Pentecostal Outpourings…the Reformed Way

pentecostal_outpourings_cover_courtesy_publisher_croppedSmart, Robert Davis, Michael A. G. Haykin, and Ian High Clary, editors. Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2016. Paperback, 260 + xii pages. ISBN 978-1-6018-433-9.

This is an excellent and edifying book. An effective combination of sound research, sustained scholarly reflection, solid Reformed theology, and strong pastoral focus on an all-of-life Christian piety that goes far beyond assent to correct doctrines, Pentecostal Outpourings: Revival and the Reformed Tradition merits high recommendation, deserves a broad readership, and is difficult to criticize. It could perhaps be improved by the addition of subject and Scripture indexes, since it lacks these standard supplements. Beyond that, though, there’s nothing in the book I would complain about or wish to change.

Since I cannot criticize, I’ll just just give you an ideas of the contents and look at a couple highlights.

The first and final pieces of writing in the book make clear that doctrinally sound studies of revival, such as one finds in Pentecostal Outpourings, are greatly needed in the church. It follows from this that believers making up that church are well justified giving their time and attention to this book. The Foreword, by Steven J. Lawson, of OnePassion and Ligonier Ministries, and The Master’s Seminary, well fulfills the usual function of a foreword, giving readers good reason to read the rest of the book. Revival, relates Lawson, is a “powerful work of the Holy Spirit” effecting “new awareness of the holiness of God” and bringing about “the conviction of sin” and “heartrending repentance”; or, as he says a bit later, it is “a season of vibrant renewal that comes to the church during a time of spiritual declension” (vii). No observer of contemporary Christianity should doubt that “a time of spiritual declension” is upon us. Nor, given this, should any doubt that revival is greatly needed. All should grant, then, that scholarly works on past revivals, specifically revivals that have not compromised Reformed doctrine, merit Reformed believers’ review and reflection.

As no observer of Christianity should doubt the present need for revival, so no such observer should fail to lament that doctrinally sound Reformed people—in response to revivalism-inspired excesses of Pentecostals, charismatics, and a dominantly-Arminian evangelical mainstream—have abandoned much of the revival-friendly language and behavior (such as praying for revival) that their equally sound forebears embraced and promoted. This is a reality specially emphasized at the end of the book, in editor Robert Davis Smart’s “A Concluding Word—A Call to Seek God for Revival Today.” (Smart is a pastor in Bloomington, Illinois). In combination, these first and final items make clear that Pentecostal Outpourings is not a collection of safe-to-ignore, practically irrelevant scholarly speculations on historical minutiae, but is instead a highly practical mining of church history for instructive evidence of God’s sovereign work of revival among his people. (The Introduction, also by Smart, in addition to the expected introductory overview of what is to come, adds to one’s sense of book’s importance and to one’s motivation to continue reading.)

As a collection of works by various authors, Pentecostal Outpourings varies in style and specific interest from one chapter to the next. Still, certain themes recur throughout. Rather than attempt a chapter-by-chapter summary, I’ll focus on two of these.

First, though, a listing of the book’s contents. The book has two parts: Part 1, “Revival in the British Isles,” comprises chapters 1 through 4; Part 2, “Revival in America,” comprises chapters 5 through 8. The Part 1 chapters are these: Chapter 1, by contributor Eifion Evans, a retired Presbyterian minister who served in Wales and Northern Ireland, is titled “‘The Power of Heaven in the Word of Life’: Welsh Calvinistic Methodism and Revival”; Chapter 2, by editor Ian Hugh Clary, fellow of Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies (at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky) and lecturer at other institutions, is titled “‘Melting the Ice of a Long Winter’: Revival and Irish Dissent”; Chapter 3, by editor Michael A. G. Haykin, director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and professor at its host seminary, is titled “‘The Lord Is Doing Great Things, and Answering Prayer Everywhere’: The Revival of the Calvinistic Baptists in the Long Eighteenth Century”; and Chapter 4, by contributor Iain D. Campbell, of Point Free Church of Scotland (Isle of Lewis), is titled “Revival: A Scottish Presbyterian Perspective.” The Part 2 chapters are these: Chapter 5, by Smart, is titled “Edwards’s Revival Instinct and Apologetic in American Presbyterianism: Planted, Grown, and Faded”; Chapter 6, by contributor Peter Beck, of Charleston Southern University and Doorway Baptist Church (North Charleston, South Carolina), is titled “‘The Glorious Work of God’: Revival among Congregationalists in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”; Chapter 7, by contributor Tom J. Nettles, retired from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is titled “Baptist Revivals in America in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”; and Chapter 8, by contributor Joel R. Beeke, of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, is titled “Revival and the Dutch Reformed Church in Eighteenth-Century America.” After Smart’s conclusion, the book contains some basic information on the editors and contributors (259-60).

As can be seen from this listing, Pentecostal Outpourings makes a point of surveying revival history in each main branch of the Reformed faith in Britain and America, from Calvinistic Methodists (not to be confused with the Wesleys’ Arminian Methodists), to Presbyterians and Congregationalists, to Particular Baptists. One also can see from the chapter titles, and would expect given how many of the authors are affiliated with universities or seminaries, that these are not fluffy chapters good only for light devotional reading, but sound scholarly works of English and American church history. Given their subject matter, the chapters are also, it should be noted, a treasury of references to edifying and instructive works now in the public domain. (The Internet Archive is your friend.)

As noted, certain themes recur throughout Pentecostal Revivals. I’ll look at just a couple. One such theme is the need to embrace revival without losing doctrinal purity. Revival is a sovereign work of God, not (contrary to Charles Finney’s revivalism) something humans can engineer, and true revival neither requires nor is benefited by doctrinal compromise. Though this theme is prominent throughout the text, as it should be, the treatment of it that stands out most in my mind is Beck’s Chapter 6 discussion of a lesser-known Second Great Awakening preacher, Asahel Nettleton (182-92). If you’ve spent any time around Reformed people, of whatever denomination, you’ll know that, though they might see much good in the First Great Awakening, they don’t so often have good things to say about the Second. This was, after all, the revival brought to us by Charles Finney and his human-centered, free-will, emotion-manipulating revivalism. No, thank you! If that’s revival, we’ll have none of it.

Turns out, though, that there was some real revival, some God-driven, soundly Reformed, non-revivalist revival going on at the same time. Beck characterizes the reason for contemporary ignorance of Nettleton’s Finney-opposing revival ministry this way: “Unfortunately, most historians limit his role in the Second Great Awakening to his opposition to the more famous revivalist of his day, Charles Finney….Such selective memory overlooks that Nettleton’s contemporaries admired him for the power of his preaching ministry and his mind” (183). Later, discussing their differing treatments of the doctrine of human sinfulness and original sin, Beck characterizes the contrast between Nettleton and now-better-known Second Great Awakening figures as follows: “While Nathaniel Taylor…and Charles Finney watered down this key tenet of the Reformed faith, Nettleton remained firmly convinced of its veracity and the crucial role it plays in one’s theology of revival and man’s response to it” (187). As in the First Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards had insisted on doctrinal purity and offered principles for distinguishing between the true and false in alleged movements of God’s Spirit (principles drawn upon throughout Pentecostal Outpourings), so Nettleton insisted on doctrinal purity and distinction of true from false in the Second Great Awakening. And the evidence is that this paid off: Beck relates that the work God performed through Nettleton’s ministry “produced…lasting results” (191), whereas the work Finney performed got mixed results of short duration (191).

Another prominent theme is the central role of prayer in bringing about revival. Though revival, as is emphasized throughout Pentecostal Outpourings, is a sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit, God seems to have ordained that this work should be effected through the prayers of his people, much as he has ordained that his people’s sharing of the gospel should be his means of effecting conversion. Haykin’s Chapter 3 treatment of revival among English Calvinistic Baptists might take on this theme most directly. (It also does a good job discussing “the theological position known as High Calvinism, sometimes called hyper-Calvinism” [68], siding with those who opposed and corrected this error without maligning those who, attempting to best honor God’s absolute sovereignty, adopted it.) Discussing a 1784 call to pray for revival proposed by John Sutcliff (91), Haykin notes that the biblical justification offered by those issuing the call was Ezekiel 36:37, then offers this observation: “At first glance this passage from Ezekiel hardly seems the best text to support the prayer call. Yet…it reflects a biblical principle: when God intends to do a great work He stirs up His people to pray for the thing He intends to do. Preceding times of revival and striking extensions of Christ’s kingdom, the concerted and constant prayers of Christians invariably occur” (93).

Obviously, my basic listing of contents and brief look at examples of two prominent and recurrent themes cannot do justice to the richness of Pentecostal Outpourings. But it should help you decide if you care to read the book yourself. (In case it matters, I’ll note in passing that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

For my part, I found this book very worthwhile reading. I have to admit, I’ve always identified most with the more grim biblical characters, such as the mournful Jeremiah destined to prophesy bad news, or the bravely fatalistic Thomas (John 11:16) who just couldn’t believe good news when he heard it (John 20:24-5). Surveying the current state of Christianity in America, and I don’t mean just the decisions I see Christians making this election year, I tend to think that God has decided to withdraw his influence and protection from the American nation and its professing Christians, that if spiritual awakening and the advance of God’s church are going to happen, they’ll happen elsewhere (in Africa or China, perhaps). But Pentecostal Outpourings gives me hope, since, as one discovers in this excellent survey of past revivals, significant spiritual decline typically does precede God-wrought revivals. We have the decline. Will revival follow?

Speaking on behalf of all the volume’s editors and contributors, and on behalf of supportive Reformed leaders more generally, Smart calls upon readers “to join us in seeking God for revival today” (256). This is a call we would do well to accept. And this is a book you would do well to read.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

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Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) posted a comment on someone else’s IVN article, as well as a related one on his own. Bottom line: old closed primary was better than California’s current top-two system, and David wants a “none of the above” option. Comment 1. Comment 2.

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Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) posted a comment to Reddit’s DebateReligion subreddit arguing that faith is not based on experience, evidence, or arguments, but that, rather, trust in the faculties that allow experience, evidence, and arguments depends on faith. To read it, follow this link.

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Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) posted responses to some comments on his IVN article: response one, response two, response three, response four.

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Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) has published “Achieving True Voter Enfranchisement” on the Independent Voter Project’s IVN.

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Constitution or Libertarian Party: Which for the Pious?

Reign_of_the_Superman_public_domain_modified_byDavidMHodgesfor_piouseyedotcomI should note upfront that I am not an official representative of the Constitution Party. Nor have I run my ideas by any official representatives of that party. My reasons for preferring this party over the Libertarian Party are entirely my own. Partisans of either party who find my perspective inaccurate or unfair may certainly feel free to correct me—provided they can do so in a civil, constructive fashion, of course.

That said….Those who follow my Twitter tweets (to put this another way: Hi, Mom) know that I long ago ruled out voting for Donald Trump, and that I have, since the exit of Trump’s last opponent from the Republican Party’s presidential-nomination race, decided I cannot in good conscience remain registered with the party of Trump. These tweet-followers will also know that I’ve chosen to endorse the Constitution Party, a party that has not yet qualified to be placed on ballots in my state (California). Why this party rather than the ballot-qualified Libertarian Party? (In case anyone wonders why I chose not to register with my state’s ballot-qualified American Independent Party, I note that this party’s historical association with George Wallace makes it impossible for me to join. Though the party today is not what it was in the days of George Wallace, and though the party more recently chose Alan Keyes[1] as its candidate, its retention of the name that George Wallace made infamous just doesn’t work for me. Were it to re-ally with the Constitution Party and adopt the latter’s name, I’d be much more open.)

A lot of people (plain old American citizens, not pundits) discussing the 2016 election online seem not to see the Constitutional and Libertarian parties and their candidates as sufficiently different to merit choosing one over the other. Based on this perception, most of them decide to support the Libertarian Party since, after all, it is the third-largest political party in the United States. I, alas, can’t go along with this.

Both the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party say they believe in natural rights. That is, both parties hold that individuals have their rights by nature, in virtue of being human and so possessing human natures (as dogs possess dog natures and rocks possess rock natures). Libertarians, however, want to ground natural rights in a you-own-yourself philosophy that is neutral as to God’s existence and, should he exist, to his nature. (Though this neutral philosophy would allow for God, if God exists, to be a “she” or an “it,” I choose to retain the traditional use of “he” as both the specifically masculine third-person singular and as the third-person-singular generic. I reject both the painful-to-read “he or she” and the illogical “a person should watch their language,” as well as all variations on their shared theme. I realize this approach is not politically correct or “gender sensitive,” but that’s not the only reason I choose not to follow the sheep…er, I mean the masses, in this case. Style and sense are also factors.) One can embrace the Libertarian Party as an atheist and feel perfectly at home.

I, in contrast, I believe in agreement with the Constitution Party, see the origin of individual rights in “Nature [as God designed it] and…Nature’s God” (Declaration of Independence) as key. God-designed nature is the ground and guide to individual human rights. One cannot, therefore, have a “right” to something that is against God and nature. For instance, since God’s design of nature allows a one-flesh procreative bond only between opposite-sex members of any species, homosexual “marriage” is a nonsense concept and cannot be something one has a right to. The Libertarian Party, in contrast, has long supported legal “gay marriage,” as I saw confirmed in a debate not too long ago between leading candidates for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. As I could never in good conscience associate myself with the Libertarian Party’s stance on this issue, I must choose the Constitution Party.

Because I hold, in a way I believe compatible with the Constitution Party, that rights are given to human individuals by God, specifically by the God revealed in Scripture, I also must reject the Libertarian Party’s position that “you own yourself.” (The “you own yourself” wording, which candidate John McAffee much emphasized in the not-too-long-ago debate I’ve already mentioned, appears as “self-ownership” in the heading of plank 1.1 in the party’s platform [accessed 18 May 2106]. This plank begins by noting that “Individuals own their bodies.” That the title and wording here might be construed to mean that one’s “self” is solely and completely one’s body, that materialism or physicalism is true, is an issue I won’t get into.) As creator of individuals and granter to them of rights, God owns all human individuals; they do not own themselves. The Libertarian Party’s position that individuals own themselves inevitably implies that they have a right, should they wish, to destroy themselves, since of course one has a right to dispose of one’s own property. (Hence, “A resounding 86 percent of Libertarian voters support medical aid in dying as an end-of-life option.” [Compassion and Choices, “Libertarians Overwhelmingly Support Medical Aid in Dying,” no date but cites a 2016 source, accessed 18 May 2016.) Based on Libertarian Party principles, voluntary suicide must be a right and should be legal, just as every wantonly self-destructive activity (not just high-risk activity pursued for some real or perceived benefit, but self-damaging activities with no potential upside) should be legal: You own yourself and can do with yourself what you like.

The God-owns-you perspective that I embrace has very different implications: God owns you and has made you his steward of yourself, granting you very broad sovereignty over yourself, permitting you to exercise your individual judgment in pursuit of those ends you judge best. You are free to do as you please in life, though you will have to answer for your choices to your owner at life’s end. Your are not, however, free to end your own life. You are free to risk your life for some benefit you consider worth the risk, but suicide is not a right and should not, must not be made legal. Here, then, is another point of contrast making me unable to join the Libertarian Party and requiring me to choose the Constitution Party instead.

To me, the idea that one can ground belief in natural rights in an atheistic or agnostic perspective is wishful nonsense. As the maybe-too-often quoted words of a Dostoevsky character (translated and perhaps paraphrased) put it, “if there is no God, then all things are permitted,” since, of course, there exists no being with the authority to tell anyone what is or isn’t permitted. And “all things” means all things, including imposition of one’s will upon another by force, whether the directly physical kind or the kind one uses government to effect. Murder, rape, slavery, you name it: if stronger parties want to make these things realities at the expense of weaker parties, there’s no higher authority to overrule them. That the weaker parties find these things atrocious or repulsive is irrelevant. There being no God, there can be no God-given rights; there being no God-given rights, there can be no rights at all; there being no rights at all, anything goes: if it feels good to you personally, and you have the power to make it happen, make it happen. You have no one to answer to; when you die you’re just gone; and no one is ever going to make you pay. Be the Übermensch you’ve always known you were meant to be!

To put this another way, any assertion of individual rights on atheistic or agnostic (“neutral”) grounds, any claim that “individual rights” or “human rights” is a meaningful concept without affirmation of God’s (the real, biblical, Judeo-Christian[2] God’s) existence, deserves neither consideration nor respect. The Libertarian Party is deluded and cannot be supported. Vote Constitution Party.

Notes

[1] When I did a Google search on “Alan Keyes,” I discovered that the welcome page for his Loyal to Liberty site uses the same phrase, “faithful reason,” that I chose to use as a contrast to “reasonable faith” in my review of Keathley and Rooker’s 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution. I don’t know if he means the same thing by the phrase as I do, but I’m pleased to see that a thinker of Keyes’s caliber (I once saw him demolish Alan Dershowitz, no intellectual lightweight, in a debate) has at least possibly emphasized that it is reason that must be faithful to work properly, not faith that must be reasonable (fit itself to the demands of autonomous reason) to be granted our assent. (In fairness, I doubt Dershowitz would agree with me that Keyes demolished him in this particular debate, which I must confess I don’t remember well enough to argue about. It might be in the C-SPAN Video Library, though….)

[2] I do not yet know enough about the Islamic concept of God to know if God-given rights can be based upon it. I welcome feedback on the issue from persons, Muslims or others, who know more about the concept. I tend to view the God of natural theology as the Bible’s God with his rock revelational foundation illegitimately replaced with a revelation-independent philosophical foundation of sand, but non-Jewish non-Christian theists of the past have thought otherwise, so I’ll allow for the potential coherence of belief in natural rights with natural-theology-based theism that rejects, or rejects the epistemic necessity of, the Bible.

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My Sad Farewell to the Pro-Life Movement

some_cannot_join_crowd_pious_eye_davidmhodges_2016As I began to realize a few days ago, when I spoke of the “Baffling Clash: Pro-Life Leaders v Donald J. Trump,” some of us cannot be part of movements.

As someone who believes every person’s inalienable right to life begins at conception, I’m saddened to discover I cannot be part of the pro-life movement. The insistence of this movement’s leaders on lockstep conformity to the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims position, however, has made clear both my ineligibility and the ineligibility of all who think the outlaw of abortion would require legal penalties against both sellers and buyers of the illegal service. I suppose I should thank Donald Trump, whose childlike innocence on the issue caused him to make remarks that brought down on him all the fury of the pro-life establishment (that is, all the professional activists who make their living leading the pro-life movement), and that simultaneously prompted assertions by this establishment’s representatives that “no one who is pro-life believes women should be punished for choosing abortion.” (Now, of course, Trump says the pro-life establishment’s view is his own and he just “misspoke.” If other politicians did this, Trump supporters would rightly accuse them of flip-flopping and pandering. Trump’s agents, however, have taken to the airwaves to convince everyone that all his statements are different ways of saying the same thing: #hypocrisy.)

I guess this means that, as far as the pro-life establishment is concerned, those of us unwilling to absolve women who choose abortion of all moral responsibility, even though we believe that personhood and the right to life begin at conception, don’t qualify as pro-life. I confess I can’t see how thinking that even women in difficult circumstances retain some degree of responsibility for their actions makes one less life-affirming than someone who thinks hard circumstances give women freedom to kill without guilt, provided they do so through third parties. Such, however, is the official view of the pro-life movement’s leadership, even though I can see no rational sense to it:

Now, if one believes that personhood begins at conception, and with it the inalienable right to life that entitles every person to protection under the law, which in turn requires just punishment of all who attempt to violate that right, there is simply no rational way to claim that anyone acting voluntarily and intentionally to bring about the death of an unborn person should be free from all punishment. As well, how this aborting-women-are-blameless stance fits with the pro-life statistic that most abortions currently performed are for “convenience” is worse than unclear.

So, pro-life leaders, please tell me in what possible world (in which you must believe you’re living) is voluntary hiring of a “doctor” to kill one’s unborn child rightly considered a guiltless act that should never be punished? What is the factor common to the life situations of all woman who ever choose abortion that invariably frees them of all moral responsibility? Difficult life circumstances, fear of financial ruin, fear of the need to abandon educational or career pursuits, pressure from family or a boyfriend—some of these might well incline a judge to lessen the sentence for violating a ban on abortion, but what judge or jury would consider acquittal based on any one, or on any combination, of such factors?

The only conclusion I can draw is that the pro-life movement is led by emotion-driven people whose long reliance on emotion in place of reason has made them incapable of seeing that their position is nonsense. Though I don’t doubt that the emotions involved are heart-in-the-right-place motivators to charitable action, and that they are in that sense laudable, they are a very bad guide to just lawmaking. Whatever the cause of these leaders’ stance, I cannot in good conscience support them, much though I share with them a belief in from-conception personhood and inalienable rights. (At least, I assume they share my belief in such personhood and rights. If they did not, that certainly would explain their willingness to absolve certain parties to abortion of all guilt.)

One organization I am disappointed to have to stop supporting is Care Net. This organization does such things as fund homes for unwed mothers and provide abstinence education. Its praiseworthy goal is to make choosing not to abort easier by reducing the circumstantial pressures motivating many decisions to abort. Alas, this organization has chosen to join others in condemning those of us unwilling to endorse the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims viewpoint. Though this organization was my Amazon Smile charity for some time, I’ve chosen a new charity:

I was surprised to discover that this organization had joined the women-who-abort-are-guiltless-victims chorus because its focus is not political activism but life-affirming charitable services that help reduce abortion frequency in the current legal-abortion order of things. (So long as it stuck to this and did not attempt to address the issue of lawmaking, its being emotion-driven was not a problem.) The article, “Why It’s Illogical for the Pro-Choice Movement to be Upset with Donald Trump’s Statement on Punishment for Illegal Abortions,” by Roland C. Warren and Vincent DiCaro (posted 31 March 2016, accessed 02 April 2016), claims to be addressing just the issue that has troubled me: logical consistency. The authors ask: “are both pro-lifers and pro-choicers being consistent with their own beliefs by suggesting that women who have abortions (if abortions are illegal) should not be punished”? They then promise to show “that pro-choice advocates are being inconsistent with their beliefs and pro-life advocates are being perfectly consistent with their beliefs by criticizing Trump.” Because the title calls pro-choice objections “illogical,” the article clearly means to have logical consistency in view. Since the consistency or inconsistency of those who support “abortion rights” is not my concern, I will pass over Warren and DiCaro’s treatment of that issue. All I will address here is their defense of the idea that post-ban abortion-seeking women should be excluded from legal penalty.

“For decades, even centuries,” they write, “pro-life people have argued that women are victims of abortion. Indeed…when abortion was illegal, the pro-life movement argued….that abortion providers were the perpetrators, women the victims, and therefore, punishment for illegal abortions…should be meted out to the providers alone.” If accurate, this is fascinating history, no doubt about it. Surely Warren and DiCaro know, however, that long endurance of a belief is no assurance of that belief’s logical consistency. The question is not whether people in the past have believed something someone today also believes, but whether the belief itself is rational. The following key question is not answered by this appeal to history: do women who voluntarily contract for the murder of their own children at the hands of abortionists bear no culpability whatsoever? That is what must be true if the pro-life establishment’s aborting-women-are-innocent position is to be deemed rational. But, unless women are subjected to forced abortions (as has happened in history), there seems no rational way to acquit them of all guilt in the murder of their unborn children. No matter how many people have believed them guiltless victims, and no matter how long those people have believed so, the fact that women who choose abortion are not guiltless does not change.

Warren and DiCaro admit that “the only instance in which you would not punish someone for doing something illegal is if that person did not have agency. They did not have real choice or autonomy.” Since they believe that, in a hypothetical future where abortion is illegal, no women who seek abortion should be punished, Warren and DiCaro must then also believe that no women who seek abortion have choice or autonomy. One either has choice, freedom to choose as one wishes, or one does not. How “real choice” differs from just “choice” isn’t clear, so I will simply speak of “choice,” or of “power of choice,” or of “free will.”

Like other leaders of the pro-life movement, Warren and DiCaro speak as though they express the views of all who are pro-life, characterizing pro-life opinion as uniform. They write: “Pro-lifers have always maintained that women [given their stance on non-punishment, Warren and DiCaro must here mean all women who abort] are manipulated by the multi-billion dollar abortion industry [which presumably would not exist were abortion illegal, unless as a black-market cartel] during a challenging, and often desperate, moment in their lives to have an abortion.” So far, I must admit, I’ve not heard how women who choose to seek abortion are deprived of free will and so freed from moral responsibility. Perhaps that is coming. Warren and DiCaro continue: “They are often coerced by the father of the baby or other family members into having abortions.” Here, one must ask: what do Warren and DiCaro mean by “coerced”? Actual physical force—say being etherized and put through the procedure while unconscious, or being forced to undergo the procedure at gunpoint—would mean a loss of choice. Angry shouting, cajoling, threats to withdraw support, and the like would not. In any case, the question of freedom of choice here seems one to be decided on a case-by-case basis in court. Surely there is no basis here for concluding that “all women who seek abortions are innocent and should never be subjected to punishment.”

Warner and DiCaro add: “They are misled or misinformed by pro-abortion advocates about the potential negative physical, emotional, relational and spiritual effects of abortion.” So, allegedly, all women who seek abortions are misled about how having abortions might negatively affect them. How is this relevant to the question of moral responsibility? Is one less culpable for arranging another person’s death because one is misled about how hiring someone to bring about that death might have negative effects on one? “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, you should acquit my client as an accomplice in this murder because the professional assassin she hired told her she wouldn’t feel guilty later, would surely never develop an ulcer or headaches from the nagging remorse, would definitely not suffer lasting health problems from her accidental exposure to a small portion of the poison that killed her husband, and would, most importantly, never face conviction in court or condemnation by religious authorities for hiring him.” No doubt the jury would think it a shame that ethics among assassins had so degenerated as to produce such deceptive sales practices, but I doubt the woman accused could expect an acquittal on these grounds.

I’m sorry, Warner and DiCaro and Care Net, you’ve failed to persuade me that “all women who seek abortions are innocent and should never be subjected to punishment” is a rational position to hold. I see only wild, emotion-drive over-generalization, along with a praiseworthy desire to be merciful being carried too far, to the point where it overturns equal justice under the law.

This is, it may be worth emphasizing, a debate about law and proper punishment under the law. Divine and interpersonal forgiveness should not be confused with freedom from legal penalty. God can forgive repentant sinners for whatever sins they’ve committed, even when those sins are such crimes as murder, but God’s ability and willingness to forgive does not grant to human lawmakers an equivalent power and authority. Individuals may likewise forgive sins against themselves, choosing not to seek any sort of “pay back” through personal vengeance or through the more civilized filing of a lawsuit, but this individual freedom does not grant to individuals who make laws freedom to forgive whom they will for crimes against others.

One more thing may be worth noting. If the pro-life establishment is correct in thinking that all women facing unintended pregnancies are helpless and fall easily and completely under others’ control, more than excluding them from punishment for hypothetically illegal abortions must be considered. For instance, people so easily deprived of free will should not be voting in elections, so clearly the suffragettes led us down the wrong path. These delicate flowers with no wills of their own and no moral responsibility for their actions must be protected, not made subject to manipulation by politicians and their PACs.

With that final point, I bid this movement a sad farewell, though I retain my belief in the inalienable right to life of every person from conception, remain wholly opposed to the so-called “pro-choice” viewpoint, and retain my hope that one day the laws of all nations will recognize the from-conception right to life, and that one day the authorities of all nations will defend born and unborn persons’ lives, and will, when that defense fails, justly punish all who choose, acting either directly or through paid agents, to kill the innocent.

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Baffling Clash: Pro-Life Leaders v Donald J. Trump

Donald_Trump_Signs_The_Pledge_CC4_licenseTrump image by Michael Vadon, used under license (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Today’s “Morning Jolt…with Jim Geraghty” e-mail (free from National Review) contains an interesting passage on the latest Donald Trump controversy. Here it is, as it appears in my response to the sender:

On Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 7:57 AM, Jim Geraghty, National Review wrote:

Most pro-lifers who support banning abortion believe that the doctor performing the abortion is the one committing the crime — after all, he’s the one ending a human life — not the mother.

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias quickly issued a statement:
The National Right to Life Committee unequivocally opposes the killing of innocent unborn children and works unceasingly to have them protected in law. Unborn children and their mothers are victims in an abortion. In adopting statutes prohibiting the performance of abortions, National Right to Life has long opposed the imposition of penalties on the woman on whom an abortion is attempted or performed. Rather, penalties should be imposed against any abortionist who would take the life of an unborn child in defiance of statutes prohibiting abortions. National Right to Life-backed state and federal legislation, such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, is targeted at stopping abortionists.

I have to admit, the dominant view of career pro-life activists on this issue has me baffled. If you hire a hit man and he accepts the contract, both you and he are subject to legal penalty—unless, of course, the hit man is an undercover police office, in which case only you are subject to penalty. If you buy illicit narcotics from a drug dealer, both you and the dealer are subject to conviction—unless, again, the dealer is an undercover police officer. If you hire a prostitute, both you and the prostitute will face punishment—unless, well, you get the picture. In the case of banned abortion alone is it being suggested that only sellers, not buyers, of an illegal service should be deemed guilty of a crime. This making no sense to me, I responded to this “Morning Jolt” as follows:

In this instance, I have to agree with Trump’s initial on-the-spot conclusion that some penalty would have to be imposed. It seems to me that most pro-lifers are letting their desire to be winsome and show they’re sympathetic make them compromise on obvious principles. The idea of punishing only those who provide an illegal service, not those who purchase the service, is nonsense, however emotionally appealing it may be to many.

Laws that carry no penalties when you violate them are not laws at all. The dominant pro-life characterization of women who have abortions as guiltless victims is hard to take seriously given the free availability of information about what various abortion procedures involve. Those whose desperate circumstances drive them to procure this service may be less guilty than those who provide the service, but they rarely can be called wholly guiltless or merely victims. If abortion is ever banned, Trump’s original (now abandoned) position will be the correct one: women who violate the ban to procure abortion services illegally should face some sort of penalty.

As someone who committed long ago to not voting for Trump even if he’s the Republican nominee, it pains me to agree with a position held, however briefly, by the man. But it seems to me that his tendency to say what occurs to him as he thinks about something in the moment—to “speak his mind” and “tell it like it is,” as his supporters put it—led him to the correct insight this time.

Too bad he chose to turn politician in this case and back off from his statement. For once, he was correct.

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Reordering the Trinity: Unconvincing Thesis, but Still Worth Reading

reordering_trinity_cover_section_courtesy_publisherDurst, Rodrick K. Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2005. Paperback, 369 pages. ISBN 978-0-8254-4378-7.

Rodrick K. Durst’s Reordering the Trinity, in spite of an unfortunate lack of clarity in places, is interesting and often edifying, sufficiently informative and practical to merit perusal even by those who, as I have, finish their reading skeptical of the book’s thesis.

That thesis might be summarized as follows: Whenever the three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned together in a New Testament passage, the order in which they are mentioned is a “processional order” specially suited to the context, saying something significant about the focus and meaning of the passage, and depicting a type of God’s activity in creation. If, for instance, a passage mentions the divine Persons in the typically expected Father-Son-Spirit order, the passage’s concern is missional, and the order depicts the nature of the Divine Persons’ missional activity. If, on the other hand, the order of mention is Spirit-Father-Son, the passage’s focus is sanctifying, and that focus is more richly expressed, and the Divine Persons’ sanctifying activity is pictured, by that specific order. Using the critically reconstructed text rather than the Received Text, and so excluding 1 John 5:7-8 (63-4), Durst surveys every passage in the Greek New Testament where he finds “triads,” or mentions of all three Persons. (All his Scripture quotations are in English, but his determination of the order of each triad is based on the Greek, which does not always match the English.) He places those triads into one of six categories for the six possible processional orders (all of which do occur in the New Testament, though not with equal prevalence) and assigning to them letter grades based on how intentional he judges their trinitarianism to be. A triad including all three Persons within a brief passage, for instance, will get a higher intentionality grade than a triad completed over the course of a long passage, because the author seems in the brief passage to be including all three Persons in a certain order on purpose. The survey is summarized in tabular form as Appendix A, “New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences” (309-18), which Durst considers the “best pages” of Reordering the Trinity (25). On the basis of this survey, which shows an interesting correspondence between processional orders and their scriptural contexts, Durst grants to each order rich interpretive value, as well as high importance for our understanding of how the Trinity acts in creation.

One unfortunate thing about Reordering the Trinity is that Durst often uses the same wording to refer to the acting Persons of the Godhead as he uses to refer to the verbal ordering of references to them in the Bible. Consider the following: “This triadic order,” he writes of the Son-Father-Spirit (“christological”) order, “exhorts and empowers discouraged fellowships to reengage as faithful followers of Jesus” (216). This sounds like he’s saying that a faithful reader of a passage where this triadic order occurs will be exhorted and empowered, along with others in his discouraged fellowship, to reengage. Surely, though, Durst must mean something more along the following lines: “When the Persons of the Trinity act in the way depicted [or described] by this triadic order, they exhort and empower discouraged fellowships,” and so on. A “procession,” as Durst defines it in his glossary, “Describes the relational movement from Father to Son to Spirit in inner relations (ad intra) in eternity and in external operations (ad extra) in creation” (323). Reordering the Trinity, being focused “on the external economic Trinity” rather than “the internal…so-called immanent Trinity” (17), has the latter, external, sort of procession in view. The different processional orders, then, are supposed to characterize different manners of Divine activity, different ways in which the three Persons of the Godhead act together in creation. (Durst believes, and his survey of relevant scholarship supports believing, that the economic Trinity has been neglected in recent study, which has focused disproportionately on the immanent Trinity. He also points out a speculative tendency in work on the immanent Trinity.)

Indeed, it would be strange to attribute tangible effects to the mere ordering of words in Scripture, even when the words refer to Persons of the Godhead, but Durst’s wording sometimes seems to do just that. Not only does he believe there is a “significant connection between Trinitarian processional balance and theological health” (77) (even though his survey shows Scripture itself is a bit unbalanced in its use of the various orders), but he often seems to attribute specific effects to the orders in Scripture. In one place he writes this: “I believe that Paul employs the S-F-Sp [Son-Father-Spirit] triad to encourage these believers [the Corinthians] in the life of Christ as the christological order is uniquely and divinely choreographed to do” (210). Because reference is here made to what Paul has written and the reason he’s written it, this statement seems impossible to revise in a way that eliminates the impression that the order of words in Scripture, not the Divine Persons acting as described by those words, is what is “uniquely and divinely choreographed” to exert an effect on readers. Earlier on the same page, Durst writes, “If the Father-Son-Spirit order evokes missional mobilization and suffering, then the Son-Father-Spirit order evokes the immersion in the christological healing comfort which that missional suffering wrought” (210). Here, the processional orders in Scripture, rather than the orders in the Divine Persons’ activities, are clearly in view, since they “evoke” rather than “effect.” It seems, then, that Durst uses “processional order,” or more specific descriptions like “the Father-Son-Spirit order” or “the Father-Son-Spirit processional order,” to refer, not only to the words describing the order in Scripture, but also to the activity of the Divine Persons depicted by that order. This dual usage often reduces the clarity of Reordering the Trinity.

Since the “I believe that Paul employs the S-F-Sp triad” has the words in Scripture rather than the Divine Persons’ activity in view, and since Durst attributes to these words a “uniquely and divinely choreographed” power to encourage, Durst must believe that the original recipients of Paul’s writings knew the significance of each of the processional orders, knew what sort of Divine activity was involved when the Divine Persons acted as depicted by any given order. By choosing a certain order in his writing, then, Paul could remind those to whom he was writing of (could, to borrow the earlier wording, “evoke” for them) a certain sort of God’s activity in their lives. However, there is no support offered in Reordering the Trinity for the idea that the original recipients were aware of the special meaning of these various processional orders. Durst presents no argument to that effect.

Assuming they had such awareness, assuming Durst’s implicit assumption is true, why and how is this knowledge supposed to have disappeared entirely from among God’s people? Previous authors, according to Durst’s own summary, have seen in the variety of orders in which the Divine Persons are mentioned in Scripture only evidence that the Persons of the Trinity must have been equal in the eyes of the New Testament writers, else they surely would have favored one or another order much more strongly than they did. Nor is any evidence presented indicating that, at any time during the two millennia that God by his Spirit has been guiding his people, illuminating true believers, either common believers or Christian elites (such as scholars) have attributed to the various orders the meaning, importance, and characteristic Divine activities that Durst does. Durst might reject this as a “tradition for tradition’s sake” (31) argument, but the Spirit-guided nature of the Body of Christ, I would argue, does give tradition a certain authority, though of course an authority subordinate to Scripture. The proper role of a Christian Theologian is largely, if not by now entirely, to reexpress, elaborate upon, and apply what has long been believed, possibly in original and creative ways. Those who want to show their originality and creativity through actual innovation, through presentation of radical insights new to human minds, might better consider careers in science and technology, or in the creative arts.

Tradition aside, it isn’t clear how well the correspondences between contexts and processional orders (foundational to Durst’s theory) would hold up were one to analyze all of them closely and critically. For instance, in one place he uses the subject of the context to choose among potential triads: “The intensely missional context,” he writes of Romans 1:1-4, “slightly tilts [toward] favoring the Father-Son-Spirit order for this weaker instance of a Trinitarian reference” (171). This calls to mind the use by evolutionary geologists of “index fossils” to date rock strata (or to choose among widely divergent dates indicated by radioisotope dating methods), based on the presupposed truth of evolutionary theory, followed by the use by evolutionary theorists of the same fossils as evidence supporting the truth of evolutionary theory. In at least this instance, Durst is assuming the correctness of his theory, selecting the triad in a certain context based on that assumption, then including the triad thus selected as part of his “cumulative case” for the correctness of this theory. Shouldn’t he have allowed Romans 1:1-4, given that it may show use of the “wrong” triad in a missional context, to serve as evidence against his theory?

While mulling over this issue recently, I happened to hear part of contemporary Christian song that used an order other than Father-Son-Spirit. I didn’t catch the song’s artist or title, but the reason it used the order it did was obvious: that was the only way to make one line rhyme with the line that preceded it. Oddly, Durst doesn’t even consider the stylistic explanation of the variety of orders. To him, each order must mean something (207, e.g.), something more than just that the author found the wording more stylistically appealing or, alternatively, just wanted to make sure he mentioned all three Persons of the Godhead after having already mentioned one or two others. As Durst states in his “sermon starter” for the Father-Spirit-Son (“shaping” or “formational”) order (he includes “sermon starters” at the ends of chapters 2 through 10, intending them to indicate the practical value, and to allow practical application, of the subjects he discusses and of his theory), “The essence of intelligence is the ability to discern patterns or relationships” (259). How could the patterns he has discerned not carry significant meaning?

Durst’s description of “The essence of intelligence” leaves out an important caveat, however: a perpetual danger when applying intelligence, demonstrated over and over again in human history, is that one might discern patterns where they don’t exist, that is, that one might read into reality patterns from one’s own mind, or that one might read into real patterns meanings from one’s own mind. Durst’s assertions about the meaning of each order strike me as potentially one more demonstration of how the human gift for pattern recognition can be overindulged. In fact, reflecting on his thesis and the evidence for it, I get much the same feeling I get when reflecting upon proposals of heretofore unknown “codes” in the words, letters, or arrangement of Scripture. Just because human minds can identify patterns doesn’t mean the patterns are real or carry meaning. Nevertheless, because most of the meaning that Durst proposes drawing out of the triads comports with Scripture, being taught in ways other than through the triads, I’m able, though skeptical of his thesis, to read his unpacking of the meaning and importance of the triads as edifying and creative applications of the passages involved, though not as valid interpretations of them. For the most part, his applications seem sound, that is, they seem to agree with what Scripture teaches, even if, as I’m inclined to believe, Scripture doesn’t teach these things through the processional orders themselves. This allows me, even as I doubt Durst’s thesis, to consider the book, not just interesting and informative, but often edifying and practical.

As noted above, Durst considers the tabular summary of his pattern-recognition exercise the “best pages” of the book, no doubt ranking “second best” his one-chapter-per-order unpacking of what he sees as the scriptural support for his understanding of the theological and practical implications of the six processional orders. I would rank things somewhat differently.

After the Contents, Acknowledgments, and List of Charts and Tables (7-11), Durst provides an introduction, “Introducing the ‘Trinitarian Matrix’” (13-25). As introductions typically do, this one provides readers with some basic background and an overview of the topics covered in the book. Like all later chapters, this introduction ends with “Discussion Questions.” Here and throughout the text, such questions are mostly the sort of well structured open questions that can actually promote discussion. On balance, this introduction is neither more nor less useful than other introductions I’ve read, and I’d rate it neither the “best” nor “worst” pages of Reordering the Trinity.

The remainder of the book comprises three parts totaling eleven chapters, five appendixes, a bibliography (339-62), and two indexes (“Scripture” and “Author and Topic”) (363-9). Part 1, “Considering Four Key Questions,” includes four chapters: (1) “The Status Question: The Search for Trinitarian Significance in Contemporary Theology” (29-61); (2) “The Data Question: The Trinitarian Matrix in the New Testament” (63-82); (3) “The Antecedent Question: Triadic Presence in the Hebrew Scriptures” (83-121); and (4) “The Historical Question: The Karma of Dogma—The Trinity in Tradition” (123-49). Part 1 would be my choice for the “best” pages of the book. This part’s first chapter (“The Status Question”) provides an overview of prior scholarly work on the Trinity, something very helpful for those of us lacking time or inclination to review the burgeoning literature on the subject.

Part 1’s second and third chapters (“The Data Question” and “The Antecedent Question”) provide an overview of biblical data relevant to the doctrine of the Trinity. As anyone who studies biblical doctrines comes to realize, God has built a good deal of redundancy into Scripture’s witness to important doctrines. Durst’s overview shows that, not only does this aspect of God’s nature have abundant, redundant witness in Scripture, but that witness is pervasive in the New Testament, being “the default consciousness out of which the New Testament authors wrote” (81), and is by no means absent from the Old Testament, that Testament showing distinctions without division, “plurality in unity,” in the one God (113). Even evidence-first Christian empiricists (whose empirical bent inclines them, for instance, to require a persuasive empirical case from still-surviving manuscripts for any verse or passage before they will accept it as inspired, and so to join Durst in favoring a critically reconstructed Greek New Testament) will find Scripture’s witness to God’s triune nature so pervasive as to make doubt of the doctrine appear, not only mistaken, but patently ridiculous. Faith-first non-empiricists (whose starting point in faith makes them willing, for instance, to trust God’s guidance of his people in their reception and use of his words, and God’s witness to those words’ truth and divine origin in and through the words themselves, to ensure correctness of the Received Text), though they wouldn’t join Durst in condemning “arguments of tradition for tradition’s sake—or even the fideistic argument: ‘Jesus said it, so that settles it’” (31), will find the copious scriptural evidence here a welcome confirmation, and perhaps elaboration, of their faith.

The third chapter (“The Antecedent Question”) also performs an additional useful service: It suggests to those of us who have been open to less literal translations, to thought-for-thought dynamically equivalent rather than word-for-word formally equivalent translation, that we have erred, not knowing the scriptures. Durst shows, in multiple instances, that word-level features of Scripture, even what seem like blatant grammatical errors that translators might naturally “correct” (as, we learn in the course of Durst’s discussion, the translators of the Septuagint Old Testament did), can be indispensable witnesses to the full intended sense of the God-breathed Book. Trade in your NIV (New International Version) or NLT (New Living Translation) today!

Part 2, “The Contextual Question and the Trinitarian Matrix,” includes six chapters, one for each processional order: (5) “The Sending Triad: Father-Son-Spirit as the Missional Order” (159-82); (6) “The Saving Triad: Son-Spirit-Father as the Regenerative Order” (183-97); (7) “The Indwelling Triad: Son-Father-Spirit as the Christological Witness Order” (199-219); (8) “The Standing Triad: Spirit-Father-Son as the Sanctifying Order” (221-40); (9) “The Shaping Triad: Father-Spirit-Son as the Spiritual Formation Order” (241-63); and (10) “The Uniting Triad: Spirit-Son-Father as the Ecclesial Order” (265-83). Though I wouldn’t rate these chapters as highly as those in Part 1, they are very interesting, full of useful insights, lots of biblical material, and applications to practical life that mostly merit consideration even by those who doubt or reject Durst’s theory. Since these chapters do leave me doubting that theory, and so fail to achieve their primary goal, I’ll rank them “third best” overall. Durst’s defense of Karl Barth’s use of “modes of being” when speaking of the Trinity (“Since the One God exists in Trinity, Barth is not wrong to express that Trinity as ‘modes of being.’” [148]) strikes me as unwise, as does Durst’s own use of the phrase in a few places (69, e.g.), but Durst’s acceptance of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity seems evident from the totality of the book, in spite of his willingness to defend, and even sometimes to use, terminology that seems better avoided.

Part 3, “Everyday Applications and Further Resources,” includes one chapter: (11) “The Application Question: Becoming a Functional Trinitarian for Everyday Worship, Life, and Ministry” (287-305). Fortunately for those who find themselves unconvinced of Durst’s theory, most of the applications proposed here depend only on acceptance of the Trinity and belief that the three Persons thereof are equal in the way suggested by the New Testament writers’ lack of effort to strongly favor one or another order. The “Preach that oneness of essence is not sameness of function” (298-9), “Preach that oneness conveys sameness of essence, but not necessarily sameness of function” (299-300), and “Preach that submission in time is not subordination in eternity” (300-2) sections are particularly helpful, nicely correcting excesses on each extreme of the complementarian-egalitarian debate over proper male and female roles in the family and church. On the strength of these, I deem a “second best” ranking appropriate, though my ranking of Parts 2 and 3 might easily be reversed.

The five appendixes include: (A) “New Testament Census of Triadic Occurrences” (309-18); (B) “Glossary of Trinitarian Terms” (319-23); (C) “Spiritual Formation Exercise #1: Trinitarian Prayers” (325-6); (D) “Spiritual Formation Exercise #2: Forty-two Days of Trinitarian Devotion” (327-9); and (E) “Explaining the Trinity to Children and to Adolescents” (331-5). I won’t try to rank these on the same ordinal “best” scale as other parts of the book. Appendix A is a handy summary of the data, including judgment calls, that Durst thinks support his theory. Appendix B would receive my highest rating among the appendixes. Appendixes C and D depend upon acceptance of Durst’s theory. Reflection on the insights elsewhere in the book that ring scripturally true even if Durst’s theory is incorrect might achieve some of the benefits attributed to the theory-dependent exercises here.

As for Appendix E, it includes the following suggested analogy for teaching children about the Trinity: “For instance, think of an apple. An apple has the skin, the ‘meat,’ and the core. Each is the apple, each is unique, but an apple isn’t an apple without all three” (332). Now, I realize that the ability to think abstractly develops later than the ability to think concretely, making concrete illustrations necessary in some cases. This analogy, however, makes it seem that each Person of the Trinity is just part of God, since each is likened to a part of an apple. Perhaps the analogy could be salvaged by adding the following: Got that? Now, imagine that the apple is infinitely large and, what’s more, that its skin permeates everything everywhere (including the “meat” and core), its “meat” permeates everything everywhere (including the skin and core), and its core permeates everything everywhere (including the skin and “meat’). Okay? Now, realize that, because God is not matter but spirit, the Divine Persons don’t actually stretch out anywhere or permeate anything, but are instead fully present in their infinitude at every point in space and time. What do you mean you don’t understand? Don’t they teach you kids anything in elementary school these days?

I might also discuss a grab bag of minor objections I have, but I’ll spare the reader and only mention one. Explaining the meaning of the term “foreknowledge” in 1 Peter 1:2, Durst writes, “Foreknowledge means He [God] knows and promises events and responses with reliable confidence because He is sovereign” (261). Everything in this statement from “He” to the end is certainly true, but many of us understand “foreknowledge” to mean something different in at least some places, probably here in 1 Peter 1:2, for instance, and almost certainly in Romans 8:29, where God is said to “foreknow” specific people—not facts about people, but the people themselves. As we understand the term, these references to God’s “foreknowledge”have in view, not his advance knowledge of what will happen, but his advance “knowing” (loving) of his people. In contexts where this meaning fits best, Durst’s construal seems unworkable.

In closing, then, I can’t endorse Reordering the Trinity’s thesis, but I can recommend the book (of which I received a free review copy) as worthwhile reading. Once I got past its sometimes unclear wording, I enjoyed and benefited from my own reading of the book, and I expect most thoughtful readers will do the same.

This review may also appear, at least for a time, less nicely formatted and perhaps abridged, on Amazon and, perhaps (and perhaps more abridged), on GoodReads, and maybe even elsewhere.

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(A)sexual: (A) Weird Documentary

Weird_Tales_July_1948_public_domain_croppedI saw a very strange documentary recently: (A)sexual (directed by Angela Tucker, Arts Engine Inc., 2011). The premise of the film, which takes for granted the contemporary belief that people have innate sexual orientations (inclinations to have sex with persons of the opposite, their own, or both sexes: heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, respectively), is that there are people who have an orientation not generally acknowledged: asexuality (an innate lack of inclination to have sex with persons of any sex). There are supposed to exist people who have no interest in having sex and whose lack of interest is not due to physical, mental, or emotional problems, but is something innate to them, just another inborn orientation. These are supposed to be people without sexual desire, not persons choosing, for religious or other reasons, to resist or ignore sexual impulses. The film’s focus is on sharing the personal experiences and opinions of self-identified asexuals, supplemented by the opinions of non-asexuals, not upon showing either a scientific or philosophical justification for belief in the orientation.

Now, the claim that some people are essentially “born with” a “sexual orientation” to never develop an interest in having sex, either in the biblically permitted procreative manner within (true, heterosexual, one-partner-for-life) marriage, or in the various perverted ways suggested by Satan and sin-corrupted imaginations, may not be contrary to Scripture. The Lord himself says that “there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb” (Matthew 19:12). Though one could insist on taking this to mean only persons injured in the womb or suffering deformities qualifying them as “eunuchs,” taking it to include a broader group of people with no interest in sexual involvement strikes many as the more natural reading in context. Scripture, in fact, seems to portray a lack of sexual interest, not as something to be corrected with therapy or medication, but as a special gift from God for certain individuals (1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 32-34, 37). The last verse cited, 1 Corinthians 7:37, I should note, is most applicable to this subject if one reads it as Matthew Henry does: “I think,” he writes, “the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume VI: Acts to Revelation [1706-1721; reprint, following prior undated Christian Classics Ethereal Library reprint, San Francisco: Internet Archive, 2000), available from the Internet Archive, 847 [855 of pdf]).

So, in accord with the subjective experiences of at least some of those sharing their stories in (A)sexual, Scripture indicates that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the premise that some people just aren’t interested in sex and that’s okay; that premise, then, isn’t what makes the documentary weird. What makes it weird (here, the better term might be “queer”) is the attempt by self-appointed leaders of asexuals to turn people with that “orientation” into a special interest group that participates in events like “gay” pride parades. Since the default religion of contemporary America seems to be a cult of sexual indulgence, complete with sacrifices of children (through abortion) to the sex god, it makes some sense that asexuals should feel pressured or ostracized even in our otherwise permissive culture. But why should persons lacking inclination to engage in sex make common cause with those dedicated to indulging perverse impulses to engage in unnatural, God-condemned sex? Turning people who are free from the burden of sexual impulses into functionaries of the LGBT (Lesbian, “Gay,” Bisexual, and Transgender) promoters-of-perversion lobby is almost as perverse as the collected perversions that lobby promotes.

Surely this can only be an example of how lost people become when left to figure out their experiences and themselves without the guidance of God’s written revelation. With Jesus’s words in Matthew 19, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, and all Scripture’s wealth at their disposal, those grounded in God’s Word have resources for understanding and dealing with the impulses they feel—and don’t feel. Those not grounded in Scripture….Well, they produce odd documentaries likening lack of sexual interest to LGBT perversions and calling upon those gifted by God with freedom from sexual impulses to make common cause with those cursed with disordered impulses contrary to both nature and nature’s God.

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