Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

– – – – –

One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

Christians And Voting For Donald Trump


anti-trump_protest_san_franciscoHere in California there have been protests up and down the state against President-elect Trump. Worse, on Facebook there’s been blame cast by Christians on Christians for electing a man who has exhibited behavior most like a racist, misogynist, and xenophobic. One particular post, which I found offensive on several levels, said that Christians have “some explaining to do.”

OK, I’ll explain.

First, if I haven’t made it clear yet, I did not vote for Mr. Trump and have serious reservations about his taking the office of President. I hope I am wrong, but I fear for our democracy.

Nevertheless, I understand why some Christians decided to vote for him. I DON’T understand why certain ones supported him early in the primary process when there were good options and candidates who would have turned this election into a Republican landslide in the face of all the scandal Secretary Clinton has faced. That aside, here are the reasons some (including Christians) have given for voting for Mr. Trump.

1, His stated pro-life position. For many, myself included, this is the single most important issue in American politics. How can we stand for justice, for freedom, for rights of the most vulnerable in our nation and then turn around and slaughter millions of unborn persons. I liken it to the people of Israel in the Old Testament choosing to worship a false god that required child sacrifice. Here in America, our false god is ourselves. We promote sex at every turn and treat celibacy and abstinence as aberrations. We do not exercise self-control because we believe we deserve to be self-indulgent—it’s Me-ism on steroids. We want what we want when we want it, and we’re willing to sacrifice the lives of our unborn children in the process.

2. The opportunity to nominate at least one and possibly as many as three Supreme Court justices. This point is actually a corollary of the first issue. In order to meaningfully reverse the cultural changes of the last eight years and of decades of the Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and which continues to prevent states from passing meaningful curbs on abortion, the makeup of the Supreme Court needs to be more conservative. In other words, it needs conservative justices who will honor the Constitution instead of creating law from the Bench. Mr. Trump has pledged to nominate such justices. It remains to be seen whether or not he will do what he said, but believing that his promise was better than a certainty that Secretary Clinton would nominate activist judges, some opted to vote for Mr. Trump.

3. Illegal immigration is illegal. Many people want our federal government to uphold the rule of law. We don’t. Hence, federally it is illegal to use marijuana, but more and more states are declaring its use, medicinally or recreationally, as legal while the federal government does nothing. In the same way, here in California certain cities have taken the status as “sanctuary cities” where illegal immigrants can safely reside without fear of deportation, and the federal government does nothing. In fact, no comprehensive immigration reform has come from the White House in a very long time. Consequently, thousands of unaccompanied minors have poured over the southern border, and no measures have been taken to stem the tide. From the November 22, 2115 Washington Times:

Nearly 5,000 unaccompanied children were caught in October, and nearly 3,000 more had been caught in the first half of November — a record pace for those months — and it signals just how closely smuggling cartels and would-be illegal immigrants themselves are paying attention to lax enforcement in the U.S.

Two years ago the numbers were even more staggering:

The vast majority of 50,000 unaccompanied youths and children who have illegally crossed the Texas border during the last few months have been successfully delivered by federal agencies to their relatives living in the United States, according to a New York Times article.

A second New York Times article report revealed that officials have caught an additional 240,000 Central American migrants since April, and are transporting many of them to their destinations throughout the United States. (From The Daily Caller, as quoted in the Independent Journal Review)

The issue isn’t racism or a fear of immigrants. It’s a desire to return our nation to one that believes in the rule of law. Congress passes laws and the Executive Branch is to enforce them. What happens, then, when the Executive Branch decides simply to ignore what Congress has passed? That’s what’s happened with the “open boarder” policy of these last few years.

4. Economic concerns. Some people have witnessed the sole industry of their town close down, leaving unemployed workers with no hope. Others have seen their jobs discontinued as businesses outsource work to other countries. Then there are the environmental snags that have stopped production of clean coal and the like. A number of people say they voted for Mr. Trump because they want his economic expertise to work for the country.

5. Media influence and the elite. Another group mention that they voted for Mr. Trump as a protest against insider government. They want a President who is not beholden to big money or the “good ole boys” in Washington. They also want to stop the media from telling the everyday person what they should think and how they should vote.

6. A vote against Secretary Clinton. Some people think that the scandals in which Secretary Clinton has been embroiled are indicative of her corruption, deceit, greed, and abuse of power. They do not believe she is qualified to be President.

7. A vote for a worldview, not for a man. Pastor John McArthur took this stand, basically saying that Mr. Trump’s ideas about our culture are more in line with Scripture than are Secretary Clinton’s.

There well could be other reasons, too, but these are the ones I’ve heard most often.

I’ve not heard, “I’m voting for Donald Trump because I share his racist positions.” Are some Trump supporters racist? I am pretty sure they are since the head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, endorsed Mr. Trump during the primary elections. Do some of those belonging to white supremacist groups self-identify as Christians? I suppose they might. It doesn’t mean they actually believe the Bible, however. In fact, it’s hard to see how they could align their racial beliefs with Scripture’s clear teaching about God’s love for the world!

Nevertheless, the point remains, Mr. Trump was a flawed candidate who by practice and by word took a stand that isn’t consistent with the Bible. But news flash: Secretary Clinton was a flawed candidate who by practice and by word took a stand that isn’t consistent with the Bible.

How, then, can a Clinton supporter turn to a Trump supporter and accuse him of not heeding the Bible by voting for a flawed candidate?

The Church does not have to apologize for Donald Trump becoming president. Last I checked, we the Church do not vote in lock step. We don’t vote with the same reasons in mind. That a flawed candidate won is no surprise. Had Hillary Clinton won, Christians could have been blamed for not opposing her more vocally or for voting for third party candidates or for not working to get out the vote or . . . there’s a myriad of reasons people could have turned on Christians in that scenario too.

In other words, the election is just one more reason some are using to bash the Church. It’s time we say, enough. Christians are not perfect, but we are not the cause of all ills in society as some atheists (looking at you, disciples of deceased Christopher Hitchens) would have us believe.

In fact Christians want very much to proclaim the cure for society’s ills. And that cure is not Donald Trump. Nor is it Hillary Clinton.

It’s The Church’s Fault


donald_trump_rally_10-21-16_30363517352

To the surprise of news analysts and voters alike, Donald Trump won yesterday’s US Presidential election. Today, on Facebook, I’m reading that some are pointing the finger at Christians. One fairly well-known name in the world of Christian communication wrote a post that says the Church “has some explaining to do,” and then launched into racist reasons Christians voted for Mr. Trump

As far as I’m concerned, this is simply the latest version of Church bashing. Three years ago, I wrote “Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil” and I’m re-posting it because I think believers have joined in with the culture at large to fault the Church for . . . whatever. It’s a dangerous trend, I believe.

I know some people will be thrown off by the idea that the devil has an active strategy to pull down the Church, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.

First, the Bible teaches that we have an adversary—not a flesh-and-blood opponent and not an advocacy group for some political ideology. Our adversary is spiritual. Paul says

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Peter identifies our adversary as the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

We’re also told that we are not to be ignorant of his schemes. On the contrary, we are to be alert. Consequently, we should pay attention to what the devil is doing. Many Christians know he’s not running around in red tights or holding a pitchfork. But what precisely is he doing?

Some may think he stands on our shoulder opposite our guardian angel whispering temptations into our ears. No. For one thing, Satan is not omnipresent. It’s highly unlikely, then, that he’s picked out an average Christian to lure into an illicit affair. (Our own sinful nature actually does an adequate job of presenting us with those kinds of temptations, so Satan doesn’t need to make that one of his schemes).

Still others think we need to go toe to toe with Satan in the same way Jesus did. There might be an instance when this is true, but I don’t think it’s the common scheme Satan uses. Even if he confronted men like Francis Chan or Tim Tebow, luring them with pleasure and power, it seems like a small reward for the investment of his time.

So what’s his great strategy?

Jesus told us one part of it. He identified Satan as a liar and the Father of lies. His grand plan, then, is to attack that which points people to the truth.

Following the Great American Awakening, then, rationalism opposed belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was all emotionalism and imagination and superstition.

“Higher criticism” came along to undermine the Bible, to question its authority, its inerrancy, its inspiration.

So now we have no Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, and we have no sure Word of God to exhort and testify of the grace of God.

But Postmodernism still values community, and Jesus Himself said that the watching world would know we are Christians by how we love one another. A worshiping, caring community of believers in Jesus Christ serves as a testimony, a witness, to this culture that God transforms lives. So Satan’s next scheme, it seems, is to go after the Church.

Here are some of the ways I see this attack taking place.

1. False teachers—people who preach as true something that contradicts the Bible directly or something that magnifies one segment of the Bible to the exclusion of other parts.

2. Those who do immoral things in the name of Christ or in spite of the fact that they are known by His name.

3. Collaboration with the culture—a type of “bend, don’t break” attitude toward morality which, in the end, makes us look eerily similar to the unsaved we’re supposed to be winning for Christ.

4. Honoring tradition more than we honor God’s Word. For example, I had a pastor I respected greatly preach against syncopated music. Another one I know preaches that there were twelve apostles and no more, though Scripture clearly identifies more than twelve.

More than that, there are segments of the church that by doctrine choose tradition over Scripture. Hence, the Pope can declare that believers are not to eat meat on Friday . . . until a new Pope says they can.

1420878_church_in_the_woodThe emergent church, of course, attacked the “traditional” evangelical church for honoring tradition more than it should be honored. Although I’m not sure what the offensive things the traditional church was supposed to be doing that was so egregious, I suspect one aspect was the spit-and-polish show that has become the Sunday morning worship service.

Other complaints seem to center on the fact that there are sinners in those pews! Well, that’s hardly something that will change whether the church is traditional or a small house assembly or one that meets out in a park. Hypocrisy, pride, greed, gossip, lust, it all follows us wherever we go–which is why Paul admonished believers to lay aside the old self with its evil practices, why James said to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.

All these attacks against the Church should renew our efforts as part of the Body of Christ to create the community God intended. We are to represent Him to the world–not by haranguing the world to act more like Christ when clearly no one without Christ could possibly live a holy life, when we ourselves are works in progress. Rather, we should go back to basics.

First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think it’s important not to rush past that most important command to get to the love-your-neighbor second command which people apparently want to emphasize these days.

Mind you, I don’t see how we can create loving communities without loving our neighbors. But I don’t think we can manufacture this love from our own nature. This extraordinary bond between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women, corporate execs and day laborers, comes because we first love God with all of who we are.

We don’t see ourselves as special or deserving or important. No matter who we are or where we fall in the pecking order of society, we can never be more special, deserving, or important than God. He is the one we are to magnify. And He’s asked us to do that by serving each other.

This is the clear teaching we need to focus on. This is the best way to counter Satan’s lie which would have us believe the Church is finished, washed up, on its way out.

God’s bride? We may appear a little tattered around the edges, but our Bridegroom has not forsaken us. He will bring His Church through, and as we submit to His plan for us, we will be the testimony of His amazing love and transforming power to the world, He intended from the beginning.

The Impossibility Of Empathy


donald_trumpEmpathy, according to my atheist blogger friend Violetwisp, provides a moral framework by which a person can make moral judgments. So, no, God did not “set eternity in our hearts” or a “God-shaped vacuum” or a “moral compass.” Our morality comes from our ability to “understand and share the feelings of others.” (Oxford American Dictionary)

Which is impossible.

No one can actually understand and share the feelings of someone with a radically different experience from ours. Take Donald Trump, for example. I’ve never been a multimillionaire. I’ve never had my own TV program. I’ve never had multiple marriages. I’m not a man. I have never wanted to run for President or to deport illegal aliens by the truckload or to carpet bomb the Syrians. There are many, many other things that make my life and experience different from Mr. Trump’s. So how am I to understand and share his feelings?

I can’t. We could easily be from different planets. He says deplorable things about women. He encourages violence against those who protest against his positions. He advocates for religious discrimination in the name of homeland security. He condones torture. Many of his “plans” for solving the problems in the US are unconstitutional.

I don’t understand someone who behaves as he does unless I assign motives behind his actions. My conclusion is that he cares more for himself than he does for others. Consequently, he’ll find a loophole so he doesn’t have to pay income taxes, then blame the government for the existence of the loophole. “If you’d just stopped me from being greedy and selfish, then I would have been like all other Americans,” he seems to be saying.

Am I empathetic toward Mr. Trump? No. I believe I understand him. He wants what he wants when he wants it and doesn’t care who he bulldozes out of his way to get the power or prestige or possessions he’s set his sights on. But do I feel for him? He’s had advantages in this life that few have had, and he comes to the twilight years of his life as a power-hungry bully who lies and manipulates and blusters and fawns—whatever works to create sycophants. I don’t feel for him. I think he should know better, that he should have done more with what he’d been given.

The truth is, he might have experienced heartbreak when he was young. He might have been lonely and alone as a child and has been acting out from a place of pain ever since—to live in a way that keeps him from feeling the heartache, to exact revenge on a perceived perpetrator, to make up from what he considers his lost youth. I simply have no way of knowing what is behind his deplorable actions and words and ways of relating to people in public.

I do not empathize with him. I don’t even want to. I don’t want to explain away what he’s done or what he continues to do.

tex_watsonEmpathy is a failed strategy. It cannot move me closer to Donald Trump. I could extrapolate from that one example to a host of others. I don’t empathize with David Duke and other racists. I don’t empathize with the Planned Parenthood execs who sold fetal body parts. I don’t empathize with the Manson family prisoners who have had parole denied repeatedly.

How am I supposed to empathize with a sex-trafficker? With a mob hit man? With an ISIS suicide bomber?

In case after case after case, I don’t understand someone or I don’t feel with them. And we haven’t even begun to talk about people from other countries who have customs and practices and traditions that are completely foreign to my experience.

Empathy doesn’t cut it. Can’t cut it. I don’t know enough to understand all these people. I don’t care enough to feel with them in their experiences.

Empathy doesn’t give us a moral framework apart from our own personal experience. And then we only feel with people based on our own perspective. Consequently, our moral judgment becomes, what do I want to have happen? So if I want abortion, then it’s legal. If I want slavery, then it’s legal. If I want divorce, then it’s legal.

Another gaping failure of empathy is to explain how all those unempathetic behaviors came into being in the first place. If the first humans were empathetic toward one another, all should have been well. But someone at some point introduced behavior that contradicted the moral framework that existed because of the perfect empathy governing those early relationships. What caused empathy to break down?

There is no answer to that question in the moral framework constructed by people who look to empathy as the solution to sin.

Yes, sin. That’s what we’re talking about. When one person violates another person, either in word or deed, it’s sin. Sin is actually deeper than that, but for the purpose of this post. focusing on the observable is sufficient.

Empathy can not change sin. That’s really what I’ve been saying. Empathy can’t explain why people sin, and it can give no answer to the cycle of sin—either those who sin against another or those who have been sinned against.

There’s only one remedy that has proven effective—forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t depend on my understanding or my feeling with another. I can forgive without knowing why someone behaved in a despicable way. I can forgive and work toward a restored relationship without feeling with the person who holds hatred in his heart.

I’ve played the empathy card before. I’ve sat with friends and listened to their tales of woe. I’ve worked to understand and feel with them when they have been wronged and mistreated. And what did it bring? Relief? No. It nurtured more of the feelings of resentment and anger that the original actions engendered. No relationship healing occurred. Only greater division.

But forgiveness—that’s a different thing. Forgiveness humbles and heals. Forgiveness bridges gaps without excusing or erasing responsibility. Forgiveness requires growth and added maturity in both the forgiven and the forgiver.

I suppose forgiveness is impossible too, apart from the great example of forgiveness God enacted when He sent His Son to provide a way for us to access His forgiveness; apart from the power of God to work in and through our frail human desires.

Yes, God alone is stronger than the heinous acts one person does against another. Only God can turn people who hated each other into friends. Only God can give the ability for a Nazi concentration camp prisoner to reconcile with one of her guards. Only God can lead a kidnap victim to forgive the men who were responsible for her husband’s death. Only God can put it in the heart of a congregation to forgive the racist who gunned down their loved ones in their own church.

God does what empathy can never do. Because God can do the impossible. Empathy . . . not so much.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 6:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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Advocacy For Life


Perhaps the greatest sin in the US today is abortion. I don’t mean the individual sin of a woman deciding to abort her baby. I mean the ongoing legality of it and the complicit nature of government in allowing it.

Because that’s my belief, I sympathize with conservatives who have begrudgingly declared for Donald Trump. They intend to vote for him because he says he will appoint pro-life justices when he is President. The argument is tempting.

But I’ve decided against voting for Mr. Trump. Why, if I believe so strongly about the sin of abortion? The answer to that question is multilayered, but one aspect is this: pro-life views won’t be imposed on people who embrace naturalism.

Four years ago, I wrote a post here at A Christian Worldview Of Fiction entitled “Your Body, Your Own.” It’s a clear statement of what I believe about life. But I’ve come to realize there’s an entirely different view shared by those who think this material world is all there is, that there is no life after death, and that, in fact, there is no supernatural anything.

First, the post in question (yes, I used to write much shorter articles):

“A woman has the right over her own body” has become a rallying cry for abortion advocates. But because a fetus is inside a woman’s body does not make that life a part of her body.

Anyone born without all the usual body parts is normally classified as disabled. Is someone without a fetus disabled? Certainly not, or all women who aren’t pregnant and all men would be in trouble.

In this day of liposuction and plastic surgery, women are exercising their rights to change their bodies. But how many willfully discard body parts? “I don’t like this toe, so I’ll chop it off.” Or, “Who needs that other kidney . . . think I’ll have it removed.” A woman keeps the parts of her body because she needs the parts of her body.

Not so with a fetus. Instead, the fetus needs her. She doesn’t gain nourishment from that growing baby. She gives nourishment. She doesn’t gain protection from that little one; she gives it.

When a woman decides to have an abortion, what she is really deciding is to remove the fetus from the safe environment in which this new life is growing, maturing, developing.

If someone were to remove an infant from the safety of their home because they didn’t want it, and that baby dies, we’d call it child abuse. When a pregnant woman does so, we call it legal.

At the time I wrote those words, I thought the logic was unimpeachable. What I didn’t account for was this view of life that sees humans as no different from a dog or whale or titmouse or mosquito. In this view, the human does not have a soul and has nothing of intrinsic value other than the value ascribed to it by society. So, society says the unborn have no rights and are not valuable unless the mother gives it value.

Consequently, to end the life of an unwanted unborn child is no different than ending the life of an unwanted cockroach.

Appointing a pro-life Supreme Court justice will not change this thinking. In fact, as Mr. Trump accurately pointed out in the last Presidential debate, if the court should overturn Roe v. Wade, the legality of abortion would be determined by the states instead of by the federal government.

I have no doubt that California would quickly pass a law legalizing abortion. I suspect all blue states would, and I have to wonder if the red states would be far behind. In other words, changing the law is not going to change the culture that has fostered this attitude toward the unborn.

We need meaningful change, not band-aides that stem our feelings of guilt. We need to address the wrong thinking that allows women to choose abortion, that promotes the devaluation of human life, that turns the other way when abortionists sell fetal body parts and refuses to do anything to stop it.

First we must understand why people believe as they do—that abortion is not murder. People with this perspective might ask, Is swatting a fly, murder? Killing an unwanted fetus is no different from ridding your house of an unwanted pest.

Such thinking sounds outrageous to us who belief that human life is sacred, that men and women are made in God’s image, that we have eternal souls which set us apart from all other creatures.

This belief about humans is the fundamental difference between abortionists and pro-life advocates.

My guess is that the majority of women who have an abortion never think about the reasoning behind their decision. They believe what the kind abortion clinic personnel tell them: it’s not only legal, but it’s preferred: you don’t want to bring an unwanted child into the world where they might face abuse and neglect.

But what about the unborn child’s inalienable rights? What about their soul? What about their intrinsic value as a person? These are the questions pro-life advocates need to bring front and center if we are to change the way our society thinks about abortion.

The answers are in the Bible, but also in our Constitution, starting with the Preamble:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Emphases mine)

Abortionists might not identify the pre-born as persons, but surely there can be no doubt that our “posterity” by definition refers to those yet to be born.

So the facts, both legal and moral, are there. But until we do the hard work to influence the thinking of our culture, we ought not expect that a Presidential Supreme Court nominee will fix the mess we’ve allowed to exist for more than forty years.

Voting As A Christian


The_Good_Samaritan008I recently read a thought-provoking opinion piece in the Christian Research Journal (Vol. 39, No. 4) by Andrew Bullard entitled “Social Movements and God’s Kingdom: Which Cause Matters Most?” I couldn’t help but apply what Bullard said to the upcoming US Presidential elections, especially after watching the Monday debate.

Actually a lot has gone into my thinking: what I read in Eric Metasax’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a biography written by Elisabeth Elliot on Amy Carmichael, any number of Facebook posts and comments, things I’ve read in Scripture, and conversations I’ve had with friends.

But honestly, I felt Bullard gave some clarity to my thinking, except I don’t really know how to apply what he said, though I agree whole-heartedly.

His basic premise is that Christians belong to God’s kingdom and as such we should be about Kingdom business. Here’s the core of his position:

Consider this question: is it right for a Christian to be completely devoted to a cause at the risk of alienating those who need to hear the message of Christ? This question is applicable to any social movement and ideology. How you answer this tells others where your true values lie. (This quote and those that follow come from the article mentioned above, unless otherwise indicated).

In other words, as followers of Jesus, our chief assignment is to tell people about the Messiah. But if we are sold out to a social movement, of any kind, such that we offend those on the opposite side of the question, how can we expect to represent Jesus to them?

So, if Jesus is your King, then you’re expected to take on the character and conduct of a citizen in His kingdom. It means you now serve Him. It means you allow this King to dominate every aspect of your life. You have voluntarily given up your personal freedoms for a better life under King Jesus.

I understand the principle, and I even agree with it, as I mentioned above. I think the Bible teaches this truth unequivocally. The problem I have is translating the principle to everyday life.

Take this example, for instance. Scripture teaches us to care for the needy: specifically the orphan and widow and stranger. We’re to love our neighbor as our self, as the Samaritan did when he helped the traveler who had been mugged. Today, however, there are people who masquerade as homeless people, who beg for handouts when they don’t really need money, who lie about their circumstances. There are also people who beg so they can feed their chemical addiction. What is the “Christian” thing to do, then, when someone confronts you in a grocery store parking lot and asks for a handout?

I think if I asked twenty people that question, I might get twenty different answers, and I don’t know which one would be the “right” one. There might not be a right one, but I do think there’s a wrong one: if we say or do something offensive that would close the door to the opportunity to represent Christ to that person, I think that would be a wrong choice.

All this ties in with the upcoming national election because I think the principle—Christians behaving like members of Christ’s kingdom—should guide us. I know a lot of believers want to follow this tenet, though they may not have articulated it as clearly as Bullard.

The problem, as I see it, is knowing how to apply this truth.

Bullard closed his article with this:

None of this is to say it is inherently wrong to advocate for a social movement or political ideology. However, we must keep eternity and the Kingdom of God in mind when choosing which social movement and ideologies to align ourselves with and how devoted to them we become. It is possible to advance God’s kingdom and support a social movement or be active in a political campaign. Yet, we must be wary our devotion to movements and candidates does not replace our mission—advancing the Kingdom of God.

What does a Christian do when neither of the two major party candidates would qualify as leaders who would enhance our mission?

Sec. Clinton talks a great deal about social justice, and Mr. Trump has indicated he would bring conservative judges to the Supreme Court. As near as I can tell, these are the two most positive things about both candidates.

Both candidates apparently have no compunction against stretching the truth:

In the first debate between presidential contenders Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump repeatedly relied on troublesome and false facts that have been debunked throughout the campaign. Clinton stretched the truth on occasion, such as when she tried to wiggle out of her 2012 praise of the Trans Pacific Partnership as a “gold standard.” (“Fact-checking the first Clinton-Trump presidential debate,” By Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Washington Post

Mr. Trump has said egregious things about women, about illegal immigrants, about politicians who ran against him. Sec. Clinton has barely avoided indictment for her handling of her email correspondence when she was Secretary of State. Both hold policies that seem contrary to Scripture.

In other words, neither seems to be a candidate that would make America a place where Christians can pursue our true kingdom work without bumping into government policy that conflicts in some way.

Are we to weigh one idea over against another: it’s more important to advocate for the unborn than to treat the immigrant fairly?

Honestly, I have more questions than anything, especially in light of the Bonhoeffer biography which brought out the struggle and conflict segments of the German church went through as Adolf Hitler put into place his anti-Jewish policies. They waited too long to act; by the time they woke up to the danger, the Final Solution which cost six million Jews their lives, was in place.

Is our situation in America anywhere close to that of Germany in the mid 20th century.

It might be.

If I Like It, Then It’s Good: Moral Judgments, Part 2


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The question, then, isn’t should we make moral judgments. We do—that’s a simple fact. The question ought to be, on what should we base our judgments? (“Moral Judgments, Part 1”

When I taught seventh and eighth graders, I soon learned that a good number of the boys students found it amusing to look for double entendres, particularly ones with a possible sexual slant. I decided early on that I could either learn all the latest slang and work to avoid any words that might carry sexual innuendo, or I could teach my students to employ a little self discipline. I opted for the latter.

The problem I came up against was that some bright kids astutely said, in essence, But why shouldn’t we laugh? It’s funny. They were right, of course. Suggestive interpretation can be funny. Dirty jokes can be funny too.

So, I asked, is that the standard we use to determine what we listen to — if it makes us laugh?

It’s the question we should all be asking today. Is the standard we use to determine what we read, watch on TV, listen to on our iPods, where we go, who we hang with, how we spend our time, what Internet sites we visit nothing more than that it entertains us? Is the highest good, our feelings of pleasure — happiness, mirth, satisfaction, gratification, amusement?

You’d think so, judging by what we talk about and how we spend our time. But most of us realize there are more important things than what pleases us — the good of our family, for instance, or for Christians, doing what God wants us to do. In public schools here in California, the overriding principle students are to use as a guide for their behavior is, Do no one harm.

But all those and the countless other standards used in the business world, in government, in the legal system, in the marketplace, offer no definition for “good” or for “what God wants” or “harm.”

Is it harm to make fun of someone? If so, then why do we allow Saturday Night Live to stay on TV? Is it “good” for someone to be mocked for his lack of singing ability on national TV? Is it “what God wants” when we write a book that says there is no hell?

How are we to make such judgments?

We could go with what pleases us. Saturday Night Live is a funny show, so whatever they joke about is just fine.

We could say, A person gets what he’s asking for, so the clowns who try out for talent shows when they have no talent, deserve to get hammered. But does that mean someone cheering for the Giants in Dodger Stadium is asking to get hammered?

We could say, What we think is right, is what God wants us to do. So when people like President Obama support fetal stem cell research because they believe many, many people will be cured of diseases as a result, does their belief in their cause mean they are doing what God wants?

Clearly, every issue has two sides. Who’s to say what’s right? Person A says pornography hurts a person and tears apart marriages. Person B says it’s an innocent way of releasing sexual tension.

Person A says abortion kills babies. Person B says abortion saves children from lives of abuse and neglect.

Person A says bullying is part of growing up and every kid gets teased. Person B says bullying destroys self-esteem and pushes victims toward retaliation of one kind or the other.

On and on, round and round. Is it true that we should just go with what the majority of people believe to be right? Do we take a vote? Today it’s wrong to throw Jews into concentration camps, but tomorrow, if we have enough votes, we can decide that good means Jews will be arrested and jailed?

Is there no fixed standard? No way to know what is right and what is wrong for all time? Or are we left to our whims or to the trends of society fashioned by the best propaganda money can buy?

One of the telling facts that came out of President Obama’s statements about the Supreme Court’s deliberations about the Constitutionality of the health care law was that he considered the popularity of the law to be a reason it should stand and not be struck down. As if popularity outweighed the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.

But President Obama is a man of the times. As is Donald Trump. Secretary Clinton is no less a product of our times. How do they define good? It would seem they do so by whatever they want.

Essentially, our society has come down to this: every person does what is right in his own eyes, and if he’s doing something the law says is illegal, he moves with greater caution so he doesn’t get caught.

There ought to be a better way to determine what is right and wrong. And there is.

This post, part two of a short series on moral judgment, is an edited version of one that first appeared here in April 2012.

Assassination


cover_BonhoefferI started a new biography today: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, spy by Eric Metaxas. You may know that Bonhoeffer was one of the Germans who unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate Hitler.

Everything I’ve heard about Bonhoeffer has been positive. Specifically people refer to his strong Christian beliefs. I have a copy of his book The Cost of Discipleship, though I’ve never read it. You see, I have this problem with plotting an assassination.

Granted, Hitler was an evil man, but so were the Roman Caesars under which the early church came into being. Yet Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to be subject to rulers and Peter echoed the concept:

Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to the king as the one in authority or to governors as sent by him . . . (1 Peter 2:13-14a)

So I’ve always had a problem thinking of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the Christian faith or even of the human race. Is it ever right to do wrong?

Our times are troubled, so assassination hit the news too. As the political conventions draw near, the news referred to the tightening of security and the barriers and the buffer zone those tasked with keeping the candidates safe have had to erect. Of course they replayed footage of a crazed spectator at one of Donald Trump’s rallies jumping onto the stage, and another clip of the police leading away a man who said he came to shoot Mr. Trump.

In light of the recent assassinations of the five Dallas policemen (and the wounding of more officers and a few civilians) the safety concerns seem legitimate.

I thought back to the assassination of President Kennedy (yes, I can remember it). He’d been elected by the slimmest of margins, but the whole nation mourned his death. I suspect if there were to be such a tragedy today involving our President or either candidate, we would not pull together. We might actually see a deepening of the bitterness and hatred that has been seething in our country.

All this brought to mind another assassination—perhaps the worst crime in America—that by John Wilkes Booth of President Abraham Lincoln. I say “the worst crime” because I believe, apart from slavery itself, the period after the Civil War is most responsible for the roots of racism and poverty and injustice we see in America today.

President Lincoln had a plan for reconstruction of the South. Had he continued to serve as President until the end of his term, I suspect there would not have been Carpetbaggers or Shanty Towns or Ku Klux Klans or Jim Crow laws or black voter disenfranchisement or segregation.

Change would not have been easy but there were already allies President Lincoln could have called on to implement his ideas for reconstruction—hundreds of white abolitionists who had taken up the call to eliminate slavery and an untold number of heroic white station masters and conductors in the Underground Railroad.

Before the war was over, President Lincoln had begun to put into place piece of a reconstruction plan that would address the new societal realities—Southern plantation owners without a work force, and often with homes and outbuildings burned to the ground; and freed slaves without jobs, uneducated, and homeless.

He established temporary military governorships that would administrate the Southern states. He established The Freedmen’s Bureau which helped

African Americans find family members from whom they had become separated during the war. It arranged to teach them to read and write, considered critical by the freedmen themselves as well as the government. Bureau agents also served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues. The Bureau encouraged former major planters to rebuild their plantations, urged freed Blacks to gain employment above all, kept an eye on contracts between the newly free labor and planters, and pushed both whites and blacks to work together as employers and employees rather than as masters and as slaves. (Wikipedia)

The Bill that set up the Freedmen’s Bureau expired in a year. Congress voted to extend it, but the new President, Andrew Johnson, vetoed it.

How might history have been changed if President Lincoln had lived! It’s impossible to know.

Considering the possibilities, though, I’m mindful of the influence of one life, one life on an entire nation.

How might the world be different if President Lincoln had lived? How might the world be different if Hitler had died?

Above all the machinations of leaders and rebels and assassins stands our sovereign God. No, He wasn’t pulling strings like a puppet master, but He superintends all that is His—which is everything. So the struggle in our society today isn’t off track any more than the struggle the first Christians endured at the hand of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero.

Humanly speaking we can look at causes and effects. We can play the “what if” game or the “if only” game. But God does more with less, and brings life out of ashes. He restores and redeems.

I wish He had seen fit to heal the racial divide in our country right out of the starting blocks, before the ink was dry on the surrender Robert E. Lee signed.

More so, I wish slavery had never become an American institution.

But I imagine many Germans wish Hitler had never happened, or that East Germany had never happened.

It’s the old story of evil and evil men seeming to flourish while the righteous helplessly cry out to God to be their refuge.

So I wonder. Does it take the progression of evil to make the righteous cry out to God? I don’t know. But I think we’re at the place where crying out to God to be our refuge makes perfect sense. In reality, no matter what our circumstances, crying out to God makes sense. But in times like these, we need an anchor.

God, Justice, And Punishment For Women Who Abort


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Donald Trump stepped in it last week. He was pushed into a corner, it’s true, but he made the worst of the situation by saying what he thought his new constituents—far right politicos—wanted to hear. He had adopted the pro-life position though he’d been in the abortionist camp “for many, many years” (to quote something he might say). I suspect he’d heard from his old friends that his new friends were all about punishing women, so when pressed on the issue, The Donald gave his “candid” answer, though you could tell he was sort of appalled by his own words.

Yep, he said if Roe v. Wade were overturned, a woman should be punished if she had an abortion.

Less than twenty-four hours later, his campaign issued a “clarification” which was actually a retraction. Mr. Trump, it turns out, doesn’t really believe a woman should be punished if she had an abortion.

Which actually demonstrates what a loose cannon Mr. Trump is, and therefore what a horrible President he would make. But that’s a different subject than the one in front of me.

Mr. Trump’s outlandish statement has stirred the pot, at least in some circles. There are people saying, but wait a minute: is Trump really so wrong? I mean, if these women are really killing, why should they be given a pass?

There’s a Biblical backdrop that I think sheds some light on this topic. At different times, God gave His law some teeth by bringing immediate and ultimate judgment. Two of Aaron’s sons died because they burned the wrong incense in the tabernacle. Another 450 people died—burned by fire from heaven and then swallowed by the earth—because they challenged Moses’s authority to speak for God. During King David’s rule, a man died on the spot because he touched the ark of the covenant. And in the New Testament, Ananias and Sapphira were separately struck down for lying to God about how much money they made when they sold their house.

God acted with immediate judgment. And yet years later people were doing all kinds of things against His law—worshiping Baal in the temple, building high places all over Israel and Judah, handling the sacred temple vessels, and in Jesus’s day, priests cheating the people who wanted to bring a sacrifice. Yet, for all intents and purposes, God was silent.

Until He wasn’t.

It’s true He didn’t bring fire from heaven against those people. Yes, Jesus tossed out the priests making money at the expense of the worshipers, but some time later He had to get in that temple again and toss out all the crooks once more. It wasn’t like He blasted them off the planet. Just chased them away. You’d hardly say that measure up to those early judgments of God against the people of Israel who rebelled.

The point is, there came a time when God’s judgment changed from immediate to something different. Now He lets people dig their own graves. That process might take some time, but in the end, their way He will “have brought upon their heads” (Ezekiel 22:31).

In other words, none of the people who didn’t receive immediate punishment were getting away with breaking God’s law.

In fact we all will face a day of judgment. God’s servants will separate the wheat from the weeds, the sheep from the goats. And He will mete out to each what is fair and just. To the wheat, the sheep, He will give His welcome to His banquet table because of His Son Jesus, whose robe of righteousness we wear.

That welcome is for liars and prideful people, for idol worshipers and women who have had an abortion or two or three, for gossips and prostitutes, for the greedy and the envious—really for any sinner who confesses, repents, and walks in the newness of life provided by Christ’s shed blood.

The question, then, isn’t whether woman should be punished for having an abortion. That matter is in God’s hands. The only thing we have to ask is whether we as a society that propagated the lie that abortion is not wrong, can avoid God’s wrath. We might also ask if we should do more than Jesus did when He faced an adulterous woman and said, “Go and sin no more.”

It seems to me, we stand with no defense before God for allowing abortion in our land and worse, for importing it to other places. We are guilty as a society. But what hypocrisy if we were to scapegoat the women we have convinced by our lies—if we were to suddenly tell them that they are the guilty ones for believing what our leaders have been telling us for decades.

Make no mistake, those women will one day face the judgment. I know of any number of women who had abortions who will be at the banquet table, their sins, including their abortions, cast into the sea of God’s forgetfulness. Others, however, will stand guilty, not of having had an abortion, but of refusing to accept God’s Son.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Published in: on April 4, 2016 at 6:48 pm  Comments Off on God, Justice, And Punishment For Women Who Abort  
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Leadership


Republicanlogo.svgThis week yet another Republican declared his candidacy to become the party’s US presidential nominee. The Politics And Elections Portal lists 33 declared candidates—thirty-one men with Carly Fiorina and Shawna Sterling as the only women. Some of these individuals have impressive credentials—having been executives, either of a state or large corporation. Some have worked in Congress. Some have served in the military.

Unfortunately the one person who gets the lion’s share of the press is an individual who does not exhibit true leadership qualities. Of course I’m speaking of Donald Trump. The man is rich and famous, and he loves to wield power. But that does not make him a leader.

For one thing, leaders don’t talk without thinking. When a person runs for a public office, he or she talks a lot and it’s possible they’ll say something that comes out wrong. If that happens, they’ll own it, not repeat it.

Of course, speaking boldly and forcefully rather than giving carefully scripted sound bites is kind of refreshing, especially to anyone who pays attention to politics for any length of time. But railing at problems is not a strategy for fixing problems. A leader doesn’t just criticize and judge.

A leader sees himself or herself as a public servant. One thing I cannot see Donald Trump doing is proclaiming himself a servant. Maybe I’m wrong.

One thing that’s evident is Mr. Trump’s bombastic pronouncements have earned him followers. Seriously, I’m troubled about that fact. Apparently there are a significant number of people who think the office of President consists of calling people names, taking criticism personally, and retaliating because of it.

Leaders have to have thick skins. They can’t be mean and petty.

I’d say there are some things that leaders ought to be or do, but there are others they can’t be or do. Mean and petty fall into the latter category.

Mr. Trump isn’t short on opinion, but neither am I. Voicing an opinion does not make a person leadership material, even if a good number of people agree.

The thing is, Mr. Trump touched a nerve when he spoke so candidly about immigration—wrong, though he was. I live in California, and I can guarantee you that not all immigrants from Mexico, including those who have come illegally, are rapists and drug dealers.

Instead of saying such outlandish things, Mr. Trump would have done the nation a service if he’d talked frankly about solutions to the problems. As long as politicians are afraid of the fall-out with voters, nothing meaningful will ever get done about immigration.

Mr. Trump demonstrated that he’s not afraid of voters, but he also showed he’s not particular about the truth, that he’s unimaginative about solutions and out of touch with the majority of Americans.

His tirade against Senator Lindsey Graham was a bit frightening. In case you missed it, Senator Graham “started it” (are we in third grade still?) by calling Mr. Trump a jackass for what he said about Senator John McCain. Mr. Trump retaliated by calling Senator Graham an idiot and giving out his cell phone number (so mature).

Leaders aren’t childish. They also form logical, informed opinions rather than saying one thing at one time, then another at a different time (see “How Do the Republican Candidates Stack Up on Afghanistan?” by my nephew Paul D. Miller who gave Mr. Trump an F grade).

I’m hoping that this year of politicking will bring a leader to the forefront. There seems to be an understanding that former Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton will be the Democratic nomination. While she clearly has knowledge about foreign affairs and understands the office of President like few others, I have some reservations about her leadership abilities.

She’s not like Mr. Trump. I wouldn’t say she speaks without thinking, or rails against policies with which she disagrees. I wouldn’t call her mean and petty or childish either. But there are some troublesome questions about her trustworthiness.

Interestingly, the Republican field of candidates seems stacked with people affiliating with some form of Christianity. One Pew Research article notes that eight different candidates identify as Roman Catholics—which seems to be a shift from the past when Catholics voted nearly as a block for Democratic candidates.

All this to say, I’m hoping we’ll soon see a shift away from “train-wreck reporting” to coverage of serious candidates who actually have leadership abilities.

Published in: on July 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments (2)  
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