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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Why are you reading this, sinner?

He's very disappointed in you.
There was a time, not so long ago, when it was believed that we stood on the threshold of a new era of human knowledge. Our children would be far better educated than we were and money would rain down from the heavens. Indeed, real cash was poured upon many with nothing more than an idea and a clever name. This New Jerusalem was to be brought forth by the greatest blessing ever bestowed on mankind: the internet.

The internet even seemed to fulfill a New Age prophecy:
"With the evolution of Man," he [Teilhard de Chardin] wrote, "a new law of Nature has come into force--that of convergence." Biological evolution had created step one, "expansive convergence." Now, in the twentieth century, by means of technology, "the hitherto scattered" species Homo sapiens was being united by a single "nervous system for humanity," a "living membrane," a single "stupendous thinking machine," a unified consciousness that would cover the earth like "a thinking skin," a noosphere," to use Teilhard's favorite neologism.
Tom Wolfe, "Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill." Hooking Up. 69

Of course it all came to nought. Our children may turn out to be intellectually crippled by relying on the internet, the stock market crashed when people finally realized that some companies had no actual product, and the internet has proven to be the most effective means of disseminating pornography yet conceived by man. And yet, despite the evidence that the internet is inspired by paganism, dangerous for America's youth, and a den of iniquity, Christians who give lip-service to separation from the world use it anyway.

So what say you, David Cloud? Do you and your ilk need to repent? You teach people to "touch no unclean thing." Surely that includes the internet. If musical rhythms are to be forbidden because they suggest sensuality, how much more so should a network which depicts sex in a graphic and debased way be condemned in our churches? To argue otherwise would be to admit that things are not evil by their nature, but only insomuch as they are misused by evil people. I await the carrier pidgeon announcing your repentance.

Category: Gnat-Strainers
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Other Blessed Hypostatic Union

An Ice Cream Athanasius Would Approve Of Nothing whatsoever in the world compares to our Lord, who has saved us by becoming the dual-nature God-Man. However, in His mercy he has also blessed us with creaturely delights. This includes the heretofor unknown union of Newcastle Brown Ale and ice cream. One nature beer, one nature ice cream, temporally existing in one delicious pint.

Category: Extraneous & Miscellaneous
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Monday, February 20, 2006

Just Once, For Centuri0n

The Psalms contain a word, Selah, that is troublesome for translators. It does not have any obvious meaning, but it is speculated that it is either a musical notation or an expression of agreement or emotion. If we believe it is the latter, we can see that we create such words in our own time and language. Is it any surprise that we have approximated Selah in English as nearly we can with Booyah? I will add a hearty Booyah! to this post by Frank Turk.

Category: Theoblogia
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Et Tu, Britannia?

Not that the United Kingdom was brimming over with freedom last I checked (after our little run-in with King George, things just went from monarchial oppression to socialist nanny-state oppression), but now they've really gone and made things worse by banning all smoking in public places. After visiting the U.K. (twice) I was convinced that they would never buckle under the prevailing trend to ban smoking that so many other countries were adopting. Smoking is such a staple of pub life, I thought. Smoking is just so...English. It would surely be Britain contra mundum.

Yesterday I was proven wrong by British Parliament, and instead we get Britain contra fumus. So I thought the topic would be a worthy addition to Mongrel Horde's recent, inadvertent smoking theme. The grouchy, Tory, English expatriates from National Review weigh in:

Iain Murray: "...the UK isn't really a free country any more."

John Derbyshire: "The madness is upon us. We are doomed, doomed."

And a random, hilarious quote from a Scotsman just for grins: "I don’t understand how we’re supposed to police this. If a big 6ft tall guy comes in and says ‘I’m going to have a fag’ what I am I supposed to do about it? Dial 999?" [So that there is no confusion, consulting your English-to-English dictionary will tell you that "fag" is British slang for "cigarette." -DG]

I'm sure there is going to be some civil disobedience and light enforcement of the ban in remote rural areas in the U.K. I'd love to hear about someone lighting up a big, stinky cigar in a pub and yelling "FREEDOM!!!!" like William Wallace at the end of Braveheart, as the local bobby fines him £50.

Category: Civitas Terrena
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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too Good for the Meta

There are strange doings in the meta. Dave posted a little travelogue from his trip to a Westminster conference. It was merely meant to put him in the running for the world's biggest amateur theology geek, but it turned into a rather, ahem, lively back and forth between Dr. R. Scott Clark and Dr. John Frame. Steve Hays takes sides on Triablogue. Enjoy reading some real theologians for a change.

Category: Theoblogia
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Friday, February 10, 2006

Women Theologians

She's Probably Reading The Latest Westminster Theological Journal
Dr. Ron Gleason made a wonderful, marvelous contribution to the Bayly's discussion of female theologians in the church. It was so good, I couldn't let the comment remain hidden in the meta of a blog in obscurity:
The good idea [in the article under debate] is that women should be theologians and good ones. I have spent the better part of my life teaching my wife to be a good theologian and she passed with flying colors, although for some odd reason she keeps on reading and learning. She is truly a godly woman of the Book.

You aren't a red-blooded Calvinist male if that doesn't strike a chord with you. Oh, that a man, even a sinful man, could be blessed with such a student of the Word as a helpmate!

I met Dr. Gleason, a PCA pastor in Yorba Linda, at a retreat in Big Bear last summer. He blessed and impressed all in his presence there, and I commend his blog to everyone. A real man's man with the intellectual firepower to back up his confident temperament. As a matter of fact, I want to be like him when I grow up.

Category: Extraneous & Miscellaneous
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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Eine Alte Kircheanschauung

Shouldn't this be in German?
I am reading through Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings and loving every page. This passage seemed especially relevant:
Therefore I maintain and know that just as there is no more than one gospel and one Christ, so also there is no more than one baptism. And that baptism in itself is a divine ordinance, as is his gospel also. And just as the gospel is not false or incorrect for the reason that some use it or teach it falsely, or disbelieve it, so also baptism is not false or incorrect even if some have received or administered it without faith , or otherwise misused it. Accordingly, I altogether reject and condemn the teaching of the Anabaptists and Donatists, and all who rebaptize. (66)

Timothy Lull notes that the Donatists rebaptized members of the orthodox church because they deemed the orthodox priests to be impious, and therefore unable to perform "true baptisms." Luther's view seems to be the reasonable one to me, because his path runs between two very deep ditches. The one on the right is the idea that piety or doctrinal perfection replaces grace. The one on the left is the idea that any baptism will do, regardless of a profession of faith. Baptism can be done wrong, but when saving grace is present it is right--even retroactively.

Category: Theoblogia
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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Smoking - Good for What Ails Ya'

Contrary to the suggestion of my co-blogger, Jeremy, I have uncovered evidence that shows the spiritual and health benefits of smoking. On no less than the authority of an OPC minister (so it must be true!). Far from being the unforgivable sin, Dr. Boer (scroll down to find his sermon) tells us that smoking tobacco is akin to the Scriptural uses of burning incense:
Cigars and cigarettes and pipe are all in the same category as incense. They're burned for the nice smell they give. Just like perfume and incense, they bring joy to the heart.

While the modern Reformed church has gone out of its way to defend the moderate uses of alcohol, I've never seen a positive theological defense of tobacco use before. Usually the issue is just sorted under the "Christian liberty" pile and forgotten. Much less have I heard of a defense of tobacco use proceeding from the pulpit in the form of a sermon.

Dr. Boer also covers some of the health benefits of smoking, and reviews the hazards of smoking. He points out that cigar and pipe smokers who do not inhale (such as myself) are at 5 times less risk of these hazards than cigarette smokers.

One of the other articles at the web site points out that Hitler was a "fanatical opponent" of tobacco. Well, that settles it then. Who are you going to believe? An OPC minister or Hitler? Do you want to be like Hitler? That's what I thought. [This is a joke, for our over-sensitive readers.]

So now I can enjoy my weekly cigar fully assured in my mind that the Lord's blessing is on me. The good under-the-table Cuban kind, of course.

Category: Gnat-Strainers
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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Mongrel Ethics: John Piper Vs. David Bayly

My money's on the guy with the mustache
Few things are more compelling to me than a good old-fashioned theological dispute between solid Reformed preachers. So grab a tub of popcorn, turn on your satellite pay-per-view TV, and enjoy the match.

We do "do ethics" here at the Horde, so I thought we should tackle a sticky, contraversial topic that the Reformed community struggles with. "Is it sinful to use birth control?" is an issue that has no concensus within Reformed circles. To represent the "yea" side of this question, I have selected an article by David Bayly. For the "nay" side I've selected an article by John Piper. I have oodles of respect for both of these fine pastor/theologians, so I thought that even though their articles don't directly address the others', it would still make an effective matchup. OK, guys, I want a good, clean fight. No biting, no eye gouging, no hitting below the belt. All right, touch gloves and come out at the bell. DING DING!

David Bayly comes out swinging with three implicit biblical arguments. First, he points out that the Bible calls children and unequivocal blessing. No Christian who has skimmed his Bible more than once can dispute this. He also points out that the Bible never indicates that we should seek to limit God's blessings, except in regard to material possessions. Piper blocks this initial jab with the following:

In response, it can be pointed out that the Scriptures also say that a wife is a
gift from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22), but that doesn't mean that it is wrong to
stay single (1 Corinthians 7:8). Just because something is a gift from the Lord
does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come
into possession of it. It is wrong to reason that since A is good and a gift
from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a
world in which tradeoffs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the
fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And
for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one's family and
to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive.

Bayly goes on to the biblical mandate to "fill the earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28), which by implication entails the mandate to procreate. This is something everyone in the Reformed camp should agree on - whether Dominionist, theonomic, Southern Presbyterian, or even Reformed baptist. It is to Evangelicalism's shame that materialism and decadence has led to the widespread and manifest de-prioritization of raising offspring in the Lord. Piper, however, qualifies this by asking "how a farmer...knows how much land he should cultivate. The answer, of course, is that a farmer seeks to cultivate what he believes he can reasonably handle. He doesn't take this command to mean that he needs to make his farm be as large as is naturally possible. Likewise, then, it is right for a couple to seek to have the number of children that they believe they can reasonably nurture in light of the other callings they may also have on their lives."

The third implicit argument Bayly provides is from the Levitical laws concerning a woman's ritual impurity during and after menstruation, implying God's desire for sexual relations during the time of maximal fertility. Piper has no counter-argument on this point, but the counter-argument is obvious. Sexual relations are not prohibited by levitical law or any other Scripture during times of non-existent fertility, such as during pregnancy or after menopause. The Bible sets apart sexual relations as a means of building and maintaining marital intimacy, not just for procreating.

David Bayly's explicit argument comes from the case of Onan in Genesis 38. Piper does not address this passage, so Piper and I have arranged an illegal tag-team so that I can jump into the ring and address Bayly's exegetical argument here.

God smote Onan for spilling his seed and failing to impregnate his sister-in-law, Tamar, after his brother's death. Bayly contends that the sin for which Onan was punished was specifically the use of birth control. He argues that the sin for which he died could not have been the failure of his duty to provide an heir for his brother. The Mosaic law that required this duty (Deut. 25:5-6) did not exist during Genesis 38, the time of the patriarchs. Bayly writes:

All law prior to the giving of the written law to Moses was moral law. None of
it was ceremonial or civil. Ceremonial and civil law came down from the mountain
with Moses. If God held a man guilty of lawbreaking prior to giving His written
law to Moses, it was not for violating ceremonial law or civil law, but for
violating the moral law which He had written upon the human heart.

Thus, he argues, Onan's sin was a sin against the moral law and applies to New Covenant members as well. This is a very powerful argument. However, I think the above quotation contains the flawed assumption on which his argument turns. That is, I think it is a mistake to assume that all law before the Mosaic law is necessarily moral law "written on our hearts". Civil or ceremonial law in some form must have existed before the Mosaic law. The proof of this is in God's disdain for Cain's sacrifice, where he clearly violated a form of ceremonial law that Abel had not. The only precondition of non-moral law is special revelation, not necessarily written or Mosaic revelation. Therefore, we can conclude that Onan could have known that it was his duty to provide an heir for his brother before the Mosaic commandment was given. This is why Judah could expect of Onan that he "go in to your brother's wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother."

I don't know if this match was exactly a TKO, but now that the dust has settled I conclude that it is an error to make a blanket condemnation of all uses of birth control in the Christian church.

Now the reader should not read into my conclusion, about my own feelings concerning having a large or small family. For now, this is an intellectual exercise for me that I can enjoy from my detached ivory tower on the internet, as I am not married. By God's grace my quiver will overfloweth one day, but I do feel compelled to urge my Reformed brethren not to put undue burdens on other brethren when I do not believe the Scriptures have done so.

Category: Theoblogia
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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Please Don't!

The scripture stick isn't just for show!

One thing that's been puzzling me lately is the Christian content of ABC's Lost. Two weeks ago, they presented an interesting tale of redemption. Last week they took on the thorny issue of baptism. Before you do something silly and start a Bible study (Ooh, ooh! We could call it Lost?), let's take a look at what's really going on.

In an episode called "Psalm 23" we see the curious path to sainthood of Mr. Eko. He saves his young brother (they are both children) by killing a man. He is then taken under the wing of a local warlord. He flourishes in his mercenary apprenticeship and ends up running the whole show. His brother becomes a RC priest. Eko hatches a scheme to export a load of heroin out of Nigeria. He smuggles the heroin in statues of the Virgin Mary and forces his brother to ordain him and his men. The whole thing goes pear-shaped and Eko's brother is shot while Eko is left on the runway. Eko then begins to take his ordination seriously. Eko's redemption is completed when he finds his brother's body on the island. He makes a funeral pyre and recites the entire 23rd Psalm.

I was bewildered by the straightforward portrayal of regeneration. It would require listening to a month's worth of Christian music to hear as much scripture as was presented in the last two minutes of this episode; though, to be fair, it was only one psalm. I had a sense of foreboding. Christians just aren't presented in a good light for very long.

The next episode disappointed in its lack of disappointment. There are no dark secrets revealed about Eko. Moreover, the episode centered on the need to be baptized. Yes, you read that right. Eko makes an incredibly boneheaded statement about Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. He says that it was necessary for the forgiveness of the man's sins. Oops. Either the fact-checkers took the week off or someone slept through most of his/her catechism. But at the end of the day, the unsaved or incredibly ill-informed producers of Lost made a television show about baptism.

I can only speculate on the motives of the show's producers. I would say, cynically, that they know about the large number of evangelical eyeballs that view their program. They don't have to throw them much of a bone--heck, the title of the show is suggestive, no? It's an easy way to increase viewership.

Less cynically, it seems as though the show may be about redemption after all. But I wouldn't count on it being a particularly Christian redemption. They might do some sort of "all roads lead to heaven" mushfest. Whatever the plan, they have done a good job at showing the consequences of each character's sins. It is somewhat unique in its portrayal of the suffering caused by vengeance and infidelity.

If for some reason, Lost presents the gospel clearly, I will rejoice. I will also eat my hat and change my name to Armin Tanzarian. In the meantime, if you start a Bible study based on the show, remember this; many people were excited about MC Hammer's faith. Some things are meant to keep us humble.

Category: Theoblogia
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