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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Preferential Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics, as many know, is the theory of how to study and understand the Bible. There are "rules" that are somewhat standardized. Read the Bible as it was written. (For instance, poetry is poetry, narrative is narrative, doctrine is doctrine, etc.) Interpret Scripture with Scripture. That kind of thing. There is one that is never listed anywhere I've seen but seems to always be the common practice. That rule is to first ask, "How do I feel about this?"

"Oh, no," you'll say, "that will never do." And I would agree with you. Still, it seems to be unavoidable. Each one of us will have at least one passage of Scripture that we will interpret based on how we feel about it. Many people do this for a lot of passages. Think about it.

I knew this fine Christian woman who found R-rated movies offensive. She could cite several Scriptures that proved it. She also found it unconscionable that she should have to submit to her husband, so the unavoidable passages that said so obviously didn't mean it. Or look at the question of the morality of homosexual behavior. No one has questioned whether or not the Bible condemns it. There is no question that it does. Today, however, as homosexuals seek to gain acceptance and the label of "normal" from the Christian world, they've managed to reinterpret the obvious passages that say that sex between same-gendered people is a sin, not because the text demanded it, but because they preferred it.

It's obvious. Everyone does it to some degree. You find it offensive that God would order the death of the Amalekites, so it's simply a morality play, not an actual event. The notion that God would strike someone dead for simply touching the Ark is unacceptable, so you consider it a misinterpretation of the people of the time when this poor fellow had a heart attack due to his own training. The wife who doesn't like the idea of submitting to her husband will find reasons to reinterpret the passages that say so. The remarkable restrictions against divorce can be reworded to suit someone who wants to divorce ... or already did.

What would happen if we didn't do that? What would happen if we read a passage and simply took it as it was intended? Well, that could obviously be a problem. Things that we like doing may turn out to be things that we shouldn't. Things that we hate may turn out to be okay. Pet peeves may have to be released. Precious doctrines may be lost. No, no, that would never do.

Or would it? Are we doing God any favors by misinterpreting what He intended to say to us? Are we being good followers of Christ by making rules out of things He never intended? Are we reflecting God's glory by passing on things He asks of us because we don't like them? Maybe, just maybe, this is an extremely poor hermeneutic.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Where's the Beef?

Well, Obama's church is in the news again. Rev. Michael Pfleger preached at his church and assaulted Hillary. Now, I'm sure you've seen enough news and blogs about it. I don't want to make this an Obama thing. The preacher has apologized. Fine. Frankly, I don't care. But here's what does disturb me.

Recently certain organizations announced that they would be monitoring churches for the next 6 months to see if they preach politics. You know ... separation of Church and State ... all that stuff. If a church preaches on politics, these groups promised to immediately seek the removal of the church's tax-exempt status.

Regardless of what I might think about 1) the Trinity United Church of Christ, 2) Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, or 3) whether or not a church should be allowed to discuss politics (that whole "separation of Church and State" concept), it seems to me that there is a problem here. I don't hear the uproar. I don't hear the doors being knocked down as the "Freedom from Religion" folks seek to remove Trinity United Church of Christ's 501c3 status. I don't hear anyone with a beef about this church preaching politics. What's with that?

I can only see one of two possible explanations. First, it is possible that they don't have that status. Maybe they refused it. Maybe they already lost it. That would be fine. But if they have it, then the only other possible explanation is hard to avoid. Could it be that only conservative churches with conservative politics are to be scrutinized? Could it be that only the religious right and not the left needs to stay out of politics? It sure seems odd to me.

Who Hardened Pharaoh's Heart?

I like Paul's Ponderings. He usually has some good stuff there to read. The other day he put up a post about an article written by a former professor on the topic of "Pharaoh's Hardened Heart." (He links to it in his post.) I offered Paul the following feedback. I repeat it here because I think it's worth examining.

I read the article by Chuck McCoy. And since I am one who believes in the absolute sovereignty of God, I, of course, had a couple of difficulties with it. Mr. (Dr.?) McCoy is intent on shooting down the idea that "God saves who He chooses (totally on His own whim/authority) and hardens and condemns whoever He chooses, regardless of their inclinations, choices or responses." I know that this is a popular approach, but is it safe? Do we really want to acquiesce to Man's authority over God's? At this point I'm not even asking "Is it possible, given the biblical description of the condition of Natural Man?" I'm asking, "Is it safe?"

Mr. McCoy (Forgive me if he's a doctor and I am mislabeling him as "Mr." I found no indication in the paper) concludes, "God wants all to repent and be saved, but God can even use obstinate rebels to work out His larger purposes in His plans." First, I wouldn't even think about disagreeing with the first clause. Of course God wants all to repent and be saved. The question of the so-called "determinist", however, is not what God wants, but what God wills. You see, if God wills all to repent and be saved (as in the common usage of 2 Peter 3:9, where Peter uses a different word for "will" than Paul in 1 Tim. 2:3-4), then either all will certainly repent and be saved ... or God is not sovereign. (People who use those two passages to prove this point prove more than they intend. If God wills that all repent and be saved, and we know that not all are saved, we've proved that God ... fails to accomplish His divine will.)

It's the second phrase that is most interesting, and it casts light on the first. Mr. McCoy refers to sinful humans as working out "His larger purposes in His plans." Doesn't the logic of this statement give you pause? I'm not disagreeing with the phrase here; I'm agreeing. Mr. McCoy, in this phrase, has admitted that God has a "larger purpose" in allowing (read, "ordaining") sin. No, not causing. No, not forcing. And, no, not "whim." But He has a larger purpose that makes good use of the sin that God knows Man will commit. So when Pharaoh hardened his own heart in the earlier events, God just let him harden his heart in the later events. A "hands-off" approach was all that was needed. Still, Exodus attributes this to God. God hardened Pharaoh's heart. It's the same thing we see in Acts.

"The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against His Anointed -- for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:26-28).

Who killed Jesus, according to Acts 4? "The kings of the earth," or, more specifically, "Herod and Pontius Pilate." Yeah, we got that. Did God make them? No, they "were gathered together against Your holy servant, Jesus." But, in the final analysis, they were, as they acted on their own volition, performing God's plan ... to kill His Son. And it was the same thing with Pharaoh. God ordained it. God insured it. Pharaoh caused it, but God is the first cause. So, if God has "larger purposes in His plans" which obviously include Man's sin, then isn't it a given that God ordains (read "approves, allows as part of His plan") sin? And doesn't that, then, eliminate the dispute about who is in charge here -- God or Man?

I was in full agreement with that first conclusion. I do think he entirely missed the significance of his own statement(s), but I agreed. The part I had real problem with was the second part. "The larger context of Romans 9 suggests that certain individuals (Pharaoh) and groups (Israel) have been given unearned privileged positions in history and God's plan." This is a very popular position, to be sure. However, it is unsupportable from the passage itself. To get to this position of "group election", one has to read into the passage and avoid simply reading it. From the beginning of Romans 9, Paul speaks of individuals, not groups. He speaks of Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. He speaks of Pharaoh and Moses. He speaks to the reader ("Who are you to answer back to God?"). He does not express any of this in group form. Further, the notion of "group election" is that God ordained that there would be a group ... but not that there would be individuals in it? It's something like Field of Dreams -- "If you build it they will come." God ordains that that there is a Church ... then waits for individuals to join. "Whew! Good thing people came, because I hadn't actually ordained individuals, just a group." But the unequivocal, clear language of Romans 9 is not "group speak", but individual. Clearly God ordained that there would be an Israel and a Church, but these are made up of individuals. God chose Jacob over Esau, and not for anything in Jacob or Esau. Paul specifically says, "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:16). And still we like to argue that human will (our choice) determines if a human gets saved. That's a contradiction.

I understand that we like to think that we're a big factor in all of this. I understand that human will does play a part. I understand that we are, in fact, responsible for our choices. And I know that we have to choose Christ. Still, at the end of the day, it is a violation of Scripture to exclude God's choice of individuals because of these factors. I think that Mr. McCoy is mistaken in his conclusion that, in essence, undercuts God's sovereignty in favor of Man's free will.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Are We Here?

The university where I work is excited about a new theoretical physicist and cosmologist coming to teach. His stated aim is to employ physics and cosmology and other sciences (interdisciplinary programs are a big thrust at this school) to address fundamental questions of life, of origins – Where did we come from? Why are we here? – among other things. (They're planning an Origins Symposium here next year that will include the likes of Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Craig Venter, and at least five Nobel laureates in different areas, including Frank Wilczek. They're really excited about this guy.)

The fundamental approach, of course, is an atheistic one. I don't mean that he is an atheist -- I don't know. Nor do I mean that it is explicitly atheistic. No one has stated in the curriculum, "We will be studying this with a denial of the existence of God." That's not what I mean. But because of the nature of science in general and the scientific study of origins in particular, it is not possible to include God in the measurements, so, obviously, He'll be excluded.

The problem with this is in the questions being asked: "Where did we come from? Why are we here?" Is it possible to exclude God and ask those questions if God is where we came from and the reason we are here? And if we exclude God and discover the answers to those questions, how adequate can they be? Here's what I mean. Let's do this in simple form. "Why are we here?" Well, we are here because we like to live here and there was a good job and maybe there was family present. "No, why are we here?" Oh, well, we're here because a several centuries ago some people decided to come to America and start this great nation of ours. "No, why are we here?" You see, how far-reaching can we get with this examination? We can discover with science various causes and effects. We can determine, as a simple example, that a house burned down because of an electric short. But why was there a short? Was there a purpose in the fire? Was there a higher purpose that science can't measure? People everywhere like to think, "All things happen for a reason." Can science measure that?

Examinations of origins seem to be a human thing. Basic questions like "Where did we come from? Why are we here?" seem to be innate. But if we decide through careful experimentation and scientific examination that humans evolved from lower species of creatures who evolved from lower species of creatures who evolved from very simplistic species of creatures who came from single-celled creatures who somehow formed when lightning struck the proper chemical mix ... have we actually determined where we came from? (I'm not, in the least, attempting to demean the science of evolution. If you read it as such, I'm sorry.) And having determined that we came by way of a cosmic accident, so to speak, can we answer why we are here? I mean, if we determine that random chance brought about our existence, does that offer us any sense of purpose for our being? Can we really answer "Why are we here?" from science alone?

I am not diminishing any of the folks I've mentioned. I'm not trying to slight science. I'm not recommending that science should not study origins. I'm not even questioning Evolution. It's just that I think the concept of finding out why we are here while excluding the very real possibility that God is the reason stretches science from the physical to the metaphysical. Isn't that somewhat outside the realm of the measurable, testable realm of science?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rules for the Lazy

I wonder sometimes if people don't make rules simply because they're too lazy to think. Most often we think of rule makers as folks with a power complex. I have to wonder if that's really the case. How many times do you see rules made simply so people don't have to take personal responsibility?

Take, for instance, the recent case where a school banned the game of tag. "Intense aggression" was the charge. Touch football was also banned. You see, kids were getting hurt playing these games. So, instead of analyzing individual children or considering the affect of overprotective school administrators on the development of young children, they banned the game entirely. They said it wasn't your original version, but a more aggressive version where they would pile on someone and make them try to break out. Whatever you do, don't intervene in that. Just ban the game! In other words, "Don't make me think about real issues. Just make an overarching rule so I can have some peace."

Or how about the school last year that instituted a "no-touching rule" where students could be disciplined for holding hands or high-fiving. The problem, the administrators said, was that sometimes touching became inappropriate or led to fighting. The remedy? Ban touching. Problem solved. Administrators don't have to consider the term "inappropriate." And if the kids don't get the opportunity to learn what appropriate touching might be, whose problem is that? Certainly not the school's.

Our world is thick with this concept. Is there a problem? Let's make a great big rule so it can't happen again. Let's make a "zero tolerance" rule so we don't have to think about individual cases. Let's make a rule that affects everyone so that even if some individuals don't really need them, we don't have to think about it. Let's make a rule for everyone in the company so that when my subordinate breaks the rule, I don't have to answer for it.

But let's not blame schools or administrators or society. You'll get this in your own homes. A father will tell his daughter, "You're not going out dressed like that." The daughter will appeal to her mother. "Mom! It's not fair." What does Mom do? As often as not, what you'll hear is "Do what your father said." You see, here it's "You and me, kid. We're stuck. Your father made the rule. We have to live with it. Tough, isn't it?" It's not too often that you'll hear, "You know that what you're wearing isn't appropriate. Go up and change." No, let Dad be the bad guy and Mom be the sympathetic ear. That's the same concept. Dad has made a rule and Mom is going to use it to her advantage. (Please, folks, if the situation is reversed -- and it often is -- take the point to heart, not the illustration.)

Doing what is right is often hard work. It takes time. It takes attention. We've bought this notion that "everyone should be treated the same" while we're also convinced that no two people are the same. We think that all things must be equitable meaning, to us, equal. For instance, if I spend $20 on a gift for a 10-year-old for his birthday, then the 5-year-old had better get a $20 gift for hers as well. (I actually know parents who tally up the amount spent at Christmas and verify that each kid gets the same amount.) Or maybe it's not equality. Maybe it's love. Love demands time and attention as well. Teaching a kid to do their homework is a lot more work than doing it for them. Helping a child learn to handle tough situations by staying out of the way when necessary is a lot harder than stepping in and fixing things. We want to make rules ("Each kid should receive the same amount" or "Make life easy for my kids" or ...) so that we don't have to think and we don't have to work at it. Is it any wonder that schools have banned tag, instituted "no-touching rules", or generated nonsensical "zero tolerance" conditions? Are we really surprised that society makes broad, sweeping rules when they don't need to so they don't have to consider the individual? Doing the right thing is hard work. Maybe we ought to consider doing hard work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Apologetic Failure

There are those in the realm of Christendom that actually take offense if you refer to Christianity as "a religion." They'll respond, even with a sense of righteous indignation, "It's a relationship, not a religion!" I'm sorry, folks, but look up "religion" in the dictionary and you'll find that Christianity falls within the standard definition: "Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe." I am not suggesting that Christianity is just like every other religion, nor am I suggesting that Christianity is not a relationship. I do think, however, that it brings up the necessary question, "What is Christianity?" I see two basic definitions used by the majority of folks, Christians included, and I think they are both off the mark.

First, the most common belief is that Christianity, like all religions, is a moral system. A "Christian" in the common mode of understanding is a person who does good. If you don't do good, you are either a bad Christian or, worse, not a Christian at all. Because "Christian," everyone understands, is a moral code. And we've all heard it in some application or another. "Is he a Christian? He doesn't act like one." The truth is that this concept isn't too far off the mark. There is absolutely no doubt from Scripture (the source book that defines "Christian") that good works are a part of being a follower of Christ. James says that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). John says that it's not possible to make a practice of sinning if you're born of God (1 John 3:9). Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Okay? It cannot be argued that good works are not a part if being a Christian. The problem, of course, is that most Christians know the counter-point: We are saved by grace through faith, not of works (Eph. 2:8-9). In Christianity, works play a part, but they are a result -- indeed an inevitable result -- but not a cause. Jesus refers to it as "fruit" (John 15:5). You see, most people think that God is trying to make good people out of bad people. We aren't doing what He wants us to, and Christianity is His way of changing us. That's not the aim of Christianity. He's in the business of making live people out of dead people. Those once-dead-now-alive people change how they act, but changing how we act is not the goal. Frankly, the phrase "act like a Christian" is nonsense. If you're "acting", you have reason to question if you are one.

The second most common belief is that Christianity is comprised of a belief system. I'm fairly sure, in fact, that readers following this will be scratching their heads. "Are you saying it isn't? I mean, after all, didn't Paul say, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved'?" I've spent no small amount of time and effort in my blogging to address right belief. I've even written blogs that suggest that a person who denies a foundational doctrine like the Trinity may not be a Christian at all. So ... am I saying that Christianity is not comprised of a belief system? Yes ... and no. Again, what you believe plays an important part in being a Christian. We may all debate it, but we all understand that there is a core set of beliefs, a basic set of doctrines to which everyone who calls himself a Christian must subscribe. This core set of beliefs varies, but we all agree on some absolute necessities. You must believe in God. You must believe you are a sinner, justly deserving God's judgment. You must believe that Christ died for your sin and rose again. You must believe His death and resurrection are payment for your sin. Fine. Good. Basic beliefs. Some people will add to it. Few will take away. But, still, aren't we saying that it's a system of beliefs? No, I'm not. I'm saying that, just as works are a part of Christianity but not a definition, so are beliefs. Right beliefs are necessary, but they don't define what it is to be a Christian. They simply reflect it.

Christianity is more organic than most of us realize. I don't mean "organic" in today's popular sense: "free of chemicals". I mean in the sense of a living organism. Christianity is a religion, but it is more so a relationship. And that relationship is its definition. Jesus suggested this when He prayed for His disciples. "This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). Jesus said it in His Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7. At the end He tells of "many" who will come to Him and say, "Lord, Lord, look what we've done for You." He responds to them by calling them "workers of lawlessness." What was their failing? Where do they fall short? Why does He send them away? Did they fail to do good works? Apparently not. Did they fail to have the right beliefs? There is no such indication (as evidenced by the address, "Lord"). What was the shortcoming? Jesus doesn't say it was because they weren't good or they didn't believe correctly. He says, "I never knew you" (Matt. 7:21-22). In Gal. 4:9, Paul asks the Galatians, "Now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?"

Christianity is not about right actions. Right actions follow, but that's not the definition. Christianity is not about right beliefs. Right beliefs are necessary, but that's not the definition. Christianity is about knowing God and having God know you. It's not a twelve-step program, a systematic theology, or a self-help project. It's an organic relationship with God. Apologetics are nice, but they fail to reach this level. Proper living is good and even commanded, but it still fails to reach this level. Christianity is an actual, two-way relationship with the Sovereign Creator of the Universe. Anything less -- morality or theology -- is ... less than Christianity. Moral living and well-formed arguments are all well and good, but in the end, it isn't how you live or what you know, it's Who you know and Who knows you. Getting that across to a world hostile to God is a task we're not up to. Make your best arguments. Certainly use your best reasoning skills. Give a reason for the hope that lies within you. But the single, most accurate proof is the one that will always be dismissed out of hand. "I know that Christ lives in Me." Live it and believe it, but know that getting it across to others will not be a simple matter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day, 2008

Memorial Day is the day we Americans are asked to remember. We are asked remember something specific -- the men and women who gave their lives defending our freedom. The holiday was originally instituted for the Civil War fallen and has continued since. I did a little research on it. One account insists that freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, instituted the event, recognizing the fallen Union soldiers who died to free them. These were buried in a mass grave. The freed slaves disinterred them and put them in individual graves, marking them with stones and flowers. In my research, I also found a site of Americans so hateful and bigoted that they could not accept this story without lashing out at the possibility that it was black people who did it. The amazing thing about America, to me, is that we enjoy the freedom we do because people have given their lives to ensure it ... and that freedom includes the freedom to express the cruel, evil racist statements at that site.

The sentiment of most Americans seems to be "No War." The feeling seems to be that there is no such thing as a good reason to go to fight. No cost is too little. The call is to bring them home from Iraq without any concern for the consequences because there is no good reason to fight. Google makes special web pages to recognize special days, so there was a special page for Thanksgiving and a special page for Christmas. There was even a special day recently for the birthday of an architect. But Google will not recognize Memorial Day. And, I fear, the majority applauds.

I am not in the majority. I thank God for the country in which I live. I thank God for the men and women who have given their lives to defend this country. I appreciate the words of John Stuart Mill:
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
I'm proud to be an American, and grateful for the many who have looked beyond the personal cost to keep this country free.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Running the Race

I read this (again) in Philippians:
I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12-14).
Now, hard as it may seem to believe, I'm going to set aside for the moment the implications of the phrase "I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" (read "Election"). What really grabbed my attention was that first concept, that we are to "lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of ..." Think about that. There is a purpose. There was a reason that each and everyone of us came to Christ. There is a purpose. And it is our task as individual Christians to pursue that purpose.

Most of us are warmly familiar with Eph. 2:8-9. You know, "saved by grace", "not of works", that stuff. Good stuff. Fewer of us are familiar with the very next verse:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10).
I wouldn't call this an echo of the Philippians passage above, but it sure is a parallel. First, it starts with a "for" -- a purpose statement. It answers the unspoken question, "Why are we saved by grace?" You see, Christians often tend to think "saved" is the end product. "I'm saved. I made it. That's good. Now, let's go on with living." But in Philippians Paul tells them that there was a reason that he was laid hold of by Christ Jesus and in Ephesians he tells them that the reason they were saved by grace was so that they could walk in good works. No, that's not quite adequate. Paul says in Ephesians that the good works were already prepared ... now walk in them. It's not a matter of "be good", but be the good that God already prepared. (Note that this suggests that the "good" that He prepared for you may not be the same "good" He prepared for me. Something to keep in mind.)

I'm quite sure that if Paul lived today, we'd know him to be an avid sports fan. He likes sports analogies. The Christian life, to Paul, was not a stroll through the garden with Christ. It was a race. It was serious, even brutal. He wanted "to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10). He needed to discipline himself, to set aside failures and run with all he had toward the prize. He wanted to attain nothing less than perfection.

I have to be honest. I don't often share Paul's fervor. Sometimes I'm lackadaisical. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I'm just plain lazy. Too often I simply want to rest in the shade because, after all, I'm saved. That doesn't cut it. Too often I think, "Yeah, I know what I should be doing, but that's too much work." Have you ever told yourself that? I need to get it in gear. I need to forget what lies behind. I need to press toward the prize. I need to walk in the good works that were prepared beforehand. I need to remember that it's not a stroll, but a race. "By any road, dear Lord, at any cost."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ultimate Good

The Ultimate Good. That is the question. No downstream good. No ultimate good with lower case letters. The Ultimate Good. Despite the jockeying for position that we like to do, in the final analysis, everyone seems to think it's out there. We can determine what is good and what is bad and we don't need any help at all, thank you very much.

Our first thought -- our reflex, actually -- is to ask, "What is good for me?" It seems like it's often the only question that is asked. So common is it that it's often not even asked; it's just assumed. "If it doesn't hurt you, why would you object?" The question assumes that my only concern is "What is good for me?" That's how most drivers determine their driving manners. "What works for me?" Never mind that they just cut off traffic behind them. It's really quite irrelevant that you had to slam on your brakes, skid sideways, and swerve in time to avoid hitting that pedestrian. They got where they were going. That's how many parents determine their parenting skills. "What works for me?" So they try to keep things "nice" in their homes and they avoid making their kids mad and they try to be their children's best friend. Never mind that the little devils make everyone wince when they arrive. It is of little consequence to them that no one wants to be around these terrors. And what impact these little monsters will have when they get big isn't currently in mind because "What works for me right now?" may not be "What works for me then?".

Immediately, then, it becomes obvious that "What works for me?" doesn't really work very well. We end up in a clenched confrontation going around in circles about who gets to decide what's best and who gets to make the rules, not realizing that we're simply circling the drain. Making my personal interests the Number One concern, the arbiter of all things good, just doesn't work in a world where there is more than just me. Even though it's the most common method, it is by far the least successful.

There are other methods, you know. Sure you do. There is "What is best for my family?" There is "What is good for my neighbor?" There is "What works for my fellow townspeople or the people of my state or my country?" There is "What is it that God has in mind?" Now, sure, that's often near the end of the list, and obviously I'd recommend moving that one to the top, but it is a valid, useful question. Wait a minute! My original question was asking how we achieve the Ultimate Good. Now that I think about it, maybe that last question should obviously be the first one instead. After all, wouldn't it be best to have the Ultimate Good determining what is Ultimately Good?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Born That Way

The movie, The Bad Seed (1956), asks the question "Are bad people born that way?" The theory examined is that it might be possible that some people are born bad. Now, by "born bad" I'm not referring to the historic Christian doctrine of Original Sin. I'm talking about a specific propensity to do evil. In the movie (based on a novel of the same name by William March), a little girl, Rhoda, is a cute little 8-year-old psychopathic killer. Completely lacking conscience, she kills for what she wants, whether it's a snow globe she likes or a penmanship metal she thought she should have or to prevent someone who knows too much from talking. As it turns out, Rhoda is adopted. Her birth-mother was a famous "black widow" type who killed for what she wanted. The idea is simple. Is it possible that you can be born with a gene or something that you inherit that makes you bad?

The notion isn't too far fetched, actually. There are studies that suggest that an addictive personality can be an inherited thing. It is possible, for instance, that even if you never knew your father, you could inherit his alcoholic tendencies. The same seems to be true for other addictions such as drug, gambling, or sex addictions. These things, at least it appears, often run in families, and not always with the "offending parent" present. It just seems to be a matter of inheritance.

So, we find the argument from the homosexual community that "We are born that way." The argument is, "Since we are born this way, it is not immoral." I won't really address the question, "Are you born that way?" It seems a viable question, really. Science has failed to locate the "smoking gun." There is no demonstrable "gay gene" that has been found. For every study that suggests it might be so, there seems to be another study questioning it. While most of the scientific world believes without question that there is a Global Warming problem, it's hard to get any kind of consensus out of science on this question about the claim that homosexuality is a birth condition. But I'd prefer to set the question aside and ask, "Are you sure you want to go there?"

Most people seem to have already agreed that homosexuals are that way by birth. It's a peculiar thing, given the lack of scientific evidence, but let's leave it at that. What can we conclude from this particular condition of birth? The argument is that it cannot be immoral if it's by birth. Are we really ready to use that argument? If so, should we also argue that it is perfectly moral to be a drunk or to gamble away all your family's money because you're born that way? If it is indeed true that some people might be born with a prediliction to murder, should we then say, "Well, they're born that way; it can't be immoral"? I cannot imagine that "We're born that way" is really the argument you would want to defend.

What about the bisexual? Are they born that way? I've never heard that one argued, but what if they are? Is there a different gene that they have and does that make it moral? How about the homosexual that marries a heterosexual? If the gene determines right and wrong, wouldn't that, by definition, be immoral? And, look, everyone knows how it is with male heterosexuals. They're horn dogs. They want to have sex with any female they can find. They're born that way. Surely you can't label their sexual exploits as "immoral" if that's simply the way they're born, can you?

I don't know. I don't think that's making a lot of sense. Worse, I don't think that is actually a good argument for the homosexual community. "If you're born a certain way, doing what you want to do is moral." That seems like a very precarious position to take. A lot of Christians try to argue against the "born that way" position. "It's a choice, not an orientation!" It's true that there isn't a lot of science to support the counter argument. Still, I don't think it's really necessary. I'm quite sure that we don't want a legal system that says, "Whatever you want to do is okay as long as you're born that way." I'm quite sure that we cannot adopt a moral system that uses "born that way" as its basis for right and wrong. If that's the case, you'll likely find some people who are born haters of homosexuals and that will be just fine, right? It's not fine by me. I don't think it's fine by anyone else, either.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prayer and Sympathy

My deep sympathy and earnest prayer go out for the Steven Curtis Chapman family for their loss.

Big Losses in Little Steps

The Theory of Evolution was built originally on the notion of little steps that lead to big changes. As I understand it, that concept is not really in vogue anymore. "Punctuated Equilibrium" is more the thing ... sudden big changes separated by long time periods. In life, we tend to think of the big changes as significant. For instance, losing a job (big change) is much more significant than getting a new boss or coworker (little change). But there are many who can tell you that the little change can lead to the big change.

I tend to think that it is the little changes in society that lead to the big changes more often than not. Look, for instance, to the evolution of the role of religion in American life. A hundred years ago no one blinked an eye at the fact that religion (Christianity in particular) played a big role in American politics. If someone had tried a hundred years ago to ban religion from politics, they would have been laughed out of the political arena ... at best. But little by little over the last century there have been small changes that have brought us, ultimately, to an almost unanimous opinion that politicians' religious beliefs have no place in the public square. Little steps, not big ones. There were 80 years of the ACLU focusing largely on the topic bringing bigger and bigger cases to the courts until the tide of public opinion shifted. There were assaults from other areas as well. Madalyn Murray O'Hair got Bible reading banned from public schools in the 60's. Religion was the prime opponent of the "free love" movement, and as people warmed to the idea of having sex whenever they wanted, religion lost its sway. (Note: There are outspoken atheists who have stated that they specifically hate religion because it attempts to prevent them from having sex whenever they like. It's not a theory of mine.) Science became king and Evolution its proof, so to speak. If Evolution, then God is not an issue. Thanks. Go away, God. We don't need you anymore to explain Origins. We don't need you anymore to offer guidance in living. We don't need you anymore to direct Law. Little by little, step by step, the perception that religion was a good thing began to slip. No one actually wanted a theocracy in America, but over the last hundred years or so God has been moved out of the way entirely. He's not welcome in school. He's not welcome in government. He's not welcome in the bedroom. And we end up with a world today where 75% of Americans call themselves Christians, but only 15% of them actually go to church and only 5% of them say that their religious beliefs affect how they live. Practical atheism reigns in a country that is considered a "Christian country" by many. Perhaps "Christians" are the majority, but not practicing Christians, to be sure. And, look, whatever you want to believe is fine, as long as you don't try to affect me with it. That's America's attitude today, a far cry from the America of a hundred years ago that may not have been a "Christian nation" then, but surely held largely Judeo-Christian ethics.

So what? What's the big deal? We've moved our moral base. What does it matter? We've ushered God out the door of our state houses. "Thanks. It was nice knowing You. We'll be sure to visit You on Sunday ... well, some of us ... well, occasionally, I guess. Bye, bye." What difference does it make? It sounds like small steps and little change, but we're at a breaking point here. Consider, for instance, the words of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The premise of this document and the Constitution that followed along with the Bill of Rights was that the Creator has endowed humans with "unalienable Rights." The government -- any government -- didn't get to remove them. They could only defend them. No one had the right to remove them if the Creator endowed us with them. Get your stinking hands off my rights, you dirty ape! But wait. There is a change here. We've deleted the Creator from our public square. We've removed God from government. Not allowed, thanks. Much better now. So "these truths" are not self-evident, and, frankly, your rights are not secured by God anymore. That argument is not allowed. So ... on what basis are you now going to claim that you have the right to Life or Liberty? Christians would like to say that humans are special, that they're created in God's image, that they have a unique standing among Creation. But that's not allowed. So, having neatly shoved God out of the way, on what do you base the convenient belief that humans have any special rights at all? On what do you complain about "human rights violations" since no such rights can be proven?

I have already said that I'm concerned about the "little step" of California allowing homosexuals to call their relationships "marriage". I've already said that I think that there have been too many assaults on marriage already. I've already said that I have grave concerns that the little steps that have been taken over the last 50 years have put the institution of marriage in critical condition. I think that we're taking little steps, here and there, that, over time, are creating a world for us in which we really cannot afford to live. Marriage is in trouble. Human rights are in question. Religion has been moving toward a status of "enemy of the state." Little steps here and there and pretty soon I think we'll find that we've moved to an unsustainable world that no one likes. It doesn't seem far-fetched that humans, a little step at a time, are going to be out of a job. I just wish I had a clue how to correct it. I don't. It's good, at least on my end, to know a Sovereign God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Meme Response

Yuck! Memes ... don't like them at all. But I am one who does as he's told, and I was told I had to do this thing, so here goes.

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?
Wait ... I'm old ... let me think. Ten years ago ... that would be ... I have a calculator ... okay, 1998. In 1998 I was in the middle of my 14 years of working for a company in California that made recorders for spacecraft and highly accurate frequency and timing systems. I was an elder in my church on the verge of being asked to leave. (It's the natural outcome of having ideas that don't align with the "mainstream". Either get used to it or don't have them.) I had four kids at home, although the oldest was 20. Wow, that's right, she moved out soon thereafter. Now she's married and has her third child on the way. You know, I don't think I like this question. Moving on ...

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today
A) Make a list of 5 things to do today.
B) Remember where to find the list.
3) Try to be more consistent.
D) Fix whatever problems work might throw at me ... immediately ... without exception or error. (Yeah, perfection is on my "to-do list" for the day. No, I don't expect to reach it.)
5) Forget about making to-do lists and just get through the day.

3) Snacks I enjoy
That's a hard one for me. Over the years friends, doctors, family, all have told me to "Watch what you eat." Since I was young they were taking away the "good stuff" and substituting margarine for butter, Tab for Coke, non-fat milk for whole milk, and the like. Today, I've just about arrived at not snacking at all because, frankly, just about anything I might have liked to snack on either tastes funny to me or is somehow bad for me. Not fair! Okay, pass the peanut butter and crackers and leave me alone. No thanks ... I don't feel like an apple. Sigh.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire
I cannot even comprehend how to function as a billionaire. I've never dreamt of it. I've never considered it. I wouldn't even want it. In that case, I suppose I'd give it away. There are missions and ministries that could use it. I'd see to it my kids all had houses (in this age of housing crisis). No, I wouldn't see that they had a whole lot of nice things because there is a serious advantage to earning what you want and I don't want to disadvantage my kids. I would make sure my wife had all she wanted. She has earned it ...

5) Places I have lived
Pasadena, Calif.; Biloxi, Miss.; Rapid City, SD; Riverside (or so), Calif.; Syracuse, NY; Rome, NY; Anaheim, Calif.; Phoenix, Arizona. Honestly, there are other places on the list, little places you'd likely not know like Covina and West Covina and Temple City and Fullerton. I spent 6 glorious weeks in San Antonio for Basic Training, but I don't think that qualifies in any sense as "living".

6) 6 peeps I wanna know more about
As I said, I'm the kind of guy that generally does what he's told. On the other hand, I have a rebel streak. Besides, I don't wish this on anyone else. There are certainly 6 (much more than that, even) people about whom I'd like to know more, but I'm not going to tag any of them with this. I'd like to know more about Allison's DH, but he doesn't count, I guess. I'd like to know more about Jim and, frankly, even Dagoods. But the people I'd most like to know more about are the ones here, so I suppose I'll just go ask them, right? Those of you on my list are free to move about the Internet without doing this thing yourselves.

God Is Good

The most common thorn in the side of Christianity for skeptics is the existence of evil. How can there be evil if God is good? There are a variety of answers and a variety of positions and a variety of approaches, but skeptics still hold it as their "trump card." "Aha!" they exclaim, "Proof that there is no god."

One of the approaches offered that is mostly discarded out of hand by the skeptic is equally disliked among a lot of believers. The argument is that God is good. That's it. End of argument. We're done. The argument is that God is good and whatever God does is good by definition. He is not held to a higher standard of "good" or some greater justice. Whatever He does defines good. The fact that there is evil, then, would be defined as a good thing because God has allowed it.

Not too many people like that at all. The last time I saw it thrown out (in both senses -- thrown out the door and thrown out as a challenge) was actually from a believer. "God must conform to some sense of good that we can understand or He isn't good." From a skeptic, that's odd, since they deny the concept of absolute good, but from a believer it's just disturbing. Frankly, from neither side do I understand the denial.

Here's the thing. Assuming there is an Ultimate Being, we would necessarily have to assume that this being is ... ultimate. He is above "good" as we know it. Further, He is above us. These two are the significant facts. It seems to me that these two significant facts prove the position. First, if this Being is Ultimate, then it is simply impossible that there can be anything higher ... or He's not Ultimate. This being would be the starting point of everything, including right and wrong. It simply has to be.

The second significant fact -- that He is above us -- brings us what I call "the Order of Being" condition. The easiest way to explain this condition is to look at normal life. Assume a parent and a small child. If you were to ask the small child if the parent was good, what would they say? It is not unreasonable to guess that the small child might conclude that the parent is bad. "I have to go to bed at 8 every night, but they get to stay up as late as they want. If I try that, I'm being bad. I can't drive a car and if I did I'd be in big trouble, but they do it all the time." You get the idea. What a parent can do morally is not defined by what the child can do. The parent can do things that the child is not allowed to do. We all know that. A parent is a different order of being. Imagine taking that idea a step further. What if you asked an ant if humans were good? "Oh, they're horribly immoral. They kill us whenever they feel like it. We work all the time but they only work 5 days a week at most. And look at their method of government! They almost invariably follow a male leader with often an elected government. Everyone knows that the only right government is a single queen. How bad can they get?" But we know that different orders of beings follow different rules. A "good dog" is not the equivalent of a "good man." But here we are. We are creatures, standing with a hand on our hips, and a finger wagging in the air telling the Creator, "If you don't conform to what we think is good, you're not good. Bad God! Bad, bad, God!"

The argument that God defines good is typically dismissed out of hand, often by both sides. They see it as too simple. I see it is unavoidably logical. If there is a God, an Ultimate Creator, He has to define good and He would not conform to our simplified measure of "good." Why would we think otherwise? Sounds like arrogance to me ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Meaning of Words

Have you noticed how much words are changing? It's actually quite dramatic. King James referred to St. Paul's Cathedral as "amusing, awful and artificial" by which he meant "pleasing, awe-inspiring, and artful." "Gay" used to mean "happy" ... to anyone you wanted to ask. Now, the first definition that comes to mind is ... not "happy." People used to know that "bitch" referred to a female dog, a "chick" was a reference to a baby chicken, and "bug" referred to an insect. Now "bug" is also a noun referring to problems in software or a verb describing what her little brother does to his older sister. ("He bugs me.") Once, when I was in the Air Force, I was out for a drive with family. We went by an airport and I commented, "Look, a hangar." My brother-in-law, a construction worker, heard me point out someone who hangs drywall. My wife heard me point out a device on which to hang clothing. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Trying to keep up with my kids' changing vernacular was real work. Words that meant one thing to me meant something entirely different to them and even something else again across the 5 years that separated them. The dictionary used to be a source document. One person would say, "That word means this," and another person would say, "No, it means something else." They would solve their dispute by looking it up in the English source document -- the dictionary. Today the dictionary is in constant flux, simply trying to keep track of how words are meant, not what they actually mean. But one of the most interesting and confusing changes that is occurring today is not in the meaning of words. It is in the feel of words.

I saw a post recently about the Evangelical Manifesto. The term "manifesto" raised eyebrows because it felt like the "Communist Manifesto" or the "Humanist Manifesto" or the like ... bad things to Evangelicals. If you want to insult someone, call them a "liberal." No one likes that term anymore, even though it simply is defined as "favorable to progress or reform." "Fundamentalist" is a serious insult these days. It doesn't really matter how it is actually defined. The term broadly references "the interpretation of sacred texts as literal truth," generally references "any religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles that includes rigid adherence to those principles," or specifically refers to "a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming." (Note: If you're going to refer to the latter, there cannot be "Islamic Fundamentalists", can there?) Drop that word bomb in a crowd of Christians and watch them scatter because it feels like it's a bad thing. "I'm no fundamentalist!" they'll object because they know they've just been insulted.

The meaning of words is becoming a very difficult concept. "Intelligent Design" is the same as "Creationism" which is the same as "Creation Science" which is, as everyone knows, quite ludicrous. Never mind that there are steps between the three terms and they are not synonymous. It's simply how we feel about them. Claim that you do believe in the Perseverance of the Saints but don't believe in "Once Saved Always Saved" and they'll look at you like you're a walking contradiction. Never mind that they have different meanings. Shorthand terms are drifting so far from their intended meaning that they are becoming useless. We all agree, for instance, what "Calvinist" means ... until you actually explain what you mean and find out that there are nearly as many definitions for the term as there are users of the term.

Here's the problem. When we can no longer agree on the definition of terms, communication breaks down. Worse, when how we feel about a word determines what the word means or, worse, how we feel about the person who used it or to whom it was applied, communication becomes nearly impossible. English is a popular language on the planet these days, but it is quickly becoming an unusable language. What do we mean, for instance, when we "sanction" something? It can mean "to grant approval" or it can mean "to express disapproval." Where are we going with the language when Christians are afraid to call themselves Christians because of how people feel about the word? How can we effectively communicate the Gospel in a world where language changes based on feelings and definitions are not definitive? We're going to have to stay on our toes, folks.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who are the Terrorists?

When we think "terrorist" we tend to think of the people who blow up buildings or walk into a group of people wearing explosives. Their goal is to scare you. The truth, however, is that these types are rather rare here in America. So it's difficult to get too agitated about "terrorists" in our daily lives.

Then I sit down and watch the news. Let's see. In the past few weeks of news broadcasts, they've fed me a bunch of stories. More than 3/4 of the big trucks on the road have safety violations and could potentially blow up at any time. Travel by air isn't as safe as you thought; there are constant, blatant security violations that could kill you. There are potential chemicals in the standard city water supply that can give you cancer even if you don't drink the water. We can anticipate disastrous wildfires this summer. Children are carrying bombs to school. We have another unknown serial killer; be careful walking the streets. Your mattress contains chemicals that can kill you. Crime is rising.

Oh, you know how it goes. And you get the same news as I do ... generally. Somehow, the news isn't particularly concerned with "And what should we do about it?" usually. Neither are they very keen on those stories of nice things being done -- random acts of kindness that just warm the heart. No, the good stories are the nasty things that people are doing to one another. The best ones are the ones that suggest you, the viewer, are in mortal danger right now as you sit in front of your TV. "The world to end at midnight ... film at 11."

If I pay attention to the nightly news, I end up afraid to fly, afraid to walk the streets at night, afraid of the water in my house, afraid to be near trucks on the highway, afraid to be around children, afraid of my bed ... so I begin to wonder ... tell me again who the real terrorists are?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

No Other Gods

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me (Exo. 20:3).
God said it. And it was pretty high on His list of important things to tell His people, apparently. Oh, look! Number One! What does it mean? If you read it loosely, God is simply saying "I must be Number One in your worship of gods." You know, "You can have other gods -- they just can't come before Me." But that's not what He meant. The Hebrew word is "face". Quite literally God is saying, "You shall have no other gods in My face." Some rabbis have translated it to mean "while I have being." The Septuagint version simply says, "besides Me." It's all the same. "I am present everywhere and I am eternal. Where I am for as long as I am, you shall have no other gods."

Most Christians likely think, "I've got this one licked. No problem." Then I roll into church angry because my spouse made us late or my kid defied my authority or ... and you have to ask, who is god at this point? You think you have no other gods but can't live without that new TV or that better job or that special someone ... and you have to ask, who is god at this point? You are worrying about money or worrying about health or worrying about your mortgage. Who is god at this point? Idolaters. That's what we are. At our rotten cores we want to worship, but we want most to worship anything or anyone but God. We live by the creed, "other gods."

We who are in Christ are new creations. We have the option to change that. Today, try it without them. It's really an interesting place to be, where God is actually the only god you have. It's much more difficult than you imagine, but it's also much more rewarding than you thought it could be. Maybe today, in church, listening to His voice, focusing on Him -- maybe that would be a good place to start.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's the Difference?

Someone asked me the fair and reasonable question, "What difference would it make to you if Bob and Larry got hitched?" I answered in the comments, but thought I would expand that answer here for everyone to see.

As a Christian, I believe that God created Man. As the Creator, He knows what works best for His creation. So when He says it's bad, I have to conclude it's bad. I don't mean simply morally bad. I mean bad for you. Now, all you morally outraged Christians out there, I would suspect that this is not the thinking you had. You were likely offended. You were likely indignant. But were you concerned for them? I am fairly sure that the genuine love that says, "I am concerned about your well-being" doesn't really come across when we shake our fists and proclaim, "It's evil!!!" Of course, they would argue, "But, we don't think it is bad for us." I'm not sure what is expected of us at this point. Let's say that I saw a kid drinking a bottle of rat poison. I try to snatch it from him and he's outraged. "It's bad for you!" I assure him. "No it's not!" he fires back. Oh, okay, then here you go, drink away. Who am I to try to impose my perception on you. Right? That's caring? That's loving? Yet that is the demand.

"But ... sinners marry all the time." That's true, but this is a unique situation. There is nothing significant about uniting a fornicator and a thief in marriage. The marriage has no impact on the sin. This situation isn't the same. When Bob and Larry get hitched and they call it "marriage", you've managed to perpetuate the problem. Bob and Larry already had to contend with the problem of being gay in a heterosexual world. This serves to legitimize their standing. It steps away from "queer" and toward "normal". It diminishes their motivation to stop their sin. It's bad for them.

Of course, most people aren't at all concerned about my view as a Christian. The secular world believes that my beliefs have no place in the public arena. Fine. As a citizen of this country, redefining marriage as "a kind of agreement between two people, whatever their gender, where they agree to commit to one another or something for some time or another" will impact me. Why? It won't change how I view my wife. It won't change the relationship I have. Why does it affect me? Let me illustrate from my past.

I joined the Air Force in the '80's. They had a system of performance review that would rate each airman's performance on a scale of 1 to 9. Every year your supervisor would sit you down and rate you over various areas along with an overall score. Now, it makes sense that in a system of 1 to 9, the average would be something around 5. Anything above, say, a 7 would require extraordinary performance and something below, perhaps, a 3 could lead to disciplinary possibilities. So when I got my first review, I was amazed. My supervisor explained to me that I was an outstanding worker in every area with nothing that I needed to improve except the normal stuff that continuing the work would improve. "Congratulations, Airman," he told me, "you have received an overall rating of 9." Wow! Top numbers! Excellent rating! I was pleased. Then the next airman went in for his evaluation. When he came out I asked him what he got. "A 9," he told me. Now I was lost. Why? What did it matter if he got a 9? Well, he wasn't a hard worker. He put out the minimum effort. He didn't try to improve. He showed no initiative. And he got the same score I did. Why did it matter? My supervisor was still pleased with my work. I would still do the same job. Nothing changed there. The impact, however, was that it undercut anything that resembled pride of service or motivation. As it turned out, 9 was the norm. Some people got 8's, but that was bad. If you received a 7 or lower, you were likely looking at corrective measures. In other words, 9 became meaningless. There was no such thing as "outstanding." From that point on there was no possibility of affirmation for a job well done, no way to demonstrate excellence, no way to even improve. The 9 was pointless.

Redefining marriage is like that. It doesn't change my relationship with my wife. Still, the "special" is gone. We're no longer special. We're no longer a special contribution to society. The "special" was severely tarnished when "no-fault divorce" was loosed on us. Now the "special" is all but eliminated because "marriage" no longer carries any significance. It doesn't mean tradition. It doesn't mean a special contributing part of society. It doesn't really mean anything at all. It's just a 9 in a world where everything is 9 -- meaning nothing at all.

It won't have a particular impact on me if Larry and Bob get hitched. I will go on being married. I will still define marriage the way I used to. But society will no longer see marriage the way it did. And our progeny will not have a clear definition of marriage, nor a clear path for right and wrong. There will be no foundation on which to rest, no means by which to claim, "The law should be this here and not that there." It's a sliding scale based on how people feel. Your vote? Irrelevant. Your perception? Who cares? Your beliefs? Oh, no, those aren't allowed here. Yeah, I don't see this as a good thing.

The Fable of Ted

Fable: a short tale to teach a moral lesson.

Meet Ted. Ted is somewhat of an atypical fellow. In fact, there are probably not more than 10% of the population like Ted. You see, Ted has an unusual preference -- Ted doesn't drive. There is no real way of telling why Ted doesn't drive. He believes he was born with a predilection to ride his bike. Whatever it is, Ted doesn't even own a car. He rides his bike wherever he needs to go. And, really, if you think about it, that's kind of a good thing. He doesn't pollute like others. He doesn't consume resources like others. He doesn't have to pay for gasoline like others. He keeps in better shape than most. All in all, Ted's a pretty good guy.

Then comes the government's plan. They say that the price of gasoline is too high. To help offset the cost of gas, they are going to give a tax rebate to all citizens who drive to work. Well, Ted is a citizen and Ted certainly likes tax rebates and Ted goes to work, so Ted signs up to receive his. Except Ted receives a notice in the mail: "We're sorry, Ted, but you don't drive to work, so you don't qualify for the rebate."

Ted is outraged. "Don't drive to work, eh? What do they mean? Why are they discriminating against me simply because I ride my bike? Riding my bike is a good thing! I should be allowed to get that rebate!" Ted contacts his attorney. "They are depriving me of my right to a tax rebate. They are basing it on the traditional understanding of the term, 'drive'. It's wrong!" Ted's attorney is sympathetic. He goes to bat for Ted with the IRS.

"My client deserves the tax rebate. Your arbitrary use of the term 'drive' is bounded by unnecessary restrictions. Besides, Ted deserves the rebate. He pays taxes. He goes to work. He is a good citizen. The only reason he is being excluded from the rebate is unfair prejudice against bike riders."

The government disagrees. "The purpose of the tax rebate is to offset the cost of gasoline."

Not to be silenced, the attorney fires back. "Ted buys gas. He has a lawn mower. His wife has a car. He can buy gas whenever you want. You see, it's not about buying gas. Clearly it's an unfair, unfounded prejudice against bike riders based on an unclear, unsupportable definition of a single term, 'drive'. Besides, how Ted gets to work is none of your business. The Constitution considers Ted a citizen. As such, he is protected from a violation of his right to privacy as well as a rebate check."

Ted and his attorney would not be dissuaded. The government pointed out laws dealing with driving and showed how they differ from biking. They pointed out that it wasn't a matter of morality or prejudice, but simple definition of the term. They took it to the people who voted against Ted and his people. But to no avail.

Well, to make a long fable short, the California Supreme Court shot down the government's case. Sure, it was based on the longstanding and traditional definition of "drive", but times change and Ted should not be prevented from having the same legal standing as other drivers ... even if he didn't drive ...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another Blog

I don't normally post twice in a day, and I don't often reference other blogs, but I thought this one was priceless. You have to read this

The Courts and Marriage

I'm sure you've all heard by now that the California Supreme Court has struck down the California law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. I doubt that many of you (us) have read the finding. (It's 172 pages long.) A brief examination of the document, however, is worth the effort. Here's the basic summary of the finding of the 4 who voted to overturn the law: The right to marriage is protected by the Constitution. No one should be prevented from engaging in the tradition of marriage.

That's basically it. They needed 172 pages, of course, because this is a big one. I found it interesting that 2 of the 3 dissenters to the majority opinion actually wanted to vote for it but believed they could not. Why? Well, their personal feelings were that they thought homosexuals should be allowed to be married, but their legal requirements were to find what the law says, and the law says nothing of the kind. One of these dissenters, Justice Carol Corrigan, wrote about the fact that it is not the job of the Supreme Court to pass laws, but to examine their validity. This ruling, she was sure, was a violation of that job. In other words, a Supreme Court Justice in California accused the court of judicial legislation -- making laws. And why did they insist on 30 days? Californians are set to vote on a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage. Couldn't they wait? Seems like an agenda to me.

All sides were careful to point out that this shouldn't lead to polygamy or incestuous marriages, but they were completely devoid of offering any reason why. Their only reason was that it's not likely that people would begin to feel that polygamy was acceptable. Why? Wouldn't the same thing have been said 20 years ago about allowing marriage of homosexuals?

I did find myself torn and confused. The basic position they held was two fold: 1) The Constitution protects the right of marriage, and 2) No one should be prevented from engaging in the tradition of marriage. My confusion came from the first one. I've read the U.S. Constitution and, for the life of me, I couldn't find anything protecting the right of marriage. I admit I haven't read the California Constitution, but I seriously doubt you'll find anything in that one about the right of marriage. So ... on what do they base the premise? I was torn on the second point. On one hand -- and let me say this with emphasis -- I agree that no one should be prevented from engaging in the tradition of marriage. I agree 100%. So, why was I torn? Well, the opinion itself defines "the tradition of marriage" with these words: "the long-standing and traditional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman." Now, if the basis is "the tradition of marriage" and that tradition is defined as "between a man and a woman," then where exactly do we fit in "a man and a man" or "a woman and a woman"? Putting it another way, it is hardly possible to think of a wedding ceremony that doesn't end with, "I now pronounce you husband and wife." It's tradition. So how does that work when there are two husbands or two wives? It doesn't! It doesn't fit the "tradition of marriage." And I repeat now for emphasis, that was the phrase that the majority opinion used.

We Christians tend to make this an argument of biblical proportions, so to speak. "God doesn't like it; we shouldn't allow it." Fine. I agree that God doesn't like it. But that doesn't hold much water with the rest of the folks who couldn't much care what God likes or dislikes. So, Christians, is that all you got? How about this? Society must regulate the things that affect society and ought not regulate the things that do not. So, I think we can all agree that murder, for instance, is bad for society. Theft is bad for society. Putting unqualified drivers on the road is bad for society. So we regulate these things. On the other hand, whether or not you have a nice vacation, for instance, doesn't actually impact society, so that kind of thing isn't regulated. They don't tell you to go to church or not. They don't tell you what to eat. There are a lot of things that are not regulated because they either do not benefit society nor do they harm society. So we come to marriage. Marriage has traditionally been regulated by society. Why? Because marriage provides an actual benefit to society. It provides, in fact, a perpetuation of society. So marriage is regulated and its negative side, divorce, is regulated. Now I ask you, knowing that "the tradition of marriage" (one man and one woman forming a family) benefits society, of what benefit is it to legally modify the "the long-standing and traditional definition of marriage"? A married man and woman provide offspring and a stable environment in which to raise them. It's a self-perpetuating system that keeps society alive. What is the benefit to society that is derived from allowing this change in definition to include homosexuals?

I object on moral grounds, of course, but my moral grounds don't offer a basis for everyone. I object on biblical grounds, obviously, but my biblical view doesn't offer a basis for everyone. When the court, however, holds that the tradition of marriage is "between one man and one woman" and argues that everyone should be allowed to engage in that tradition, I don't need my moral or religious grounds to object. I simply recognize that ... that makes no sense at all.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dying is Gain?

As I mentioned before, I recently had a "brush with death." Perhaps it wasn't a brush. Maybe it was a distant glance. Who knows? I was interested, however, in the thinking processes that preceded my decision to go to the ER. The first thing I thought of was the realization that if I actually had a blood clot, it could kill me. Death from a pulmonary embolism -- the possible result of a runaway blood clot -- is usually quick ... within a few hours. That's not bad. And I thought, "I could go home!!" Yes, I thought that with excitement. Of course, immediately after that little shot of elation came reality. My son was graduating from college in a week and getting married the following month. My daughter is expecting our third grandchild in the next 6 months. It would be inconvenient for family and friends if I were to die just then. No, in the interest of everyone else, it would be best if I had this thing looked at. That was the thinking process.

Years ago I was explaining this type of thinking process to a friend at work during a break. A female coworker overheard me and was shocked. "Is life so horrible for you that you want to die?" she asked incredulously. I tried to explain it to her.

"You live in a nice part of town in a decent home, a good husband, good children, a reasonable lifestyle with what you need and most of what you want. Are you happy with that?" She assured me she was. "Imagine, then, that someone comes up to you with a proposition. 'Good news,' he says, 'you're the winner of our grand prize. We have set aside 3 acres of prime property overlooking the ocean. We will build for you the house that you would like. When it is finished, we will pay for all new furnishings and decorations to the house -- whatever you want. We will pay for all landscaping to your taste. We will provide a monthly payment for a maid and a gardner. We will also give you two new cars -- whatever you choose. All of this is free of charge to you. You're our grand prize winner. Congratulations!' Now," I asked her, "would you accept his offer and move or would you turn it down?"

"Oh," she said excitedly, "I'd take it in a heartbeat."

"Why?" I asked. "Is life where you are so horrible?"

No, it's not that life is so horrible. It's that the option is so grand. I've heard people say, "I'm ready to die," but what they invariably express is that life is too tough. That's not what I was thinking when I was contemplating the ER. That's not what Paul was thinking in his letter to the Philippians. In that letter, he was confident that he would be released from prison. He didn't know if it would be by judicial release or by death ... but he didn't care. He said, "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). He meant exactly what I was thinking when I debated going to the ER. "I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account" (Phil. 1:23-24).

It's often difficult to express this to people. Death is the end. It is one of the biggest fears of most people. Some of us, on the other hand, don't fear it at all. (It's dying that scares me, not death.) We see ourselves as ambassadors from another place, visitors in people suits. "This world is not my home." It's nice here. We like it. I, in fact, am quite content with my life here. But going home ... that is something far better than I can imagine. To some of us, living is a good thing and dying is even better. I suppose that qualifies as a "win-win" situation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Evolution and Religion

It is argued that Intelligent Design must not be in the realm of Science because it is a philosophy, not a science. It cannot be tested. It cannot be verified or falsified. It's faith, not science. Now, the broad definition of "science" is "any systematic knowledge or practice" which would include ID, but I understand we're not talking about the broad definition. No, this "science" of which we speak is based on the concepts of "observable, empirical and measurable evidence." And I suppose I'm technically fine with that.

So Science stands with its hands on its hips, blocking religious ideas access to the laboratory because, after all, you can't test religion. "Theology," Science would argue, "has no place in the laboratory." So when Darwin offered up his Theory of Evolution, Science ushered it into the lab but blocked Theology from walking in behind it because these two are at odds with each other and never the twain shall meet.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that we have a false dichotomy going on here. In fact, there appears to be a couple of logical dilemmas going on here. First, the false dichotomy. It is assumed that if we can observe and measure physical events and explain how they work, it necessarily excludes Theology. The assumption is an either-or position where you can either have science or you can have religion, but not both. Why? Since God would be defined as supernatural -- that which is beyond the physical realm -- it doesn't follow that He cannot be involved in the natural. And that brings us to the next logical dilemma. If Science in general and Evolution in particular are going to necessarily exclude God from the natural, isn't that a theological assumption? It certainly isn't a scientific one because just as we cannot test to show that God is "in the machine" so to speak, neither can we test to show that He is not.

I've heard many people say that Evolution was their first step toward atheism. (This is not to suggest that "Evolutionist" = "atheist" in any way.) Even if it isn't atheism that it leads to, Evolution often tries to stand apart from God. Evolutionists need to understand that this is, by definition, a theological statement. If you're going to allow theological statements into your laboratory as the basis for your work, is it really fair to keep ID out? Now, I'm not suggesting that ID be included. I'm just suggesting that Evolutionists should keep their fingers out of the theology pie while complaining about keeping theology out of the laboratory. It looks a lot like a double standard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Language is symbolism. It translates your ideas and mental images into symbols that you and I share so that I can share in your ideas and mental images. Language simply offers shared symbols of things that you and I are both familiar with so that we can communicate. When your symbols are not familiar to me (you're speaking Chinese and I'm speaking English, for instance), even if the ideas and images would be familiar, communication fails because the symbolism doesn't connect.

So what gets in the way of communication when two people are using what appears to be the same symbolism? You are speaking English and I am speaking English but we still don't seem to be able to have a dialog. Why? Often the problem is that one or the other (or both) isn't listening. This occurs when you're distracted. Distractions can come from outside, but very often they're internal. You have said something to me that has bypassed my cognitive processes and struck me in my emotional processes. In this case, I'm not listening anymore; I'm feeling. In cases like this, the "feeler" will no longer be analyzing symbols for common meaning. Instead, he or she will likely be building up defenses or launching attacks.

One of the real difficulties with communication, however, is what I call "shorthand". We often use shorthand in our conversation because it's faster and easier. An easy example is the term "Calvinism." What is it? Well, interestingly enough, it isn't related to Calvin. It's actually connected to a dispute some time after Calvin died where some students raised 5 points of concern with the doctrine they were being taught and the Church met and decided they were wrong. "Calvinism" became those 5 points. And while lots of people believe they know what those 5 points are, in my discussions with people (both those who agree with them and those who don't), it turns out that those 5 points are poor shorthand not understood by most. So here we have layers of shorthand for very big ideas that very few people actually agree on. What I mean is that when I say, for instance, "Limited Atonement", what any variety of people will hear will vary. Anti-Calvinists hear one thing. Calvinists hear another. Within both camps there are subtle and even broad variations. And when a person who identifies themself as "Calvinist" but understand the term "Limited Atonement" much differently than another "Calvinist", it doesn't matter. You see, the anti-Calvinist will say, "I heard it from a Calvinist and he said ..." and the error is propagated, so to speak. Now we've gone from a variation in the understanding of the symbol, "Limited Atonement", to a completely different comprehension of the broader symbol, "Calvinism." And communication has broken down. What seems like a simple term, "Calvinism", has now become a complete breach of communication. What I mean by the term and what you mean by the term may not even be similar, but we're both using the term and we both think that this shorthand symbol means the same thing. So now we're back to the "not listening" problem, where you are attacking my biblical view and I am attacking yours not because we properly understand each other and are disagreeing, but because we don't understand each other and cannot begin to address whatever disagreement we might have.

Unfortunately I don't have an easy alternative. We use this shorthand all the time. It's a given part of normal use of language. "Guys" may mean "males" or it may refer to a group of people, regardless of gender. If you decided, "I'm not using shorthand anymore," you'd have to address that particular group differently: "Hello, group of people comprised of both male and female with whom I have what I consider to be a congenial relationship." Now that would become cumbersome really fast. Imagine if I had to explain my theology every time rather than "Reformed"! It seems that the fix isn't to stop using shorthand. I would suggest that the fix would be to attempt to listen, to understand, to question, to give the benefit of the doubt, to extend charity in all cases. At least, it seems to me that would be a reasonable approach.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Death by Definition

The argument rages on. Arizona is considering a constitutional amendment to preclude gay marriage. And it's not just Arizona. Of course, the homosexual community is against it (go figure), and everyone is quite sure that it's wrong. You see, it makes no sense to prevent homosexuals from getting married. Why would you do that? It's not right!

More and more it's mostly the Christians who are making the argument. The truth, however, is that most of the Christians have lost the argument before it starts. The argument died ... by definition. What do I mean by that? I mean that we have accepted definitions to terminology that are not in line with our original (read "orthodox") beliefs. The new definitions remove the ground on which to stand. And the argument is murdered by definition.

Consider the main points. First, define marriage. You'll find a lot of definitions in the dictionary. It is first and foremost "the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc." Okay, seems clear enough ... "man and woman," "husband and wife." It seems clear at the outset that "man and man" or "woman and woman" are precluded not on legal or moral grounds, but simply by definition. But wait! It moves from there. It can also be "any close or intimate association or union." I particularly liked this one: "Two people who are married to each other." Okay, now we're slipping. The definition is moving. But don't depend on the dictionaries. Ask around. What is marriage? It is, in the minds of most Americans, when two people love each other and decide to commit themselves to each other (for life or at least until they stop loving each other). That's marriage. It may include a ceremony; it may not. It may be recognized by legal authority; it may not. And it is never right that it would not involve love. An arranged "marriage", for instance, is morally offensive to most Americans (Christians included).

Second, then, we need to define love, since it appears to be integral to marriage. Love would be "a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person." Yeah, that sounds about right. It would be "a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection." We've even allowed it to be "sexual passion or desire" and spiral all the way down to the sex act itself. ("We made love" is simply a euphemism for "we had sex.")

I suppose, then, we have our definition. Marriage is defined as two people who share a profound passion for one another and commit to each other (often to legitimize the sex they're already doing). Whew! Got that settled! I think we're all in agreement here, right? Okay, now ... what was the question? Oh, yeah! Why should Christians object to homosexuals getting married? Let's see here. Do we argue that homosexuals don't love each other? No, that would be stupid. Do we argue that homosexuals are not two people? No, don't be ridiculous. Do we argue that they cannot commit to one another? No, that doesn't work either. Okay ... now we're stuck. We can only say, "Homosexual ... bad!" Not much of an argument, is it? And we've managed to kill the argument by definition.

The truth is we lost this argument a long time ago. We lost this argument when we willingly tossed the actual definition of marriage for a societal definition. We started giving it up back in the 19th century when the "higher critics" appeared and assured us that the Bible couldn't be fully trusted. Evangelicals fought that off, but not without leaving a bad taste in the mouths of most people. It wasn't quite acceptable anymore to define marriage with the Bible. What was the biblical definition? The biblical definition of marriage was two-fold: 1) A man and a woman leave their families to form a new family through a spiritual union that is for life (Gen. 2:24), and 2) the primary purpose of such a union is to "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). The fact that "love" is expected and commanded is a given, but not part of the original definition. (You have to admit; Adam certainly had an arranged marriage.) Biblical morality in the area of sex is invariably that sex is allowed only in marriage and primarily for procreation. That it is pleasant is a bonus, not an aim. So the Bible was thrown out in defining marriage, but most people understood that marriage was the union of a male and a female and one of the primary purposes of this union was procreation. Enter the 20th century. Society shifted its mores. Children, originally a blessing, became a nice thing, then a not so nice but necessary thing, and finally a burden. Sex shifted from a marital issue to a "love" issue to a recreational pastime. Contraception became a given. Only a fool would have sex without the option of contraception. Marriage shifted from a union of a man and woman for procreation to a union of man and woman because they love each other to a union of two people because they love each other. Hey, why do we need this union? And love, of course, went from a biblical command about a way to treat other people to a warm feeling.

It seems to me that we are long past trying to argue that homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to marry. Why aren't they forbidden to marry in Scripture? That's because Scripture defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation. For two people of the same gender to join in something they call "marriage" would be a radical redefinition of the term. But, then, we've allowed the radical redefinition already. Now where do we stand? Unless you're going to stand on a biblical definition (with the ramifications that go with that), you're going to have a tough time with this one. Marriage is dead. Long live marriage.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

To my mom who exceeds my ability to describe or extol, my fine example of godliness and my true friend ... may you have a wonderful day.

Wrong Worship

Did you know that it is possible to worship God wrong? For many people that seems like an odd thought. I suspect that comes from the idea that God doesn't really care how we worship as long as we do. But the Bible isn't unclear. It offers examples that we should avoid.

Look at King Saul. He was told to completely destroy the Amalekites. Instead, he kept "the best of the sheep and the cattle to sacrifice to the Lord" (1 Sam. 15:15). Bad choice, Saul. It cost him his kingship. What, instead, did God prefer? "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). It's interesting because the concept of the sacrifice as part of worship was God's idea. Still we read "'What to Me is the multitude of your sacrifices?' says the LORD; 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats'" (Isa. 1:11). What, then, was God asking for? "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6).

It is entirely possible for Christians to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. It is entirely possible, in fact, for us to do what we consider "worship" and end up insulting God. What does God want? He wants our steadfast love. He wants us to know Him. He wants obedience. He wants us to listen. This is the worship He wants. What worship will you offer Him today?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

St. John the Calvinist

Hat tip to my college-graduate son who sent me a preliminary paper for his class on the Gospel of John. He had this idea, and I thought it was worth pursuing. If I include anything that was on the paper, son, it is either because the point is so pertinent that it was unavoidable or I simply forgot it came from there.

You've all heard of John the Baptist. I'm quite sure you've never heard of Saint John the Reformed. Truly, it would be nonsensical. The object of the Reformation was not to make the Church better, but to return it to a biblical condition, and since John was writing the Bible, he, by definition, couldn't be Reformed. And, of course, since Calvin didn't come along for another 1500 years or so and Calvinism itself didn't really come about for another hundred years or so, it wouldn't quite be right to refer to him as "John the Calvinist." That being said, I'd still like to introduce you to Saint John the Reformed by demonstrating how John in his Gospel concurs with Calvinism in its "TULIP" basics.

Total Depravity holds that humans beings are sinful at their core. They are incapable by nature of coming to God. While most people today believe in the intrinsic goodness of the human being, Total Depravity holds to the intrinsic evil of the human nature. In the Gospel of John we read this: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him" (John 1:10). This speaks of a core problem. If it was so that a few didn't know Him, you could chalk it up to a problem of the few. John says it was a world-wide problem. Worse, John goes on to say, "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him" (John 1:11). You may wish to excuse the world; they didn't know, right? However, His own people had been given centuries of notification that He was coming ... and they missed it. This is a problem of humans being sinful at the core. In Matthew Jesus said, "I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Of these scribes and Pharisees, the minimum standard of righteousness that Jesus held for all people, Jesus said in John's Gospel:
If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of My own accord, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God" (John 8:42-47).
What, then, is John saying about the nature of the most righteous people in the nation? They are liars and not of God. And John 6:65 may not sound like an argument for Total Depravity, but look at it anyway. Jesus was explaining why it was that some of His disciples didn't believe in Him. He said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father." What does this have to do with Man's core problem of sin? It's in the basic phrase, "No one can." Jesus makes the same claim in verse 44 of the same chapter. No one can. Human beings, on their own, lack the ability to either believe or to come to Him. That, dear reader, is Total Depravity.

Unconditional Election is the premise that God chooses whom He will save without that choice being conditioned on something of merit in the one being chosen. It is an echo of Paul's "lest any man should boast." It says that I have nothing to offer God to incline Him to choose me ... and neither does anyone else. He chooses without condition of the Elect. What does John say? First, John has one of the clearest statements on Election that you'll find anywhere in Scripture. Jesus told His disciples, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you" (John 15:16). Who chooses whom? Jesus is not unclear. "Oh," the other side objects, "but God chooses whom He chooses based on the fact that He knows in advance they will choose Him." It sounds nice, I'm sure, but John, again, objects. "To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Our birth into the family of God is not a product of our blood line ("not of blood"), our godly living ("not of the will of the flesh"), and not our right choices ("not of will of man"). (See also where Paul emphasizes the same fact in Rom. 9:16.) We become one of the Chosen Ones, the Elect, on the basis of God's choice alone. We don't choose Him; He chooses us. That, dear reader, is Unconditional Election.

Limited Atonement is one of the most disliked, most misunderstood concepts in the list of five. Most people think it refers to shortcomings in Christ's sacrifice. They think it is saying that Christ's atonement was only sufficient for the Elect. That is not the point, unfortunate name aside. Instead, the question that is being asked and answered in this doctrine is this: When Christ chose to die on the cross, what was His intent? Was it His intent to save everyone, or was it His intent to save the Elect? Was it His aim to provide forgiveness for all and He failed, or was it His aim to provide atonement for the Elect and He succeeded? John's Gospel, in fact, is one of the most common places to find the claim that Christ died with the Elect in mind. You'll find it in two specific places. In John 10:14-15 we read, "I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for My sheep." Notice that He doesn't say He lays down His life for everyone. He reiterates this concept in His High Priestly prayer in John 17. Here He prays for His disciples:
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours (John 17:9).
Jesus doesn't pull any punches here. He excludes the world explicitly from His prayer. He prays only for His disciples and "for those who will believe in Me through their word" (John 17:20). All believers, then, are in mind and those who will not believe are not. This is the intention of Limited Atonement.

Irresistible Grace argues that when that moment comes, the Holy Spirit is able to save a person despite their own possible resistance. It does not hold that the Spirit cannot be resisted. It is the claim that God is capable of saving anyone He chooses despite their objections. Does John comment on this? I think so. "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). Note that there is no question. There is no suspense. Will the Chosen come to Christ? There is no doubt. They will come. Jesus says, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice" (John 10:16). John 6:44 says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." Again, there is no question. Those who are drawn by the Father will be raised up on the last day. Of course, "come to Me" is certain as implied in the middle. Clearly, then, those who are His sheep will be drawn to Him regardless of the objections or resistance they might have. That goes to irresistibility. Just like Lazarus, the physically dead man, all of the Elect, though spiritually dead, when called by God, will come forth (John 11:43).

The Perseverance of the Saints is perhaps the most misunderstood and maligned by both those who disagree and those who think they are agreeing. The doctrine is sometimes called "Eternal Security". Sometimes it is incorrectly connected with "Once Saved, Always Saved" (OSAS), which isn't exactly the same thing. The two share the position that a spiritually dead person ("T") who has been chosen by God according to God's purposes ("U"), paid for by Christ's death and resurrection ("L"), and certainly called from death to life ("I") will absolutely remain one of the Elect and end up in heaven. The difference between OSAS and the Perseverance doctrine is that the latter includes the certainty that God's work of bringing a person to life will result in a fruitful Christian. John agrees. One of the most quoted proofs for Eternal Security is John 10:28-29.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
John, quoting Jesus, gives very little wiggle room. Those who belong to Him are given eternal life. If that life is eternal, in what sense can it stop? You have to ask the same thing with John 3:36 and 5:24. But that's the easiest question. He defines "eternal life" as "never perish" and says, not once but twice, "No one will snatch them out." Now, you can squirm all you want, but unless you are willing to qualify yourself as "no one", you have to admit that not even you can snatch you out of His hand. Jesus makes the same point earlier in one of the passages we've already peeked at.
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day (John 6:37-39).
We saw this for Irresistible Grace, but Jesus also claims "I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me." Either He was mistaken and He would lose some of those whom the Father has given Him, or the outcome is certain and not one will be lost.

Now, the fundamental difference between OSAS and Perseverance of the Saints is the question of fruit. John addresses this in a couple of places. In John 14:15 Jesus says, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." In John 15 there is the famous "Vine and the branches" metaphor. Those changed by God cannot help but produce fruit. (The entire epistle of 1 John is about that topic.) We already saw in John 15:16, "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." The Elect are chosen for fruit, and that fruit abides. Thus, Perseverance of the Saints, the idea that those whom God has saved will certainly be enabled by God to remain in Christ until the end, is an idea you'll find throughout the Gospel of John.

It's questionable to pull an idea out of a single passage. I've pulled several ideas out of a single book. It doesn't take much effort, in fact, to find these concepts all over Scripture. I am convinced that John the Beloved, had he been around during the Reformation, would have concurred with these points that today form what is referred to as "Calvinism." You may not be convinced, but I would hope that you can surely see that the accusation that "Calvinism is not found in the Bible" is not an accurate objection. At least, it appears that John didn't think so.