that can be properly ascribed to Scripture actually serve to justify its unique nature.

There are many repeated themes throughout Scripture, primarily, the redemptive plan of God set forth in Christ Jesus. Every letter, every book, focuses and returns to this crucial issue in some way: it’s all about Jesus.

And the fact that multiple authors, from a variety of cultures, writing over the span of 1500 years, without ever consulting one another, would all be writing about the God revealed to us in the person of Christ Jesus is mesmerizing, and is certainly the quality of a work with far more than a human element behind its content.

The Bible is not repetitive from any literary perspective, and themes and types which are repetitive demonstrates the supernatural quality of Scripture.

self-contradictory

It appears the often refuted claims to contradictions in Scripture will not go away until Christ returns. The Bible is not self-contradictory, but I suppose some have made a hobby out of beating dead horses.

The real issue underneath the alleged Biblical contradictions is actually one of worldview. Those who wish to see contradictions will. Those who wish not to will find their harmonization. One has to wonder if Ball (and all the others who throw out this claim) have actually studied these contradictions and could articulate why the scholarly harmonizations are not convincing. Many who make this claim could not even, off of the top of their head recite any alleged contradiction. Many will then do a simple Google search and call it a day.

Jason Lisle, just as an example, recently released his Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason. This book is an incredibly profound scholarly work. He addresses nearly every alleged contradiction of Scripture and provides its convincing harmonization. Along with that, he categorically systematizes these challenges by the type of logical fallacy taking place in order to force the texts at hand into an artificial contradiction. Thus, the few alleged contradictions not mentioned in the book could still be easily answered because the book helps see the logical fallacies behind the claims.

In other words, many alleged contradictions in Scripture are all essentially the same claim about different texts. Therefore, to refute one of them is to refute all of them. I highly recommend Lisle’s work.

But Lisle’s recent book is not the first scholastic attempt to answer these claims. For hundreds of years literature has been produced on this issue, and one just has to wonder if Ball has interacted with any of these apologetic works in any meaningful way.

If he has not, it seems a bit hypocritical to dismiss Christians for actually knowing the contents of the book they claim to believe when he doesn’t actually know the contents of the arguments he is espousing.

The real question would have to be why contradictory information is a problem for Ball. If Ball rejects the Word of God, and by doing so, God Himself, how does he account for the law of non-contradiction in the first place? Why must the Bible be consistent according to his worldview?

The law of non-contradiction is an immaterial, universal, immutable law. Yet, if Ball rejects the Bible, he cannot account for anything being immaterial, universal, and immutable. Thus, the law of logic he is using to discredit the Bible he actually stole from the Bible.

sententious

For those like me who had never heard of the word sententious before, the dictionary definition is:

Given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner.

Color me surprised. A rebel sinner, who hates God, who wants to live his life however he pleases, is upset by the fact that the Bible has moral component to it. This is exactly what the apostle John meant when he said:

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
– John 3: 19

foolish

This criticism was by far the most revealing and the most important for the Christian to examine. Certainly, Ball does see the Bible as foolish, and the Bible itself tells us why.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1: 18-29

The Bible teaches that all those who reject Christ, those who are perishing, will always see the Biblical message as foolish. It is not unless the Spirit of God opens hearts and reveals truth that a person sees the Bible for what it truly is: wisdom from God. When someone finds the Bible irrelevant, contradictory, or anything else aside from inspired by God, the issue is with the person’s heart, not the Bible.

“[T]hese things [the truth of Christ and the Gospel] God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
– 2 Corinthians 2: 10-14

These criticisms then cannot be seen as the objectively unbiased observations of raw literary material. Ball is not an unbiased, objective, observer. He is blinded from possibly seeing the truth. This is a clash of worldview, not literary preferences.

Along these lines, Christians should never attempt to study the Bible “purely from a literary perspective.” Often times Christians will attempt to study the Bible, pretending it is not inspired. I even took a college class titled “The Bible as Literature” which sought to do just that. But the Bible never calls us to do that, and in fact, as the verses above indicate, do not suggest that is even possible. We will always be interpreting the Bible through a believing lens or a hostile lens. There are no neutral glasses through which to perceive the Bible.

and even at times ill-intentioned.

It must be easy for Ball to reject the God of the Bible when he himself has made himself God. After all, being able to discern hearts and know a person’s intentions, especially people who have been dead for thousands of years, is certainly a supernatural ability.

Ball’s criticism of the most popular book in world history is a simple demonstrate of how bankrupt his worldview is.

Ligon Duncan and the Dadgum Second Commandment

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Introduction:

The drama which unfolded after the MLK50 conference put on by The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and the ERLC has been intense. It is a discomforting and disheartening time for the reformed community. Many Christian leaders I respect and listen to are divided on the issue that was raised at this conference: race relations.

Following right on the heels of the controversial MLK50 was one of the largest Christian conferences in America. This massive gathering of Christians, which takes place every two years, is called Together For the Gospel (T4G). Thousands from all over the nation, from all over the world, gather to listen to some of America’s most popular preachers. A couple of the same preachers taught in both conferences (Matt Chandler, John Piper) and many of the issues and themes discussed at MLK50 were brought into T4G.

In my estimation, the T4G conference unexpectedly turned into a sequel MLK50. There was even a panel discussion about MLK in the T4G conference. It was clear the organizers had an agenda. The agenda was to push their understanding of the issue of ethnic reconciliation in the church.

Matt Chandler, David Platt, and Ligon Duncan all addressed the issue of ethnic relationships within the church, and I am very troubled by what I saw from some of the famous faces of the Christian Church. Unlike the other two, Duncan’s sermon thesis was not related to ethnic reconciliation; it was a wonderful sermon on holiness.

I mean that, it is wonderful. It is an excellent sermon. However, he did make an application in the sermon related to ethnic reconciliation, which is when the wheels fell off.

Let me be clear: Ligon Duncan is a wonderful man of God, an excellent preacher, and a brother in Christ. I recommend him and have no ill will toward him. But, this sermon application (which has gone viral) is unhelpful to this controversial, national conversation. He utilized political rhetorical techniques which only served to confuse the point rather than move the conversation forward.

Being the Right Kind of Political

“In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues…”
– George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

It is important to stop here and clarify my accusation. I am not calling the content of Duncan’s sermon clip political. Many may be doing that; I am not. When I say he is being political, I am not saying he addressed an issue that should not be addressed. Matt Chandler made an excellent point at the conference when he mentioned that once after preaching a sermon on abortion, that sermon went viral, and everyone loved it. Yet, when he speaks about race, he is suddenly “political.” That is a valid complaint, and is not relevant to what I am saying. I am not decrying political topics being preached and addressed from the pulpit, for I do not even think that is possible. Pastors can preach topics that some may consider political because it is impossible to avoid this. One cannot avoid being political in that sense.

Douglas Wilson made this point in his book Empires of Dirt.

“Abortion and sodomy were sins long before they were constitutional rights. If a minister preached against them a thousand years ago, he was preaching against moral failings, and he was not being political. He was being public, but not political. When I do it, I am preaching against moral failings too, but I am also being political. What changed? It wasn’t the Decalogue. It wasn’t the history of the church or the history of preaching. It wasn’t the nature of the Gospel. It wasn’t me. Rather, it was the nature of the idol being challenged-and this idol aspires to omnipresence. We are told ad nauseam to keep our morality out of politics. It would be more appropriate to tell the idolmongers to keep their politics out of morality. Public morality need not be a matter of the legislator. But if the legislature concerns itself with everything, then any faithful Christian expression will immediately be concerned with the political.” (emphasis mine).

What I am criticizing is the use of politically rhetorical techniques to distort and manipulate a message.  I believe Ligon Duncan did this (whether incidental or purposeful).

Political Rhetoric:

In George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell describes how politics has played such a crucial role in the destruction of the English language. His critique is scathing and difficult to argue with. However, I believe it needs an amendment.

Orwell has a section on meaningless words. He describes how words are used ambiguously or with a private definition so often that they lose meaning altogether. This is, in effect, what Ligon Duncan does with this entire sermon application. Specifically, with the second commandment itself.

Secular Examples

“Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

Before explaining why I think Pastor Duncan fell into this political trap, allow me to offer some examples of the kind of political rhetoric I am going to accuse Dr. Duncan of participating in:

Every Earth Day (April 22), people from all over the world rally and march in major cities to participate in the “March for Science.” What does that mean, march for science? Are there large populations of people who deny the existence of the scientific enterprise? Are there large religious groups that think it sinful or immoral to study earth scientifically? What even is science?

When one studies the origin of this movement, it was primarily a response to Donald Trump’s cutting the budget of the EPA and questioning global warming climate change. Thus, those involved claim they are marching for “science,” but they mean something altogether different than “science.” They have phrased this march in such a way that to deny climate change, microevolution, or certain levels of political environmental regulations makes one “anti-science.” They manipulate people into their position through equivocation. You’re either pro-science, or you’re against us.

Because of this political technique, the word “science” has completely lost all meaning. To be “pro-science” means absolutely nothing because it can mean absolutely anything. Notice how many people who are going to “March for Science” will simultaneously believe homosexuality is a valid expression of human sexuality, allow unborn children to be aborted, and will even say a person with male chromosomes and male genitalia can be a female. This is not science at all. Nothing about that is scientific; but nevertheless, they self-identify as the “pro-science” crowd.

Probably more exemplary are those who refer to abortion as “reproductive rights,” or even more broadly, “women’s rights.”  Killing another human being is being lumped in with “reproductive rights” and “women’s rights.” Therefore, anyone who suggests killing an innocent baby is immoral is now guilty of thinking women should not have reproductive rights. Apparently, asking the federal government to criminalize, rather than subsidize, tearing apart a baby limb from limb means one actually wants to see all women imprisoned and stripped of their rights. After all, being anti-abortion means you’re against “women’s rights.”

Consequently, phrases like “women’s rights” and “reproductive rights” have lost meaning altogether. In many ways, the word “right” has lost its meaning. Other words which have unfortunately died the death of political equivocation are words like fascism/fascist, racism/racist, intolerant/intolerance, bigot/bigotry, fundamentalist, Christian, and socialism. These have all lost their meaning because of this political manipulation game, and this is exactly what Ligon Duncan did.

The Sermon

“Words, so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne

Ligon Duncan began his application of the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves by informing his listeners that racial tensions today would not be what they are if reformed Christians in America would have applied this commandment to the institution of slavery in the 19th century.

By way of a side, note how artificially placed this application is. Keep in mind, this sermon is not about race relations at all. Of all the applications he could have gone to, why this one? Then, of all of the wonderful things he said in this sermon, why did T4G showcase this portion? These rhetorical questions further demonstrate the agenda underlying this year’s T4G conference.

Anyway, to get back on track, there is no doubt that it is true that holding slaves and treating them as so many Americans did is absolutely a violation of the second commandment. But that is not the issue. The wheels fell off when Duncan began to speak politically, and he does this when he describes how these reformed Christians got away with refusing to apply the second commandment of our Lord.

Duncan claims people refused to talk about the issue of slavery because “it was a divisive issue,” “harmful to unity,” and that it was getting into “politics and social life.”

Some have challenged his presentation of the history as being, at best, simplistic, and at worst, wrong. There were church splits over this issue. It seems plenty were willing to talk about it and fight over it. However, let’s take his view of history for granted and assume it is true. It gets political when Duncan says that when these reformed Christians were making these excuses for not addressing racism, what they were actually saying was,

“All the while, they were saying the second commandment doesn’t apply here.”

Who is the “they” in that sentence? Contextually, it is the reformed Christians of the 19th century. What is the “here” in that sentence? Contextually, it is the owning of slaves and the racism which comes with it. But then, the very next sentence out of Duncan’s mouth is this:

“And when you get all antsy when someone starts applying the second commandment here, it’s because they taught you well.”

Who is the “you” in this sentence? Clearly it is any Christian listening. Duncan is addressing us, his modern audience. Apparently, some people today have gotten antsy with applying the second commandment “here.” But, what is the “here” in his sentence?

There are no Christians today in the reformed community arguing that we need to bring back African Chattel slavery, so who today is getting “antsy” applying the second commandment to slavery? Duncan changed his topic. He is no longer addressing slavery, but the current racial debate surrounding these conferences. This is equivocation.

The fallacy of equivocation is defined as:

A key term or phrase in an argument is used in an ambiguous way, with one meaning in one portion of the argument and then another meaning in another portion of the argument.

Duncan just shifted definitions in one sentence. He conflated the issue of chattel slavery with all of the racial issues reformed Christians today disagree with him on. Apparently, to disagree with him, Platt, Chandler, Anyabwile, and the rest of the T4G speakers who addressed this topic at all, merits being likened to slave-owners… kind of like how disagreeing with an abortion glutton will get you likened to a person who disagrees with women having rights.

Through subtle equivocation, Duncan changed definitions, and rather than being clear, and specifically explaining what the issues today are, and where those who dissent from him are wrong, he phrased his sermon in such a way as to make anyone who disagrees with him, or T4G at all, equal to a 19th century slave owner. His language is sloppy and irresponsible because it is ambiguous and manipulative.

The issue today is not about the morality of slave owning or racism. Of course that is a clear violation of the second commandment. No one is getting antsy applying the second commandment to slavery and kidnapping, and he knows that.

The issues being debated today are the severity of racism within the Christian church, and methodology of addressing it. Those are the real issues, but Ligon Duncan politically manipulated the debate and turned it into a flattened, static, issue, where one is either on his side, or the slave-owners’.

This is demonstrated by his next comment,

“Friends, this isn’t some social gospel. There are a lot of things you can worry about in life, don’t ever worry that Lig Duncan groves on cultural Marxism. This is the dadgum second commandment.”

The reason Duncan mentioned this is because many reformed Christians who are criticizing him and the rest of the speakers are accusing them of cultural Marxism. And this is exactly why I say Dr. Duncan is guilty of equivocation; this is his tacit admission of my above point that the debate today is about the methodology of approaching ethnic reconciliation, not racism itself. The speakers at MLK50 and T4G are often being accused of cultural Marxism because of how they promote applying the second commandment, not because they want to apply it at all.

Yes, believing that chattel slavery and the kidnapping of African Americans was sinful is not cultural Marxism. Yes, the second commandment does apply directly to that issue. But that issue is not why people are accusing these men of cultural Marxism. What the issue is, and how we respond to it, has nothing whatsoever to do with simply believing in the second commandment or not. This is why his language is thoroughly political.

Christians who reject baby-murdering are not getting antsy about giving women their rights. Christians who question man-made climate change and evolution are not anti-science. And Christians who reject T4G’s critiques on ethnic reconciliation are not getting antsy about applying the dadgum second commandment.

The effect of this kind of rhetoric is that now, anyone who might have legitimate concerns about the way in which men like these speakers are handling ethnic reconciliation are now manipulated into assuming they are disagreeing because they have been brainwashed by their racist theological ancestors to ignore the Lord’s second commandment. This language stops the conversation. It convinces all dissenters they are actually racist, when in reality, many of them have very biblical points to be raised which do not contain a lick of racism or antinomianism.

In his polarizing article, Thabiti Anyabwile said,

“I understand that [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] death gives us opportunity to reflect on his legacy. But it also gives opportunity to reflect on that twist in our soul that rose up and killed him. It gives opportunity to repent of the things some have with too much pride too often refused to admit is there. My white neighbors and Christian brethren can start by at least saying their parents and grandparents and this country are complicit in murdering a man who only preached love and justice.

Many Christians in the reformed community have taken issue with thinking they must repent of something they did not do. Many Christians take issue with being told they are guilty of pride by refusing to take credit for MLK Jr’s assassination. They take issue with being told their grandparents are guilty of that crime. And to take issue with this article, written by one of the speakers at T4G, is nothing close to the same situation as 19th century slave-owners not wanting to talk about slavery. Duncan linked them together in a political move to manipulate. But he has missed the real issue, he has missed the point, and he may have done so knowingly.

When the MLK50 conference writes a worship song with the following lyrics:

Father, we need our minds to be renewed by You cause it’s a daily fight to remind myself that I am worthy when microaggressions lie behind every other corner lurking.

Christians can protest the definition and reality of a term like “microagressions” without being accused of not wanting to apply the second commandment to these situations. Christians can accuse promoters of “microagressions” as being cultural marxists without being likened to racist slave-owners. Microagressions are not a biblical category of  hamartiology, and to say that publicly is not getting antsy over applying the second commandment to racism. Just as rejecting pro-choice ideals has nothing whatsoever to do with rejecting women’s rights, just as rejecting EPA regulations has nothing to do with rejecting the enterprise of scientific methods, rejecting the racial messages of Duncan, Platt, Chandler, and Anaybwile has nothing whatsoever to do with getting antsy about applying the dadgum second commandment to our neighbors who do not look like us.

All issues are political issues, but not all rhetoric is political rhetoric, and it’s in regards to rhetorical techniques that I say Ligon Duncan’s sermon clip, continuing to be praised and adored by many Christians across the internet, is far too political and divisive.

“I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Movie Review: A Quiet Place

Introduction:

A Quiet Place, in short, is likely to be the best movie of the year for me. It’s going to be tough to beat, that is for sure. It is certainly one of my favorite movies.

I am writing this review to explain to those hesitant about going why I recommend it. I do my best to avoid spoilers, and I think I accomplish that task. However, in any movie review there is always a risk of ruining something, so if you’re paranoid, see the movie before continuing.

Production:

Plot

The plot of the movie is outstanding. As the previews all indicate, the movie is an apocalyptic film of a small family struggling to survive in a world recently devastated by the arise of blind, ferocious creatures that hunt humans. Because they are blind, they hunt purely through sound. Thus, the young surviving family lives as quiet a life as possible while trying to survive.

How much I enjoyed the plot line was one of the most surprising features for me. When the movie was advertised many months ago as a movie where the actors couldn’t make sounds, I was hesitant that could be pulled off. It sounded outlandish, and it was, to me, a recipe for disaster.

However, it was anything but a disaster. This movie is so unique in that it managed to pull this off. The movie does have very little dialogue. They communicate in sign language, and are able to occasionally talk, but overall, there is not much dialogue in this movie at all.

The movie captures your attention in more artistic, entertaining, and subtle means. Body language, music, facial expressions, and trace amounts of dialogue grab your attention and keep you glued to the screen for the entire length of the film. Do not expect the lack of dialogue to be a hindrance to this movie, it is its strength. Do not let that element discourage you from going.

In the moments of dialogue, the fact that they are signing is increasingly interesting. Again, almost no movie presents this element of drama. Watching a family try to live a normal life, and communicate through this method, is entirely unique, and adds a new level of intrigue and dynamic storytelling you won’t find many other places.

It makes you appreciate so much more the gift of noise. Isn’t that a strange thing we do not think about? The ability to make noise, and to hear noise, is a gift. A life without sound is a difficult life indeed.

The only downfall to the plot of this movie is the day and age we live in. People, especially younger generations, have very little respect for others when it comes to movie going. A loud or obnoxious theater will make this movie hard to enjoy.

Acting

John Krasinski (who directed this film) and his wife Emily Blunt are a power couple in the acting world. Their performance is simply phenomenal. They are incredible on their own, and even better working together. Their performance is gripping. You cannot look away. They will make you laugh, cry, worry, and cheer.

This movie makes a strong case that these two may be at the very top of the profession at this point.

There are a few young child actors in the film. This can also ruin a movie, since it is difficult to find children who are practiced and trained enough to help carry a movie. But these kids do not hold the movie back at all. They are very talented, likeable, and believable characters.

Writing

The writing of this film was as good as the acting. The movie was not cheesy, nor laughably unbelievable. The writing was believable, dynamic, and moving.

Cinematography

As technology gets better, the cinematography in movie making becomes more and more important.  This movie has wonderful cinematography. The shots in this film were both beautiful and artistic. The cinematography communicates emotion where dialogue is absent.

Genre:

Suspense

There is no doubt this is a scary movie. It is entirely suspenseful. To utilize a cliché, it is an “edge of your seat” kind of a movie from beginning to end.

There are scary monsters, there is some blood, and there is death. Keep that in mind as I say what I say next.

The movie needs to properly be defined as a suspenseful movie rather than a horror movie. Perhaps you could say it is a scary movie, but not a horror film. This is probably best proved by the fact that it received a PG-13 rating rather than an R. I find this appropriate. This is not an R movie.

I hope that I have not become too desensitized, but in light of what passes as “scary” movies nowadays, it would be difficult to even call this scary.  Typcially, a modern horror movie is one of unimaginable, graphic gore, torture, and often times demonic activity.

Modern horror movies simply scare us by presenting us with demonic images and instances that terrify our souls. They are repulsive, and by many people’s standards, sinful. They often times glorify violence, glorify the occult, and glorify the sick part of our human nature that can actually enjoy, and spend money, on seeing images and torture scenes.

Especially as technology and movie-making skills progress, what we are seeing today is incredibly realistic.

A Quiet Place is nothing of the kind. As I said, there is mild violence. You will see blood. But overall, this movie is far more suspenseful and “jumpy” than it is violent and horrifying.

Clean

Apart from torture, horror, and violence, modern horror movies are filled to the brim with foul language, nudity, and sexual intimacy. Really, this is true of almost all movies, regardless of their genre.

A Quiet Place is unbelievably clean in this regards. It is so refreshing to see a Hollywood movie from start to end, and never have to see a nude woman, or see a pornographic sexual scene. There is no inappropriate romance in this movie at all. The humor is not even sexual humor, which tends to be the most popular way to make American audiences laugh.

Along with that, the lack of dialogue could have been ruined with foul language, but there is none of that in this movie either. You will not be exposed to crude humor, nudity, or foul language in this movie.

Worldview:

Family Values

More important than any other element in a movie is the worldview message promoted. And A Queit Place needs to be applauded for its ethic.

First of all, wether intentional or not, this movie is extremely pro-life. The movie values family and children the way few Hollywood movies do. This movie provides a subtle, yet powerful pro-life, and pro-family agenda.

The movie centers on a strong, nuclear family. Two married parents who love each other and their children. The movie plot is the loving embrace of parents who believe all life is valuable and deserves sacrificial protection. The parents protect, provide, and educate their children.

Gender Roles

Along with the family values, what I determined to be the greatest aspect of this movie is the gender roles. Biblical gender roles are presented, valued, glorified, and maintained throughout this film.

The wife is the homemaker, educator, and she cooks, while the husband has the clear role of hunter and protector.  The movie goes out of its way to establish these roles.

However, they do so without the radical stereotypes usually accompanied with them. Although Emily Blunt’s character plays the role of the wife and woman, she maintains a grit and bravery in her role. She does not become a helpless, dimwitted, pretty girl. Her character is one of the strongest, toughest, most courageous female characters I’ve seen in any movie. Without becoming butch or masculine, she manages to be a strong, sacrificial mother, who maintains established female roles in the family.

Likewise, Krasinki’s character is a strong, sacrificial leader, who catches food, invents technology, and protects the family at all costs. However, he does not become a distant brute, with no love, affection, or sympathy for anyone but himself.  He manages to be a protector, provider, and also be nurturing and affectionate, without become effeminate or soft.

Conclusion:

All in all, if you don’t mind a little suspense and fear, this movie is a must see.

AQP

Responding to Supernatural Part II: Free Will

Introduction:

It is imperative one reads the first blog of this series prior to continuing in order to understand my heart and purpose. In that blog responding to Heiser’s book, I covered the issue of sovereignty (God’s decree and plan.) In this blog, I will focus on the other issue Dr. Heiser regularly brought up: free will.

The Bondage of the Will:

In the debate that has been raging for some 500 years now, two positions on the will of man have been established. Some view man as having an “autonomous free will,” sometimes referred to as “the power of contrary choice,” and most commonly referred to as “free will.” This position essentially states that a person, regardless of whether they know Christ or not, is capable of doing good or evil, the choice is theirs. This affects the Gospel as repenting of sins and believing in Christ are good things. Thus, this side believes every person is capable of making that choice as they stand. Their will is free to move in any direction at any time.

Then there are some who believe the will of man is enslaved. Therefore, it is not free. Those outside of Christ have sinful wills, sinful desires, and only by a miraculous change of heart, being born again, can they become capable of pleasing God. Until that point, it is not even an option or a desire.

Heiser emphatically sticks his flag in the ground of the former.

 “In choosing to give us freedom, God also chose not to make us mindless slaves or robots. That’s the alternative to having free-will. That’s the alternative to having free-will.  But since freedom is an attribute of God, without it we couldn’t actually be imagers of God. God is not robot. He made us like Himself” (45).

I do appreciate Heiser attempting to provide an answer to what is often an assumption lacking a biblical precedent. That assumption being that autonomous freedom is better than “robots,” says who?

This is common rhetoric, but  I rarely see it being established in Scripture. I certainly would rather be programmed to be happy all the time, unable to sin. Were that the case, I could never not enjoy that. I could not be angry I have no “freedom,” I likely would not even know I don’t have freedom (which begs another philosophical question, how could anyone know they have free-will?).  I would be happy, in perfect relationship to God, and following His good and faithful Law without stumbling. That seems like a pretty great alternative to freedom. This idea (that without Heiser’s view of free-will men are mindless robots) is a complete caricature and total bifurcation. However, even if we accept the false dichotomy, it still doesn’t seem to be a self-evidently undesirable existence, to be a mindless robot. It seems like a pretty steep mountain to climb to prove that living in a world where I can suffer, commit evil, and go to hell, is better than an existence where I cannot suffer, sin, and go to hell. How does “freedom” make the former superior?

However, Heiser has provided a bit of an answer to this. God is the standard of all things good, therefore, we want to be like Him. If He is not pre-programmed, it would not be good for us to be. I’ll accept that.

The problem however is that God does not contain the kind of free-will Heiser demands we have. According to Heiser’s definition, to steal a phrase from Douglas Wilson, God does not have free-will, and apparently He doesn’t want it.

Hebrews 6: 18, “so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

God cannot lie. He can’t do it; it’s impossible. God’s behavior and will is the product of His character and nature. God cannot, and does not make choices or have desires contrary to His nature. Therefore, He does not have a completely free will.

At one point, Heiser seems to expose his inconsistency in this,

“We are not mere robots performing functions programmed for us. That violates the whole idea of being God’s imager, his representative. We were created to be like him. He is free. If we do not have genuine freedom, we cannot be like Him – by definition, we would not be like him. We are free to obey and worship, or rebel and indulge ourselves” (156).

Genuine freedom, according to Heiser, is the ability to indulge in sin or worship, and God has genuine freedom. Thus, Hesier’s view logically leads to a God who can indulge himself in sin. But, the God of the Bible cannot sin, and therefore does not. Heiser thinks He is a God who can, but simply doesn’t. That’s not what Hebrews says. That is not the presentation of God.

Inconsistently, Heiser goes on to say that giving humans freedom makes sin inevitable, and that God is the only one we can truly trust since “He is the only perfect Being” (36). This makes perfect sense within the reformed, theological framework. God cannot sin, He is perfect, and therefore, He can be trusted. Man can only sin, therefore, they will sin and cannot ultimately be trusted. But how does the above statement fit consistently within Heiser’s framework? Why does God being perfect make Him trustworthy? He is free at any time to surrender that perfection according to Heiser’s definition of freedom. Is God not free to be unfaithful?

God’s perfect nature dictates His desires and actions will be perfect. Heiser has admitted the reformed view of the will. Because God is perfect, His decisions and desires are perfect, and cannot be otherwise.

The emphatic doctrine of God throughout the Bible is His holiness. Holiness is not something God does, it’s something God is. He is holy, He doesn’t choose to be. And this is the very foundation of all our hope and confidence; who God is. We trust Him precisely because He cannot sin against us. The difference between a God who cannot sin and a God who will not sin is tremendous.

However, the Bible not only presents a God who cannot sin, it presents Adam’s descendants as not being able to avoid sin. God does not have the ability to indulge in sin, and man does not have the ability to do anything but indulge in sin.

Romans 8: 7-8, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Paul could not be clearer: man is not free. Man cannot please God. Paul presents to us the inability of man to follow God’s Law. He does not only present unwillingness, but a complete inability. Like Jeremiah says about man, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (13:23), man simply cannot do good.

Paul certainly is in line with Jesus’ view of man. Jesus emphasized the limitations of man’s will also.

John 6: 44, “‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’… And [Jesus] said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’

According to Jesus, men are not able to either choose to come to Him or not. Jesus says they cannot come; they do not have such ability.

To summarize, both God and man act according to their nature. God is holy, therefore can only be holy. Man is sinful, therefore can only be sinful. Our choices grow from the soil of our nature.

Heiser incidentally admitted this in one of his own analogies attempting to prove humans are free and not machines. He appeals to the end of one of the Star Wars movies where Darth Vader shows love for and saves his son, proving he isn’t just an evil machine, but that he has a heart too.

“[Vader] saves Luke from the emperor at the cost of his own life. He wasn’t just a programmed machine. His decision came from the heart, his own humanity, his own free-will” (36).

The problem for Heiser is that this is actually the language, not of free-will, but of an enslaved will.

Vader’s decision came from his heart, you say? The decisions of men come from their hearts, yes? Well, what does that mean if the heart is wicked and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9)? Human beings’ decisions do come from the heart, and that’s the problem. Our hearts are dead, fallen, and sinful. This is why our decision can only be dead, fallen, and sinful. Heiser is asking to draw clean water from a poisoned cistern. Jesus tells us that if a tree is bad, so its fruit will also be (Matthew 7: 17-20). Our decisions do come from our hearts, which is precisely why they are not free. Our hearts are not free, and that is why our decisions are also not free.

We are not merely enticed by sin, we are slaves to sin. That is why we have an enslaved will. Enslaved hearts are not free hearts.

To conclude, I would like to offer three additional simple refutations of Heiser’s view of the will of man.

I. Heaven 

Given his definition of freedom, Heiser must logically conclude heaven is going to be a terrible place. After all, there is no “freedom” in heaven.

No orthodox Christian believes that at the end of human history, after Jesus returns to make all things right, restore everything, and live with His people, that someone could “pull an Adam,” sin, and restart the entire redemptive plan over again. No one believes that. Heiser certainly denies that in his book in many chapters addressing the new Eden God is working toward.

This means in heaven the saints cannot sin. I repeat: we will not have the freedom to sin. We cannot do it then. We must be mindless slaves then, right? Heaven must be filled with loveless, robots. After all, they do not have the kind of freedom Heiser is convinced is definitional to being a meaningful human being.

Heaven is one of the strongest refutations of the common view of free-will held by westernized Christians today. In heaven we will certainly be creatures capable of making culpable decisions, exercising true love. Our love will be truer and better in heaven than it could be here on earth. And yet, in that place of eternal glory, we will not have free-will. Thus, it is not biblically tenable to assume that complete and total power of contrary force is necessary to love and be responsible for our actions. The Bible never makes this claim. As Dr. R.K. McGregor Wright states, in his book No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism states,

“But the point for the Bible believing Christian is that nowhere in the Bible is responsibility linked with free will; it never uses free will as an explanatory category, not even once” (56).

II. The Bible 

Another great and simple refutation of Heiser’s position that men have the power of contrary choice is the nature of inscripturation and inspiration. How can the Holy Spirit inspire men, and keep their “free will” in tact?

When the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of each biblical book, that means every single word was perfect; every word was correct. How did God do this if He could not, after all, force the authors to write anything, violating their free will? Did God get lucky with the Bible? That seems to be the logical conclusion if authors at anytime could have written something else, and yet, with every single word, they all freely chose to write the correct one. Clearly, the writing of Scripture is not produced by men with an autonomous will. They were inspired. God directed and guided their words; they did not have the option to mess it up.

No where in the Bible is Heiser’s view of free will produced, which makes sense, since no where in Heiser’s view of free will can a Bible be produced.

Suppose one assumes that all men have free will, but that God occasionally overrides it for accomplishing certain purposes like Scripture. What is the standard for when God is willing to override a free will, and when He isn’t? If overriding free will is worth it to produce Scripture, Why is saving someone’s soul for eternity not? Why is saving a child from murder not?  After all, we know God is able to keep people from sinning,

Genesis 20: 6, “Then God said to [Abimilech] in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.'”

Man certainly does not always seem to be as “free” as Heiser advocates.

III. Pharaoh 

The last simple refutation of Heiser’s view of the will is an issue he raised himself: Pharaoh. Heiser brings up the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart as being part of God’s plan saying,

“After they had oppressed the Israelites for centuries, it was time for Egypt and its gods to be punished. Pharaoh’s hardening was part of that plot” (68).

This is true, but it would have been nice if Heiser would have explained the nature of hardening the heart of Pharaoh, and how it applies to free will. The Bible tells us this about the event,

Exodus 20: 21, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

The Bible could not be more clear, the action of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart was to actually dictate Pharaoh’s decision. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, therefore, Pharaoh would act a certain way (refusing to free the Jews.) How is this possibly consistent with Heiser’s view of freedom?

Luther vs. Erasmus

During the Protestant reformation, one of the great debates that arose was written correspondences between the great reformer, professor Martin Luther, and the great humanist scholar, a Roman Catholic priest, Desiderius Erasmus.  Their debates were of vital importance as they underlined one of the root issues of the reformation.

The reformation, in an ultimate sense, was not about indulgences, veneration of the saints, the veneration of Mary, purgatory, the Papacy, ecclesiology, or even justification. Ultimately, the reformation was about authority and sovereignty. The reformation was about the nature of man, the nature of God, and which authority we appeal to in order to determine these things.

Erasmus and Luther debated the issue of “free choice” and its relationship to the sovereignty of God. Erasmus published a thesis titled The Freedom of the Will, to which Luther responded by publishing, arguably his most notable work, The Bondage of the Will. Is the will free, or is the will bound?

Heiser takes the side of the Roman Catholic priest who recognized its importance to Roman Catholic theology as a whole.

I myself take the side of Luther, that the will of man is enslaved, and it’s in this regard I believe Hieser has more reforming to do.

 

Responding to Supernatural Part I: Sovereignty with a Chest

Introduction:

I recently finished Dr. Michael Heiser’s book Supernatural. It has been recommended by a good friend, as well as a trusted pastor. After finishing the book, I had conflicting emotions.

The book has many positive qualities. I would say the primary thesis of the book is largely established. The book is a challenge to Christians to rethink what the Bible says about the unseen realm. His view of angels and demons are challenging, and thoroughly biblical.

He convinced me that there does exist a divine council of angelic beings that God made decisions with and that carry out His will. He convinced me this council was in Eden, cohabiting the earth with man, and even at one point had dominion over the earth and over man.

The book also has a very bold dominion eschatology which appeals to me. Heiser sees the entire earth as one day being inherited by Christians as God is reestablishing a “new Eden.” The book is filled with hopeful end-times views, views of the meek inheriting the earth and mankind taking dominion just as God originally gave.

However, a theme came up in the book over and over again that ultimately drove me away from this book. Heiser took every opportunity he could to attempt to refute the reformed doctrines of grace.

Every chapter has a “why this matters” section. And apparently Heiser believes that refuting reformed theology is why understanding demons and angels matters. What made this so disappointing was not so much that fact that he rejects these doctrines. Many within my own church do not hold to them, and there are plenty of historic theologians I still would recommend to my church congregation who reject these doctrines. What bothered me enough to respond was the level of argumentation he presented.

Heiser regularly engages in the same kind of caricature misrepresentations typically accompanied by a Christian who has only just been introduced to these issues. For a person of Heiser’s intellect, and given his scholarly credentials, his arguments are inexcusable.

My Purpose:

My purpose in this two blog series is to responding to Heiser is to challenge his thoughts and cause the Christians who take his side on the nature of God’s sovereignty. My hope is that these posts will serve as iron sharpening iron. The Christian brothers and sisters who disagree are welcomed to comment; may we reason together!

My aim is to challenge you in the hopes of continuing to reform to the Word together. This is not an attempt to bully or isolate any within my local church who disagree. May we come to the table with love in our hearts, and open Bible in front of us.

The God with a Plan

Dr. Heiser certainly rejects the reformed notion that God decreed all things. He rejects that all things happen as part of a plan (decree) of God. His first reason is because,

 “God could just predetermine events to make everything turn out the way He wants. He doesn’t… That tells us that not everything is predetermined” (24).

The problem for Heiser is that the Bible teaches this is exactly what God has done and is doing.

Job 42: 2, “I know that [God] can do all things, and that no purpose of [His] can be thwarted.”

Psalm 135: 6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, He does,  in heaven and on earth,  in the seas and all deeps.”

Ephesians 1:11, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”

No plan of God’s can be thwarted as He does all things, anything He wants to do is accomplished, and most importantly, all things are working out according to the counsel of His will. In other words, all things happen because the wisdom of God willed it and does it.

Heiser fails to address important distinctions between the decretive will of God and the prescriptive will of God. Certainly, things happen God does not want to happen according to His prescriptive will. God has given Law to men, and He expects them to follow it. And rarely do the sons of men obey.

But Ephesians 1 is addressing something else. God’s wise counsel, before time began, decreed all things. A great example of this is the cross of Christ itself. Did God want the cross to happen? In one sense He did not. The crucifixion was murder, and murder is against God’s Law. He prescribed that men should not murder.

However, in other sense, He did want the crucifixion of Jesus to happen. It was His plan to redeem His people. Jesus begged God to take the cup of wrath in the Garden, and God said no. Thus, everyone must agree that there is a certain will of God that can be resisted, but according to the clear testimony of Scripture, there is another kind of will, a plan of God, which cannot be resisted, and that plan includes the unfolding of all events in human history.

Heiser clearly believes this view makes God evil, saying,

“Our God isn’t a twisted deity who predestines awful things or who needs horrible crimes and sins to happen so some greater plan works out well (44).”

It is hard to wrap my head around a biblical theologian making a claim like this with the greatest refutation of the claim being the Gospel itself. How would this apply to the cross of Christ? Certainly, nothing can be more awful, no crime could be more horrible. Yet, the Bible directly teaches God planned this awful, horrible crime to work out a greater plan.

Acts 2: 23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

Acts 4: 27-28, “[F]or truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.”

Clearly, the cross of Christ was predestined. The book of Acts makes that clear, along with the Gospel witness that Jesus claimed His death and resurrection was taught in the Old Testament. The Bible is clear. God does in fact use awful things for the purpose of working out greater plans for His glory. This gives them meaning. According to Heiser’s understanding of God’s providence, evil can actually be meaningless. The evil we endure was not planned, it has no purpose, God just takes a detour and continues heading to His final destination. That is bleak, terrifying and unbiblical. It is also what makes a statement like this so difficult to understand,

“[God] had a plan and it will come to pass. Its success neither depends on nor is forced to adapt to human freedom” (156).

Think about this: First, Hieser rejected the notion that God predestined all things. He is now rejecting the notion that God’s plans never adapts to the choices of men. How can both of these be true? What could the blueprint of these plans, which do not include the actions of men, possibly look like?

The cross was a plan of God, but how does the planned cross not include the planned choices of men? Was the original plan of the cross that the nails would float into Jesus in case the Jews and the Romans freely chose to love Him instead of  killing Him? How could God plan the crucifixion without planning all of the free will decisions involved in it? Think of all the human decisions that went into the cross: the Jews decided to choose Jesus over Barabbas; Pilate decided to hand Jesus over to the wishes of the Jews against the wishes of his wife, Judas decided to betray Jesus, the guards decided to arrest Jesus. In fact, every single swing of the hammers that nailed Jesus to His cross were each individual decisions the executioner was making. And this only to name a few of the millions, maybe even billions, of free will choices that all led to the events of the cross. How did God plan the cross, but not plan those events?

If Heiser rejects that God predestined those actions, then how was the cross not an adaptation to human freedom? Human freedom carried out the execution! God’s plan of salvation either predestined the actions of men, or it adapted to them, but this position that neither is the case is untenable. If the plans of God don’t decree the actions of men, and also don’t depend on the actions of men, how can it be avoided that they adapt to the actions of men? Heiser cannot reject all three. When one denies the eternal decree of God, His plans being contingent upon the actions of men is an inevitable conclusion. Heiser continues to confuse the notion of God’s plans comes when he says,

“Predestination and freedom work hand-in-hand in God’s kingdom rule. His purposes will never be overturned or halted. He is able to take sin and rebellion and still accomplish – through other free representatives – what he desires” (156).

The problems with this are legion. First, how is the idea that God is able to take sin and rebellion and still accomplish His plans not a direct refutation of the statement made earlier on the same page of the book that the plans of God “neither depends on nor is forced to adapt to adapt to human freedom.” That is exactly what is advocated when Heiser attempts to harmonize predestination and human freedom. This is adaptation; God is adapting to human freedom to find different ways to accomplish his plans. Second, the means God uses to bring about his purposes Hieser says are through “other free representatives.” When one person thwarts God’s plan, God moves on to the next free person and tries again. But this idea completely destroys the hope and confidence we have in God’s eternal purposes. If people are truly free, how can God guarantee the accomplishment of His plans? As He continues to bounce from one free representative to the next, they could in fact all fail. This destroys God’s providence.

Dr. R.K. McGregor Wright, in his book No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism, demonstrates how this view of God’s sovereignty undermines the providence of God.

“If God has to continuously make adjustments in his hopes for the future by modifying his plans to fit the multiple permutations and random fluctuations of millions of human freewill decisions every second of the day, how can I have any confidence that any prayer of mine (or any promise of God for that matter) will be fulfilled?” (59).

Third, how is this bouncing from one free representative to the next not the plans of God being both dependent upon human freedom and adapting to it, both elements Heiser claims he rejects?

Foreknowledge

 “The fact that God knows the future does not mean he predestined it… Foreknowledge does not require predestination” (42, 43).

It’s difficult to imagine being comfortable with a statement like this given the necessary outcomes of the position. With all due respect to Heiser  and those who think along his lines, this view of foreknowledge turns omniscience into nothing more than clairvoyance. God is a fortune teller with a crystal ball. Fortune-tellers do not determine the future; they look into the future and relay the information to those who cannot see. Allegedly, this is what God is doing. He sees the future, but He is not creating the future.

Try to wrap your mind around how devastating this idea is to any meaningful understanding of sovereignty. First, this means the future is fixed apart from God’s decree. In other words, we as people are subjects to fate, not to God’s control, for the future has been fixed apart from God’s purposes, God merely saw the future. This begs the question: who created the future?

Two people know the end of any movie: the writer of the script, the person who watched the movie. Which one is God?  Those in the reformed camped believe God is the author of history. He knows the future because He decides the future; He creates it. Those in Heiser’s camp believe God merely prescreened the viewing of the movie before it played out in history. Thus, who is the director of this movie? Who created the future God is looking into? This view is not only a direct assault on God’s sovereignty; it is also terrifying to know sinful men created the course of history rather than a good and loving God.

The second issue is that this view makes God, not active, but instead a passive observer. That forces one to wonder whether or not God takes on knowledge. Does God learn? Did He look into time and see the future and take on knowledge? It’s difficult to see how this view of sovereignty doesn’t eventually lead to process theology or open theism.

Lastly, one wonders how God is now not now a slave to the future. Can God change the future He sees? If so, how did He see anything else when looking into the future? If not, in what way is He actually sovereign?

Philosophically, the issues with this notion of foreknowledge are too numerous to consider. Let’s turn from philosophy and look at the text Heiser uses to justify the concept that the future can exist apart from the decree or will of God.

Heiser cites 1 Samuel 23: 11-12,

“‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.’” And the Lord said, ‘He will come down.’ Then David said, ‘Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?’ And the Lord said, ‘They will surrender you.’”

Heiser claims there was a future event that God foresaw, but since it did not come to pass, God is then able to see the future without decreeing the future. But as the Genevan reformer Francis Turretin pointed out in the 17th century, the text here is not God relaying a hypothetical future to David. This is God’s present knowledge of the plans, hearts, and intentions of David’s enemies. This is not a hypothetical, un-decreed, future event, but is a genuine present. God is telling David what they will do, in other words, what their desires and plans are.

Notice how Heiser had to give an example of foreknowledge by appealing to an Old Testament text that does not even use the term. The reason He must do this is because the word itself is only used in the New Testament about persons when in reference to an action of God. The elect and Jesus are said to be foreknown, events are never said to be foreknown by God. The reason for this is that the word is not referencing intellectual knowledge, but intimate relationships. It is similar to Adam’s “knowing” of Eve (Genesis 4:1). This was an intimate knowing, not an intellectual one, for it produced offspring. The foreknowledge of God is more closely related to for-loving than it is to knowing events before they happen.

What becomes almost more startling is the concept of God foreknowing His own actions.

“God knew the Pharaoh who honored Joseph would die and be replaced by an enemy. He had foreseen that Egypt would put the Israelites into forced labor. He also knew He would rescue Israel when the time was right” (68).

What does it mean for God to know His own future actions? The view of predestination espoused by Heiser makes God a slave to fate. God does not know what He is going to do as any other person, a self-evident knowledge of will and desire. Instead God knows what He is going to do because He foresaw He would. How could God possibly be subjected to doing that which He saw He must do? We now have something else dictating God’s actions. God has now become the robot Heiser is so distressed the reformed position makes human beings.

Genesis 50: 20 is potentially the most crucial text in this entire discussion. It explicitly resolves this debate. How Heiser interprets this text is truly emblematic of how the Roman Catholic position held by so many Chrsitians today is forced to turn the text around to fit preconceived ideas.

Genesis 50: 20 says,

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

After all of the suffering and horror Joseph went through, he came to realize the reformed doctrine of compatibilism. He became reformed, to speak anachronistically, in boldly affirming that God can predestine evil events, while never retaining culpability, and the actors of such crimes never lose their culpability. Man is held accountable for their evil, while God meant for this to happen in His goodness. But how does Hesier interpret this text? His commentary on the verse says,

“God’s providence turned the harm intended Joseph by his brothers to the salvation of Israel from famine” (67) [Emphasis mine].

He uses the word “turn.” But that’s not the word Joseph used. Moses did not use that word in recording this event. God did not turn the unintended evils for good, He meant them for good. The ESV, ASV, HCSB, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, and even the NLT all use either “meant” or “planned” or “intended.”  Every single reliable, trustworthy English translation translates that Hebrew word to indicate God intended, planned, and meant for these evils to happen. It’s actually extremely difficult to find a translation among the less popular and more obscure that opts to use a word like “turn” (except for The Message…).

Heiser is essentially turning God into a divine  janitor. He really does not want bad things to happen, but sometimes His desires and plans don’t work. But don’t worry, when we powerful humans thwart His hopes and dreams, He is able to come clean up our mess and find some way to turn this for good. (This is not to insult the good and honest work of janitorial services. It is simply being used to illustrate the difference between a God who intends evil for good, and a God who turns evil for good.)

No, Joseph does not present God as an all-powerful janitor, but an all-powerful sovereign. Sovereignty is something God is, not something He does. He must be sovereign over all things or He is not sovereign at all. God’s sovereignty is not weak and passive; it has a chest.

And what hope this brings! When the evils and sufferings of the world fall upon us, we know it is part of the good intentions and plans of a loving, all-powerful God. We know there is meaning before and during the pain, not just sometime afterword.

How good it is to know that even when the hand of the Lord comes down hard on us, it is still His hand.