Monday, December 28, 2009

The Son of God Goes Forth to War

The love of truth is weaker than the love of power

In chapter four of In Praise of Prejudice, Dalrymple explains why it is that social engineers prefer a history of disaster to a history of achievement.
A country whose problems, by comparison with those of all other countries are minor, and disproportionately caused by the inherent and inescapable difficulties of human existence…rather than by defective political arrangements, does not necessarily please the intellectuals, who are left with nothing, or nothing very much, to think about and rectify.
This is why history often has to be revised—to justify taking power and making radical political alterations.
If history is indeed but the record of extreme nastiness, then we have nothing to learn from it except that we, who of course are people of unalloyed good will, must do things—everything—differently in the future.
And if this means we must to sacrifice historical truth for political power, well then, so be it.
The love of truth, while it exists, is generally weaker than the love of power.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

History Teaches Us Anything We Like

From In Praise of Prejudice, chapter three: “History Teaches Us Anything We Like.”

In a recent book entitled Menace in Europe…the talented American journalist Claire Berlinski tells us that war and genocide are not part of the history of Europe, but constitute the whole of its history. She arrives at this conclusion by looking at European history through the lens of the Holocaust and a list of wars that fills an entire page of print… Miss Berlinski’s is an example of what might be called the nothing-but school of historiography, by means of which a narrative is constricted [constructed?] from highly selected facts in order to verify a key to the understanding of everything… A present discontent is read backwards, or traced by a golden thread through the whole of history, and made to supply that history with an immanent meaning and teleology. (pp. 8-9)

Inconvenient facts usually spur us to heroic efforts of rationalization to preserve our outlook, rather than to honest re-examination; in medical practice I have been struck by the capacity of even intellectually ungifted people to manufacture an infinitude of rationalizations almost instantaneously in defense of a course of action upon which they have already decided, in spite of the abundant evidence that will be disastrous. When a doctor proposes an eminently sensible course of action to a patient, based upon the most compelling evidence, and the patient replies, “Yes, but…,” the doctor might as well give up there and then…” (p. 11)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Destroying certainty

In chapter two of In Praise of Prejudice, Dalrymple observes that unlike Rene Descartes, the 17th century philosopher who systematically subjected everything to doubt in order to see if there was anything of which he could be absolutely certain, modern Cartesians wish to destroy certainty itself.

The popularity of the Cartesian method is not the consequence of a desire to remove metaphysical doubt, and find certainty, but precisely the opposite: to cast doubt on everything, and thereby increase the scope of personal license, by destroying in advance any philosophical basis for the limitation of our own appetites. The radical skeptic, nowadays at least, is in search not so much of truth, as of liberty—that is to say, of liberty conceived of the largest field imaginable for the satisfaction of his whims. He is in the realm of moral conceptions what the man who refuses to marry is in the realm of relationships: he is reluctant to foreclose on any possibilities by imposing limits on himself…

The skepticism of radical skeptics who demand a Cartesian point from which to examine any question, at least any question that has some bearing on the way they ought to conduct themselves, varies according to subject matter. Very few are so skeptical that they doubt that the sun will rise tomorrow, even though they might have difficulty offering evidence for the heliocentric (or any other) theory of the solar system. These skeptics believe that then they turn the light switch, the light will come one, even though their grasp of the theory of electricity might not be strong. A ferocious and insatiable spirit of inquiry overtakes them, however, the moment they perceive that their interest are at stake—their interests here being their freedom, or license, to act upon their whims. Then all the resources of philosophy are available to them in a flash, and are used to undermine the moral authority of custom, law, and the wisdom of the ages. (pp. 6-7)

Christ Church caroling at the the mall.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Good Little Cartesians

In chapter one of In Praise of Prejudice, Dalrymple cites the Oxford Shorter Dictionary, which defines prejudice as,
A previous judgement, especially a premature or hasty judgement. Preconceived opinion; bias favourable or unfavourable; prepossession…usually with unfavourable connotation. An unreasoning predilection or objection.
He goes on to point out that nowadays the idea of prejudice is usually associated with race (“the word race and prejudice go together like Mercedes and Benz, or Dolce and Gabbana”). Surely in this connection prejudice is a vice to be diligently avoided. But does it follow from this that all prejudice is vicious? Is it really possible to live without preconceived ideas? Are all preconceived ideas necessarily wrong?

The man without prejudices, or rather, the man who declares himself such, is a man who is terrified to be thought first bigoted, and second, so weak of mind, so lacking in individuality and mental power, that he cannot think for himself. For his opinions, he has to fall back on the shards of wisdom, or more likely unwisdom, which constitute prejudice. Every proper man, then, is a Descartes on every subject and every question that comes before him. In other words, he seeks that indubitable Cartesian point from which, and from which only, it is possible to erect a reasonable opinion that is truly his own and owes nothing to unexamined pre-suppositions. The answer to every question, therefore, has to be founded on first principles that are beyond doubt, or else it is shot through with prejudice. Whether the person who declares himself free of prejudice knows it or not, whether or not he has ever read the Discourse on Method, he is a belated Cartesian [i.e., one refuses to accept anything as true except what has an indubitable rational basis]. (p. 4)

Crowder in Detroit

Ever wonder what vast amounts of state and federal money and powerful unions will do for city? Check out out Steven Crowder's visit to Detroit.

Boxer's Logic

In commenting on the abortion compromise in the Senate health care bill, Senator Barbara Boxer said, "You have both sides criticizing it [the compromise], which means we did what we had to do, we compromised in a fair way."

Let's say an innocent man is put on trial for murder. The prosecution wants him to be found guilty and executed. The defense seeks his acquital and release. The judge wishing to give something to both sides, finds him guilty and gives him 20 years in prison with eligibility for parole after 10. Neither side got everything it wanted. They both complain. But the judge tells the press, "You have both sides criticizing it, which means I did what I had to do, I compromised in a fair way."

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Praise of Prejudice

I have just begun what appears to be a very profitable read, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, by Theodore Dalrymple.
To call someone prejudiced is to relegate him to the lowest rung of intellectual life. But is there anyone who isn’t prejudiced? As Dr. Dalrymple argues in this brief and bracing rehabilitation of both prejudice itself and the necessity of prejudice, someone who walks out into the world completely unprejudiced is as helpless as a newborn babe.

In fact, as Dr. Dalrymple shows, prejudice is at the root of most virtue as well as of a lot of vice. To expect people to work out all their morals for themselves from abstract first principles is to expect far too much from them. It is not only unrealistic, it is harmful.

The pretense that we can be totally unprejudiced, argues Dr. Dalrymple, who speaks from wide clinical experience as a doctor in a slum hospital and the prison next door, is a pretext for licentiousness and lack of self-control, to the detriment not only of the individuals themselves but of society as a whole.

Prejudice is not just a matter of derogatory stereotyping of racial groups (though it may certainly include that). It is also the foundation of social virtue. To read Dr. Dalrymple is to let him destroy your prejudice against prejudice. (From the front flap)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who was Jesus praying for?

Question: When Christ said on the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do”, who was he praying for? It seems he wants the Father to forgive the people who put him to death. Surely they are not saved without faith? So does this mean that He asked for forgiveness that was short of salvation? And how was his prayer answered?

Answer: The degree of guilt in any particular instance of sin is measured in part by the degree of one’s knowledge of right and wrong. James writes, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you were blind [lacking knowledge], you would have no guilt [relatively, not absolutely]; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (Jn. 9:41). And in another place he said,
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you (Matt. 11:21-24).
From this we see that there are degrees of punishment in proportion to the degree of guilt, which in turn is determined in part (at least) by the degree of knowledge. The Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, the chief cities in which Jesus taught and performed his miracles, would receive a more severe judgment than the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, because they sinned against greater knowledge. They had Jesus himself ministering in their midst! Their refusal to repent was inexcusable.

In another place, Jesus said, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating” (Lk. 12:47-48a). The severity of the punishment is determined by the degree of knowledge each servant possessed. The servant who did not know his master’s will, received a less severe punishment. His ignorance, though not entirely excusable (he ought to have known his master’s will), somewhat mitigated his guilt.

Paul wrote of his own case, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:12-13).

Let’s apply these principles to the situation you mention.

There were a number of different classes of people gathered around the scene of crucifixion: the Jewish rulers (Lk. 23:35), the Roman soldiers who actually nailed Jesus to the cross (Lk. 23:36-37), a large crowd of common people from the city (Lk. 23:27), and a small band of faithful women (Lk. 23:27-31). The women, of course, were not to be blamed for the crucifixion, and so the prayer was not offered for them. The remaining classes of people were to blame—some more so and some less. The Jewish leaders were most to blame. They were the primary figures behind the crucifixion of Christ, and consequently had the greatest guilt (Jn. 18:35; 19:11). They ought to have known that Jesus was the Messiah. “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (Jn. 3:10). They ought to have been first to have paid him the homage he was due as the Son of God. No one was in a better position to have known who he was than those who were the teachers of the Law. But they were blinded through envy (Mk. 15:10). Their actions were entirely inexcusable, and that’s why Jesus had earlier denounced utter ruin upon the city, which came forty years later by the hands of the Romans (Matt. 23:29-38).

The Roman soldiers were “just doing their job.” They were probably in no position to obtain a knowledge of the actual facts of Jesus’ case. All they knew was that he had been condemned by Pilate, who ordered his execution. For them it was simply a case of following orders. They would fit the description, “They know not what they do.” To a lesser extent, so would the crowds of common people, because, for the most part, they were deluded by the chief priests to ask for Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:20).

It would seem that Jesus’ prayer that they be forgiven was not a request for a full pardon of all sins, but a request for forgiveness for the particular sin of participation in his crucifixion. The crucifixion of Jesus was the darkest, foulest deed ever done by man, and deserving of an immediate and severe punishment. But Jesus prayed that this particular sin not be held against them, but that they be spared so as to have the opportunity to receive a full salvation which could only come through faith in him and his atoning sacrifice.

Was his prayer answered? Yes it was! How so? On the day of Pentecost and afterward many thousands of them who had had a part in Jesus’ crucifixion were brought by grace to repent and believe so as to be saved (Acts 2:32, 37-41).

John Calvin sums it all up well when he says,

It is probable, however, that Christ did not pray for all indiscriminately, but only for the wretched multitude, who were carried away by inconsiderate zeal, and not by premeditated wickedness. For since the scribes and priests were persons in regard to whom no ground was left for hope, it would have been in vain for him to pray for them. Nor can it be doubted that this prayer was heard by the heavenly Father, and that this was the cause why many of the people afterwards drank by faith the blood which they had shed.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Infant Baptism

Question: Please explain what the Bible teaches about infant baptism. Should we not wait until a child has grown up and become a believer?

Answer: To ask the question of whether or not infants are to be baptized is really to ask the question, “What is the relationship of the children of believers to the covenants of God?”

There is no doubt that when God made covenants with men in the Old Testament, those covenants included their children. We have several examples of this (Gen. 6:18; 17:7-14; Num. 25:12-13; Ps. 89:3-4; Jer. 35:18-19).

Even covenants between men included the children of the parties concerned. David’s kindness to Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth is a prime example (2 Sam. 9:1-7). David and Jonathan had made a covenant with each other (1 Sam. 18:3; cf. 20:8), a covenant that included one another’s entire households (1 Sam. 20:15-17). We see the outworking of this covenant when Jonathan died and David showed kindness to Jonathan’s son, “for Jonathan’s sake” (2 Sam. 9:1). Scripture says David showed him this kindness, “because of the oath of the LORD [the covenant] that was between them, between David and Jonathan” (2 Sam. 21:7). A promise to show kindness and mercy to someone is necessarily a promise to show kindness and mercy to his children.

God’s covenant with Abraham is the most instructive example for our purpose in considering infant baptism. When God made a covenant with Abraham, it included his entire household (Gen. 17:7-14). Furthermore, God gave Abraham circumcision as a sign and seal of the covenant (Gen. 17:11; Rom. 4:11). For an analogy, think of a wedding ring as a sign and seal of the marriage covenant. It is a token of the vows that are exchanged.

In a similar fashion, circumcision was given to Abraham as a token of God’s covenant with him. And this circumcision of the flesh was a type of the circumcision of the heart (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 9:25-26: Rom. 2:29)—that is, it was a type or a shadow of regeneration or the new birth.

Now was Abraham to apply this sign to himself alone? No. He was to apply it to his children, as well. Was he to wait to circumcise them until they reached an age of maturity and they “made a decision” for themselves to follow the Lord? No, he was to circumcise them on the eighth day after their birth (Gen. 17:12). Not only this, but all the males of his household were to be circumcised as well, including his servants purchased with money (numbering in the hundreds, Gen. 14:14), and his servants’ sons, too (Gen. 17:10-13). Thus, we read, “Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskin that very day” (Gen. 17:23). Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised. Ishmael was thirteen. And when Isaac was born, he was circumcised on the eighth day according to God’s command.

Furthermore, when a Gentile was converted to the faith of Abraham, he was to be circumcised, too, as were all his sons (Ex. 12:48).

What’s the point, you ask? Just this: In the New Testament Paul connects baptism with circumcision in Colossians 2, and he connects them in such a way as to show that baptism is the New Testament counterpart to Old Testament circumcision. He says, “in him [Christ] you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism…” (Col. 2:11-12a). In other words, by baptism, they were reckoned to have had a circumcision “made without hands,” a spiritual circumcision, a circumcision of the heart—the very thing that circumcision of the flesh was intended to represent. So he connects baptism with circumcision.

The question then becomes, “If in the Old Testament children were regarded as members of God’s covenant with their believing parents, and received the Old Testament sign of the covenant [circumcision], why should children of believing parents not receive the New Testament sign of the covenant—baptism?”

Is it because children are no longer participants with their believing parents in the covenant of God? God forbid! Are we to believe that God is less gracious in the New Testament than he was in the Old? Certainly not! We are told that the New Covenant is a better covenant, enacted on better promises (Heb. 8:6). If the Old Covenant contained promises that included the children of believers, how much more the New Covenant!

Accordingly, on the day of Pentecost we hear Peter preaching, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

Later, while explaining his encounter with Cornelius to the elders of the church at Jerusalem, he said, “He told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (Acts 11:13-14). This is the same message the apostle Paul gave to the Philippian jailor, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). This is why we read several times in the New Testament of household baptisms (Acts 16:14-15, 32-34; 1 Cor. 1:16). These included the baptism of all who were a part of the household: parents, children, and servants—all who were under the authority of the converted head of the household.

This is a topic I never tire of addressing because few things demonstrate the covenant mercies of God as beautifully as the promises he makes to believers with respect to their children. And nothing sets this promise forth quite like baptism. Consequently, I encourage further questions. Let's continue to plumb the topic together to the bottom.

The Transfiguration

Question: What was the Transfiguration all about?

The account, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, reads like this,

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him (Matt. 17:1-3).

The transfiguration of Christ, which is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, was a supernatural manifestation of our Lord’s divine glory, and I think is more to be wondered at and admired than to be dissected for analysis. Nevertheless, there are some important lessons we may glean from it.

First, it shows us something of the power and glory of Christ. Paul tells us that before the incarnation Jesus existed “in the form of God” and was equal to God, but that he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).

While on earth our Lord’s divine glory was obscured by the veil of human flesh; but in the transfiguration, God permitted some rays of that glory to break forth to be seen by men: “His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”

So in the first place, the transfiguration was designed to reveal something of our Lord’s divine majesty.

Second, as he was transfigured before them, “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Luke tells us what they were speaking “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31). That is, Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about his death and resurrection.

This symbolizes that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets. The Law is represented here by Moses, through whom God gave the Law; and the Prophets are represented by Elijah, who was regarded as kind of the prototypical prophet, the head of the line of prophets.

These two men appear and speak to Christ of his approaching death. Then, a bright cloud appears (representing the presence of God); and the cloud overshadows them all. From the cloud a voice is heard, declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). Peter, James and John, then fall to the ground in terror, and suddenly Moses and Elijah disappear, and Jesus is left standing there by himself.

All this teaches us that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, a truth which is repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament (Matt. 5:17; Lk. 24:27, 44; Jn. 1:45; Acts 3:21-24; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23; Rom. 3:21-31). The sacrifices of the Law point to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The temple services, described by Moses, were living prophecies, or object lessons of the redemption Christ would bring. The high priesthood of Aaron foreshadowed the intercession of Christ at the right hand of the Father on behalf of the saints.

The Prophets, likewise, depicted many aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, as well as his death and resurrection. The appearance, then, of Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about his “departure” symbolically portrayed his fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets spoken concerning him.