The House Is Burning…

A message by Pastor Dana Hanson, ELCA pastor in Los Angeles.

Honoring God means honoring Jesus. Everyone is called to acknowledge what he has done for them, give thanks, and trust in his way.

Judaism and Natural Law (Daniel Mark, Villanova U)

 

What follows are my notes (with some editorializing on my part) of Daniel Mark’s lecture at the Acton University in 2017. Mark, who is Jewish, is professor of political science at Villanova University.

Why do Jews so seldom talk about natural law?

Let’s go back to Genesis. For one thing, Jews don’t extrapolate (as many Reformed and Roman Catholic theologians do) original sin out of the Adam and Eve story.

But natural law is “built in.” Adam was obligated to obey the command of God.

For instance, consider the many questions raised in the Jewish tradition about the justice of what happens in the Bible:

  • The binding of Isaac and the command to kill him
  • The conquest of Canaan
  • God harding the hearts of people so they don’t understand/hear.
  • The wiping out of the Amalekites.
  • And many more…

Where are these questions coming from? Not from revealed law, but from NATURAL LAW.

Leviticus 18:4–“Do my judgments and keep my statutes.”

Do my Judgments:  אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ  Mishphatim (pl). Having more to do with natural, rational, reasonable thought. What a judge does when she/he has to decide/discern. “Common law.”

And keep my Statutes:  וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ Khuqim (pl). Written statues, clearly defined. Not from human reason. Often used for revealed law as opposed to natural law. “Statutory law.”

Was natural law assumed and never made explicit? Is it true because it’s in the Bible, or in the Bible because it’s true (natural)? The Jewish tradition, unlike the Greco-Roman Catholic tradition, never wrote out extended proofs.

Judaism is less consistent with natural law than Roman Catholicism. RC thinking has “exceptionless norms.” There is daylight between Jewish ethics and natural law.

Whether or not the Torah is fully rational, the goal of Judaism is to spread ethical monotheism, not to make everyone Jewish. Truth cannot contradict truth.

Many fundamentalisms (of all kinds) teach some kind of anthropological ‘total depravity’ which robs us of our ability to reason. Human rationality is judged guilty and not redeemable.

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My comments: the entire oral Torah tradition (the original “Wikipedia” spanning centuries) is a skyscraper of natural reason interacting with the rugged fabric of the biblical narrative. As the Jewish tradition paralleled the Greek tradition, rather than flowing out of it, as the Roman Catholic tradition was birthed, it uses different vocabulary not dependent on Greco-Roman philosophical grammars.

Reading contemporary-friendly “plunges” into the oral Torah (see, for instance the work of Avivah Zornberg) is one of the most intellectually refreshing journeys one can make, and a feast of reason meeting narrative.

Putinators are the New Birthers?

 

Deja vu all over again.

Two terms ago, a young African-American was elected president. Many Republicans couldn’t digest it, so the extreme right wing of the party, in full-blown sour grapes mode, cooked up the “Birther” conspiracy.

Supposedly, Barack Obama “cheated” because he wasn’t really born in the USA. His Hawaiian birth certificate was a “forgery.” No amount of evidence could convince the hardened skeptics that he was legally elected.

Any schoolgirl in fourth grade can figure out that he was indeed born in Hawaii. The alternative narratives border on the bizarre.

Some “birthers” give us the impression that Obama was really some “Manchurian candidate” (sent by Kenya?) planted here by some foreign group. Seriously?

With all the maturity of the losing team playing unsupervised “ball” on the kiddie playground, many birthers were simply unable to get to the point of good sportsmanship and accepting that they lost the election.

 

Fast forward to 2017.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. The hard left cannot seem to accept that they lost the election. In strategy worth of Tom Brady’s super bowl comeback, Donald Trump pulled off a win by focusing on the electoral votes of the disenfranchised of the Rust Belt and the NASCAR crowd; the very crowd no one ever seems to bother polling ahead of time.

“Putinators” are the exact mirror image of the birthers. Same thing–different side. This time it’s the lefties calling “foul.” And it’s just as silly as the birther conspiracy.

Mark my words, the birthers kept it up all 8 years of Obama’s presidency and the Putinators will be dragging this around for all 4 or 8 years of Trump’s term in office. Why? Because it’s logically impossible to prove that Putin DIDN’T swing the election!

How can you prove there ISN’T a Loch Ness Monster? The lifeblood of all conspiracy theorizing is to come up with something that is by definition impossible to prove.

Never mind that Hillary Clinton had the press, the universities and most of Wall Street behind her in the election. Against all of that power, one guy in Russia over-rode all of that support and put Trump in office? Please. We’re smarter than that. We’re giving the little guy in Russia way too much credit. Given Putin’s ego, my guess is that he thinks the attention is pretty cool :-).

 

We have become a nation of sore losers, both left and right.

Can we just give both the Birther and Putinator conspiracies a rest? You and I can both agree that we have bigger fish to fry.

Can’t we?

 

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News.

Daryl Charles: Natural Law in our Post-Consensus World?

 

What do you get when you listen to a spry little guy with a Duck Dynasty beard (who was a street mime) whose topic is Natural Law?

J. Daryl Charles PhD, of the John Jay Institute, may just be one of the most gifted lecturers on the Acton University circuit.

What follows are my notes on his presentation with some of my own thoughts thrown in…

Today’s prevailing thought patterns:
  1. Metaphysical Naturalism. A rigorous denial of the transcendent, placing the burden of proof on everyone else.
  2. Fixation with rights divorced from duties or common good.
  3. Denial of morally fixed reference points. (However, these same people complain that things are not “fair” or “just.” Where did they get such “absolute” ideas?)
How should we respond to these trends?
  1. Resign to the impossibility of countering this thinking. Why polish the deck on the Titanic. Enter permanent “grievance mentality.”
  2. Isolation. The “Benedict Option.” Amish. Monastic thinking. Circle the wagons.
  3. Get absorbed into the culture. If you can’t beat them, join them.
  4. Being committed to the task of engaged citizenship. Be stewards of this cultural moment. To whom much is given….
Of course, Charles is advocating for door #4….

We must cultivate the art of translating our moral convictions in the public square. This is hard work and will require almost infinite creativity. We can call this BRIDGE BUILDING.

What are our resources?
  1. Abraham Kuyper (see my previous post on him) was ambidextrous. He articulated and affirmed general revelation and common grace which are available to all people, regardless of worldview. He could operate deftly in the public arena, cooperating with all as needed, but not forgetting who he was and why he thought differently that the “world.”
  2. The IMAGO DEI. We are all (believers, ‘other’ believers, and non-believers) created equally in the image of God, according to the way we see the universe.
  3. Commonly held beliefs on human nature and “self-evident truths.”
  4. The acknowledgment that all thought systems, sacred and secular, have quite a few unprovable postulates/axioms (see Euclid) at their foundation. At least 5 and more like 20 even in the leanest of epistemological skyscrapers.
Why is general revelation so important?
  1. There is reasonable evidence to see order and beauty in the creation, a sense of solidarity with all people, and at least some moral common ground.
  2. Universal possession of minimal moral knowledge.
  3. General revelation gives knowledge of creation, the self, and moral truth
The challenges before us
  1. We are not the first to face this. Every generation must polish up Natural Law, and re-present it to the human race.
  2. We must keep an eye on the progress of religious freedom (un-coerced conscience and corresponding action upon it) throughout the world. The first freedom without which the others are meaningless.
  3. Resist the temptation to “opt out” of the current political climate. There is a growing tendency to become disenchanted with the tone out there. Netflix and chill becomes more and more tempting as escapism.
  4. Content of our social ethic is important. It must contain charity, in the broadest sense of the word. People (left and right) often use “justice” as an excuse to be an a**hole.
  5. Manner of persuading (tone) is important. Religious faith is no guarantee of good manners. Let the message, not the method, offend. Then we will be focusing on real issues.
  6. C.S. Lewis was a master at moral persuasion. Adapting to the host culture. Learning the lingo. Read his works The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity (chapter 1) to see this kind of persuasion at its finest. Lewis: Why do we ALL (without exception) react when we are slighted by others? Because there is a natural moral law….
  7. Ask others: On what basis can you argue for justice? We may draw the line in different places, but we all draw the line. A law has to be the same for both you and me for it to be just.
  8. Abortion issue. At conception, the DNA of a human is set. All other “lines” that are drawn are arbitrary and thereby plagued by inaccuracy.
  9. Sexuality. A good question: On what basis is your homosexuality natural? Is human nature based on design or passion? If our sexuality is based on biological design, then what constitutes disordered sexuality? Can rejection of created order ever be normative?
  10. Thoroughgoing pacifism. Does extreme pacifism make the world unsafe for all? Is force not proportional and relative? Can pacifism lead to the innocent being punished?
  11. Euthanasia. Is life extrinsically (value to others) or intrinsically (“an sich”) valuable?
  12. John Paul II: Only with some fixed norms is freedom and justice possible. Jefferson also: “These truths we hold to be self-evident….”
You can catch Daryl Charles surfing on the East Coast if you want to discuss this with him…

 

 

Why hate the Koch brothers?

The Koch brothers are the devil incarnate to many progressives.

But do you actually know their positions on immigration, prison reform, drug legalization, police violence, war in the Mideast, and urban education?

These two podcasts are from the Freakonomics Radio Show. Live interviews with Charles Koch.

I guarantee they will surprise you….

Talking About the Lord is not Talking TO the Lord

In this sermon today Pastor Walter Jackson looks at Job’s story in Job 1:20-22, 2;:11-3, Job 38:1-2, and how Job talked about God before he spent the time to talk TO God about his situation.  What if in our complaining about our situation, God is getting us ready for a greater blessing but we must stop, listen and prepare our hearts for what God is planning for us.

The Most Influential Man About Whom You Have Never Heard. #AbrahamKuyper

The Social Vision of Abraham Kuyper

Insights from a lecture given by Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College at Acton University 2017.

Abraham Kuyper (b. 1837 in Holland) is one of the most influential practical theologians of all time.

A parish pastor who ran for congress (Tweede Kamer), transformed Dutch society, and ended up prime minister, Kuyper (pronounced, BTW, COW-puhr, not KY-phur) enlisted almost superhuman dynamic energy to create space for Christians and others to thrive alongside one another.

He’s really only well-known in the Netherlands and in circles worldwide made up of enthusiastic Reformed/Gereformeerde/Hervormde theologians.

He was a progressive, “modern” theologian and pastor as a young man, who underwent twin conversions:

  1. Ethical. Became more humble and teachable.
  2. Confessional. Kuyper started attending prayer meetings of church members who were staying away from his “revisionist” sermons and discovered something of true substance there. He ended up aligning himself with the “kleine luyden” (the marginalized, less-socially-important people, many of whom could not vote). He ended up seeing himself as their leader and champion.

He eventually stepped away from vocational church life to run for congress, finding himself in the “Anti-revolutionary Party.” They were fighting against the secularist/laicist aftermath of the French Revolution (100 years prior).

You might say: “Why fight against something that happened 100 years ago?” Well, a Chinese historian was asked recently what he thought of the French Revolution. His answer (in 2015): It’s too early to tell (!).

Kuyper landed a seat in the Tweede Kamer (lower house), and began re-making the country. His writing output was beyond prodigious. He wrote daily and weekly columns for De Standaard and De Heraut. Much like Martin Luther, he used waterfalls of the printed word to bathe his nation in new ways of thinking. It led to several nervous breakdowns.

A parishioner, early on in his career, asked Kuyper: “Why can’t I send my child to a school with the bible?” This “School met de Bijbel” idea never left him; subconsciously, he turned it into brick and mortar, opening the Free University of Amsterdam (Conservative Christian) in 1880, and fighting for radical school choice for all (not just the rich) throughout his life, culminating in the 1917 educational pluralism law in the Netherlands, which has produced thriving primary schools of all ideologies to this day, all on an equal playing field, and at a cost of about half per student of what American taxpayers pay.

SPHERE SOVEREIGNTY

This will be the topic of another post, but AK developed sophisticated thinking around what he called sphere sovereignty. At the risk of over-simplifying, family, government, and church should stay out of each other’s business. The rules vary from sphere to sphere and one sphere doesn’t tell the other sphere what to do–thus it is fundamentally anti-totalitarian. Kuyper’s concepts around this idea had a huge effect on the large “Christian Democrat” political parties in Europe, and in a way, led to the welfare state which developed after WW2.

There are two kinds of Kuyper fans, in the 21st Century, and yes, they sometimes wear Kuyper T-shirts:

  1. Common Grace fans.
  2. Antithesis fans.
COMMON GRACE

A major theme in AK’s thinking, common grace is available to everyone. Dutch: gratie (rhymes with “Yahtzee”). Because God rules over all creation and all humankind, he gives them grace to live in his world and carry out their calling. God shows all men favor by holding their sin in check so that they are able to live together in society and so that His church can live and grow in the world (a quote from Charles Terpstra).

AK had practical reasons for creating the common grace canvas on which to paint his public engagement in politics. It gave him backing for working with all kinds of groups, Christian and secular, since everyone has access to gratie. He needed allies in order to form a coalition government and get some of his ideas passed into law.

Kuyper’s famous quote, “There is not one square centimeter of creation where God does not say: That’s mine!” reflects his understanding of common grace.

ANTITHESIS

Regenerated Christians, on the other hand, are recipients of special saving grace. Kuyper: genade. This sets them apart from all the rest of the human race. All facts can only be seen from two perspectives: regenerated and secular. This antithesis means, that although we share common grace, the regenerated Christian acts differently in the world than a secular person.

As Bacote summed it up: Go ahead and get out in the world, but remember who you are (a child of God) when you get there. We Christians will come to different conclusions about everything.

CONCLUSION

Kuyper never wanted a theocracy, because regenerated Christians will always be in the minority. But we are not to separate out into monasteries. Like Jesus and Paul, we are to engage the culture.

Special grace (genade) creates regenerated Christians who engage the culture with a different worldview, and engage others with our common grace to move God’s will forward in the world.

Also, AK was down on slavery, pro-women, had a huge effect on Dutch education, and set Dutch verzuiling (sovereignty n one’s own circle) in motion. He said some very racist things, was a workaholic, never groomed a successor, and wasn’t fully aware of how overbearing he was.

But he also is among the most creative Christian leaders of all time in describing how best to be “in the world but not of the world,” and far from being an ivory tower theologian, he walked his talk and set out to transform his nation.