Friday, October 22, 2010

The Extremists are Coming!

This Klavan on the Culture is classic.

What does it mean to be born again?

What does Jesus mean when he tells Nicodemus, “You must be born again”? What exactly is the new birth?

To begin let me say that instead of “born again,” the original Greek might have been better translated “born from above.” “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There is another very common Greek word that means “again” but it’s not the word used here. The word used here has the primary meaning of “from above,” or similarly “from the top,” and this is how it is translated in its every other occurrence in the Gospel of John (3:31; 19:11, 23).

Not only in the Gospel of John, but in every other occurrence in the New Testament, the word most naturally means from above, or from the top. This seems to be how it should be understood in the passage, “Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).

The coming down of Jesus from heaven is a prominent theme throughout the Gospel of John.
No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man (Jn. 3:13).
He who comes from above is above all (Jn. 3:31).
He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (Jn. 8:23).
This contrast is important and a frequently occurring theme in John’s Gospel. Jesus is from above. He is from heaven. We are from below, from the earth. And Jesus tells us that if we wish to see the kingdom of heaven, we must be born from above.

Nicodemus doesn’t understand Jesus’ meaning. He asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn. 3:4) He is thinking in human terms. And Jesus rebukes him for not understanding. “Are you a teacher in Israel,” he says, “and you do not understand these things?” (v. 10).

Jesus is talking about a work of the Holy Spirit which is accomplished in the soul of man. It is the implanting of new spiritual life. It is a change which is wrought by the Holy Spirit in a man’s nature. It is a reversal of the moral and spiritual effects of the Fall.

When man fell into sin, there was a fundamental change that took place in his nature. He became a slave to sin and averse to all true spiritual good. Whereas, before the Fall righteousness came naturally to him and he had a taste for divine things, afterward sin was natural, and righteousness unnatural. Man lost his taste for things divine. He lost his taste for true spiritual good. Man in his fallen state is described in Job as drinking iniquity like water (Job 15:16). In other words, he has a thirst for sin. For some it is a thirst for very crass and obvious forms of sin. For others, it is a thirst for more refined and sophisticated forms. As Paul says, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later” (1 Tim. 5:24). But everyone born since Adam has been affected by the Fall such that apart from divine grace he is wholly disinclined to what is spiritually good. He is averse to the things of God. Not that every man is equally wicked, or that every man is as evil as he could possibly be, but that every man—apart from divine grace—is naturally disinclined to love and obey God.

This is the condition of everyone who has been born since Adam. He is devoid of grace, devoid of the Spirit. He is earthly and natural, and nothing but flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born to a fallen man is a fallen man.

But with the birth that comes from above, accomplished by the Spirit, all this changes. He is no longer merely an earthly man. Now there is a heavenly aspect to his being. He’s no longer limited by the flesh, but has the Spirit of God residing in him. He is no longer merely a natural man, but has a supernatural element to him. He’s been given a taste for divine things. He is enabled to believe and to turn away from sin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

On Resolving Conflict

As Christians, how should we go about resolving conflict with a neighbor?

The first thing you should do when someone does something to offend you is to go tell a bunch of other people about it. Or if it’s a really serious offense, you should punch him in the nose, right on the spot.

Of course I’m teasing. This is what we might want to do; but not what we should do. What we should do is follow the Bible’s instructions. The Bible is a very practical book and gives us instructions about how to deal with offenses in a godly manner.
The first option, of course, is simply to overlook the offense.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
     and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11)
Jesus speaks of this also, when he says,
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:38-39).
In other words, absorb the shock. Suffer the wrong without retaliation. Peter says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (1 Pet. 3:9). More than this, we are taught to respond with kindness and gentleness when we are wronged. “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk. 6:28). And in Proverbs, we are told,
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
     and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
     and the Lord will reward you (Prov. 25:21-22)
“Burning coals heaped upon the head” is a reference to the sense of shame and remorse that anyone with a conscience will feel when he has wronged his neighbor, but his neighbor, instead of retaliating, treats him kindly in return.

When we do this—when we don’t seek to retaliate, but respond with kindness and gentleness—the conflict is often diffused and comes to an end. Not always, but often this is the case.

Now, I should point out that there are certainly times when it is appropriate to confront the person who has wronged you and to insist that he make things right. In Leviticus 19:11 we read,
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:17-18).
He says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” when he has wronged you. In other words, confront him with his wrongdoing; point out how he has sinned against you. He doesn’t say, “Go tell everyone else what he has done to you.” Rather, go to the one who has offended you.

This is what Jesus says, also. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matt. 18:15), which is what you would want done to you. If you were the guilty party—if you had done wrong to your neighbor—you would rather your neighbor come directly to you and speak to you about it than go and tell everyone else.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
     but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Pr. 17:9)
“Reason frankly with your neighbor,” “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” And I would add this also: do this humbly and charitably, realizing that you may have misunderstood his words or his actions that have offended you. Offense is often taken where none is intended. Often conflicts arise through simple misunderstandings. So make sure you understand the situation as thoroughly as possible before you start casting blame.

What if there is no satisfactory resolution? Well then, Jesus says, “Take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Matt. 18:16). In other words, initiate the process of seeking a formal resolution to the conflict by involving Christian brothers who can serve as witnesses to the confrontation according to what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17.

Finally, as Paul said, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Rom. 12:18).

The gist of the argument

More than half of Thomas E. Woods' book, Nullification:  Resisting Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, consists of historical documents explaining and defending the right of states to nullify unconstitutional acts of the federal government. One of these documents is "An Exposition of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798" written in 1833 by Judge Abel P. Upshur. He sums up the argument in five points:

1.  The Constitution of the United States is a Compact between the States, as such.

2.  The Government established by that Compact, possesses no power whatever, except what "the plain sense and intention" of that Compact gives to it.

3.  Every act done by that Governement, not plainly within the limits of its powers, is void.

4.  Each State has a right to say whether an act done by that Government is plainly within the limits of its powers or not.

5.  The States are not bound to submit to, but may resist, any act of that Government which it shall so decide to be beyond the limits of its powers. (p. 225)
The notion of states' rights is foreign to most Americans today. Most Americans think of the states as nothing more than administrative districts of the federal government. In reality, it was the states who created the federal government to act as their agent to carry out certain limited functions. The federal government is to be the servant of the states, not their master. When the federal government oversteps its delegated powers, it is the states as states who must resist by nullifying its unconstitutional acts. This means we must elect state representatives and state senators and a governor who understand how the state can and should act as a wall of defense to protect its citizens against the unauthorized use of power by the federal government. It is the health care bill that gotten people to think again about the role of the states; but the right of the states to nullify federal laws ought to be used with respect to a host of other issues as well.

I think Woods is spot on in his treatment of this whole subject and I hope that his book becomes a runaway best seller.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A reflection on heroes

Some good words from my son, James.
Heroes are not made in a moment, but often heroes are defined by a moment. Often a moment where all others abandon hope. Heroes are not born into greatness but often greatness follows them. Heroism is never thrust on someone, though often trying events are thrust on a hero. It is never events that create a hero, though it is often events that allow someone to be heroic. Heroes are always looking out for the good of others even when others are not looking out for them. Heroes are not arrogant or proud, though many will be proud of a hero. Not everyone is a hero, but everyone could be a hero. It's not every day you see or meet a hero, but many heroes are everyday heroes.
A wise son makes a glad father (Prov. 15:20).

A dangerous compromise

In August the general presbytery of the Assemblies of God backed away from a commitment to uphold the Scriptural teaching of a recent six-day creation by issuing a wavering statement that reveals the denomination has made a dangerous compromise with the spirit of the age.
The advance of scientific research, particularly in the last few centuries, has raised many questions about the interpretation of the Genesis accounts of creation. In attempting to reconcile the Bible and the theories and conclusions of contemporary scientists, it should be remembered that the creation accounts do not give precise details as to how God went about His creative activity.
The "lack of precise details" is no reason to reject what is clearly revealed. We should not be dogmatically more precise than the creation accounts themselves (Gen. 1-2), but we most certainly shouldn't be less precise either. This is true of other portions of Scripture as well.

Shall we say that because Scripture does not give us precise details as to how Jesus healed the paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8), we are therefore free to suppose it did not happen immediately (as a plain reading of the text implies), but over a period of weeks or months or even years?

Just so, if Scripture says that God created all things in six days, then--in the absence of clues within the text itself which suggest the passage is to be taken otherwise than literally--we ought to heartily affirm the same.
Nor do these accounts provide us with complete chronologies that enable us to date with precision the time of the various stages of creation.
How do we know they are not complete? And what is meant by "the various stages of creation"? Are they assuming progressive creation over millions of years? The creation accounts are written in the style of historical narrative. They are clearly intended to be taken as descriptive of actual history, not as allegory, myth, or legend. The only sense in which it is appropriate to speak of "stages of creation" is with reference to the six days, which are not symbolic of long ages, but were literal 24 hour days, which is evident by the repetition of the phrase "and there was evening and there was morning, the first (second, third, etc.) day."

[E]qually devout Christian believers have formed very different opinions about the age of the earth, the age of humankind, and the ways in which God went about the creative processes.
True, devout Christians have formed very different opinions about these (and many other) things. But a Christian may be devout, and yet not think clearly, or handle the Scriptures accurately. This is no excuse not to uphold what Scripture clearly teaches.
Given the limited information available in Scripture, it does not seem wise to be overly dogmatic about any particular creation theory.
But if God has revealed the fact that he created all things "in the space of six days", is it really only a theory? And is it being "overly dogmatic" to insist upon it?
Whatever creation theory we individually may prefer, we must affirm that the entire creation has been brought into being by the design and activity of the Triune God. Moreover, we also affirm that the New Testament treats the creation and fall of Adam and Eve as historical events in which the Creator is especially involved. We urge all sincere and conscientious believers to adhere to what the Bible plainly teaches and to avoid divisiveness over debatable theories of creation.
This is just the point, isn't it? The Bible plainly teaches a recent six-day creation. It is not those who insist on it who are being divisive, it is those who are offering substitutes for it. Jude tells us to "contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). To do this is not divisiveness but faithfulness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Benefits of reading the classics

There are a number of benefits to reading the classic works of antiquity. One is simply our natural delight in things beautiful--and there is something truly beautiful about a well-written work. Another is the fact that what passes for a classic work usually achieves that status not only on the merits of the writer as a writer, but on the merits of the writer as a thinker. Classic works deal with grand themes and timeless truths about human nature. As a result of this, for good or ill the works have served as a formative influence on the development of western thought. One simply doesn't understand the modern world as well as he should if he doesn't know how we got here.

For the Christian, perhaps the greatest benefit of reading the ancient classics is the ability to "inhabit" the world of the Bible. Reading the classics helps us to experience the historical and cultural context in which God revealed himself to the prophets and apostles.

I have had the opportunity over the course of the last several years to teach classic literature at the high school level. I am especially fond of the first two years in the four year program. In the first year we read ancient Mesopotamian and Greek works. In the second year we read works from the Roman era. It's a reading course I wish I had had when I was in school. But, alas, with very few exceptions, the emphasis that used to be placed on a classical education has been all but lost.

Here is a list of books I have my students read in the first two years:

Year One:  Ancient Mesopotamia and Greece
Epic of Gilgamesh (David Ferry)
Code of Hammurabi
Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (Richmond Lattimore)
Herodotus Histories
Plato's Republic
Sophocles' Theban Trilogy

Bible:  Genesis, Exodus, 1 & 2 Samuel, Job

Year Two:  Ancient Rome, New Testament, & the Early Church
Livy's Early History of Rome
Virgil's Aeneid
Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars
Early Christian Writings
Athanasius' One the Incarnation of the Word of God
Augustine's Confessions

Historical fiction:  Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, a novel about life in Nero's court and the trials of living faithfully as a Christian during his reign

Bible:  Luke, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Revelation

Friday, October 8, 2010

Go figure

Here is another example of the tortuous twisting of the Constitution:  Federal Judge George Caram Steeh ruled yesterday that Obama Care's requirement that everyone purchase health insurance passes Constitutional muster. Under what provision of the Constitution is this requirement justified? Why the "Commerce Clause," of course--one of three clauses, as Thomas Woods points out in his recent book, Nullification, which have been used by the federal government to justify all manner of unconstitutional tomfoolery. (The other two are the "General Welfare" clause and the "Necessary and Proper" clause).

The Commerce Clause of the Constitution is found in Article I, Section 8:  "The Congress shall have Power To...regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." It is the part about regulating commerce "among the several States" that has been used to cause so much mischief. Woods explains the meaning of clause:
"Commerce" meant only trade or exchange--not, as its more ambitious interpreters have tried to claim, all gainful activity...  "Among the states" meant exactly that:  commerce between one state and another, not commerce that might happen to have an effect on another state. For that matter, "regulate" in the eighteenth century meant to "make regular"--that is, to cause to function in a regular and orderly manner--as opposed to the word's modern meaning that suggests micromanagement and control... Thus, the purpose of the commerce clause was to establish a free-trade zone through-out the United States (thereby making commerce regular), and prevent states from disrupting the free movement of commerce.
Clearly in its original intention the clause had a very limited purpose; but it has been used as a pretext to justify just about everything the federal government wishes to do, regardless of the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Again, Woods:
By the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court was already pretending the commerce clause extended federal authority over commerce that merely affected other states... By the twentieth century this had become a "substantial effects" rule, but in practice it still allowed the federal government to control whatever it wanted. Thus the federal government claimed the power to regulate the wages of a janitor in a building whose occupants happened to be engaged in interstate commerce. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Court ruled that the federal government could regulate the amount of wheat grown on an individual's farm even though the wheat never left the state, and the farmer and his livestock consumed it themselves. Had they not grown and consumed that wheat, the argument went, they might have purchased it from another state, and hence their abstention from this purchase indirectly affected interstate commerce.
Unbelievable! But this is the kind of twisted logic which is regularly applied to the commerce clause. In his decision yesterday, Judge Steeh stated,
The crux of plaintiffs’ argument is that the federal government has never attempted to regulate inactivity [in this instance, not purchasing insurance--DJE], or a person’s mere existence within our Nation’s boundaries, under the auspices of the Commerce Clause. It is plaintiffs’ position that if the Act is found constitutional, the Commerce Clause would provide Congress with the authority to regulate every aspect of our lives, including our choice to refrain from acting.
Precisely! And what is Steeh's response to the argument?
The Supreme Court has expanded the reach of the Commerce Clause to reach purely local, non-commercial activity, simply because it is an integral part of a broader statutory scheme that permissibly regulates interstate commerce.
Got that? The Commerce Clause, meant to regulate commerce "among the several states," can be used to regulate "purely local, non-commercial activity." Go figure!

Steeh continues by noting that in previous cases, including Wickard:
The Supreme Court sustained Congress’s power to impose obligations on individuals who claimed not to participate in interstate commerce, because those obligations were components of broad schemes regulating interstate commerce.
In other words, no matter how remotely a person's activity (or non-activity) might be related to interstate commerce, the federal government has a right to regulate it under the Commerce Clause. This way of handling the Constitution effectively nullifies its most basic purpose, which is to define and limit the activities of the federal government.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Obama's Ideology

Dinesh D'Souza gives the best explanation I've ever heard of President Obama's ideology.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Let's hear it for the states!

You may have noticed that I have added a feature (below left) entitled “Now reading…” If you check it out you will see that I am currently reading Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. He’s an author for whom I have a growing appreciation. Last year I read his, Who Killed the Constitution, and the year before that his, Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Good stuff all.

The current book, published earlier this year, has the potential—if enough state officials read it (and have the courage to take their responsibilities seriously)—to make a huge difference in the way the federal government and the states relate to each other by reducing the federal government’s power to its Constitutional limits.
“Nullification begins with the axiomatic point that a federal law that violates the Constitution is no law at all. It is void and of no effect. Nullification simply pushes this uncontroversial point a step further: if a law is unconstitutional and therefore void and of no effect, it is up to the states, the parties to the federal compact, to declare it so and thus refuse to enforce it.” (p. 3)
Woods points out that, contrary to popular opinion, it is not just the federal courts that have the right to sit in judgment upon the constitutionality of federal legislation. State governments do, too, and he gives many examples to show that the right of nullification was frequently invoked early in our nation’s history.

It seems to me that Woods has properly identified our best hope of successfully resisting an over-sized, out-of-control, out-of-touch federal government. Private individuals, even large grass-roots movements (like the Tea Party) will not be able to effectively limit the federal government’s power by themselves. The only effective resistance over the long term will have to come from state legislatures that properly understand their role in keeping the federal government in check.

I wish I had the power to get a copy of this book into the hands of every member of the Kansas state legislature.