Fesko’s Songs of a Suffering King: Excellent, Edifying

book_reviews_1200x1200_01_Domesday Book_Andrews_Historic_Byways_and_Highways_of_Old_England_1900_public_domainJ. V. Fesko. Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books. 123+x pages. ISBN 978-1-60178-310-3.

This is an excellent and edifying book. A Christ-centered exposition of the first eight chapters of the book of Psalms, suitable for private devotional reading or small group study, Songs of a Suffering King doubles as a plea for Christians to use psalms more fully and frequently in their worship, by both praying and singing them. Each psalm’s chapter-long exposition concludes with “Questions for Further Study” and a metrical version of the psalm (for singing). Fesko also directs readers to online resources (where mp3s of suitable tunes can be found, for example) to assist those wanting to sing the psalms. The end-of-chapter questions, I admit, do not impress me, being more of the “let’s see if you were paying attention to what you just read” than the “let’s more deeply reflect upon and find ways to apply what you’ve learned” variety. But, then, persons leading group studies should not find it difficult to think up suitable questions of their own best suited to their contexts.

As noted, Songs of a Suffering King’s exposition of Psalms 1-8 is Christ-centered. This is true in the fullest possible sense. Fesko explains, “We often make the mistake of identifying only some of the psalms as messianic, such as 2, 22, and 110. Instead, we must identify all of the psalms as messianic—they all point us to Christ” (18). In support of this, Fesko notes how, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus pointed out to his disciples how things concerning him “were written in…the Psalms” (18, quoting the New King James version). This citation, of course, does not prove that every psalm is about Christ, only that information about Christ may be found “in” the Psalms, a fact perfectly in accord with the common assumption that only certain psalms are Messianic. However, since Scripture does identify King David (in his positive aspects) as a type of Christ (as no Christians I know would doubt and as Fesko makes clear), taking all his psalms as typical of, and only perfectly fulfilled in, Christ does not strain credulity. In fact, upon reflection, it seems more natural and less strained than not doing so. Additionally, if Fesko’s assumption that not only the psalms as individually written but also their editorial arrangement is inspired (4-5), then the excellent fit between Psalms 1-8 in sequence and Christ’s life, a fit on display throughout Songs of a Suffering King, makes his belief that every psalm speaks of Christ all the more plausible. Fesko, one should note, does not suggest that some anonymous editor after David arranged and modified the book of Psalms. Rather, he seems, in agreement with “ancient rabbinic tradition,” to believe David responsible, not just for writing most of the psalms, but for “the deliberate editorial arrangement of the Psalter” in its entirety, much as Moses was responsible for the final form of the Pentateuch (Ibid.). That David should have edited and arranged all the Psalms adds credence to the idea that even those psalms not originally written by David speak of Christ, since David’s (inspired) Messianic intent then lies aback the entire collection.

Acceptance of this Christ-centered approach has certain benefits. For instance, psalms often judged harsh and vengeful, such as Psalm 3, become much less troubling seen in this light (45-6, 71-2). While we (like David) are ourselves sinful and so not qualified to call down God’s judgment upon others, and are ourselves (also like David) mere creatures who cannot know with certainty whether any individual now in rebellion against God might someday repent and believe the gospel, Christ suffers neither of these shortcomings: being sinless, he is qualified to judge sinners; being divine, he knows who will and will not repent. What from ordinary human lips would be sinfully harsh and vengeful is from Christ’s lips an expression of God’s “absolute righteous wrath” (46). And, as Fesko emphasizes, “we must worship our triune Lord for all of His attributes—His mercy, love, benevolence, and kindness, and also His wrath, vengeance, justice, and judgment” (46). Therefore, “we can and most definitely should pray against the unbelieving world in general and against those whose lives reveal a blatant blasphemy and opposition against God and His kingdom,” as well as “pray that God would judge the unrepentant, those known only to Him” (46). (Arguably, even praying for condemnation of “those whose lives reveal blatant blasphemy and opposition against God and His kingdom” is more than we sinful and fallible creatures can justify. Even these, we seem obligated to grant, are not, so long as they live, beyond the reach of God’s sovereign grace. When the classic film Cromwell (1970, directed by Ken Hughes) suggests that its title character, played by Richard Harris, called upon God to damn the king, it suggests Cromwell acted inappropriately.)

As well, when expressions of anger in the Psalms are seen as Christ’s divine and perfectly holy anger, not the anger of sinful and finite humans like David and ourselves (which surely would not merit inclusion in the Bible), we are better able to draw rightly the distinction between righteous and unrighteous anger. “When we move the fulcrum of our anger from Christ to ourselves,” as we might easily do if we forsook the Christ-centered reading and so found in some psalms justification for being vengefully angry toward others, such as false accusers (94, discussing Psalm 7), “we cross the line of righteous anger to sinful self-righteous anger” (57), Fesko writes. “It is one thing,” he adds, “to be angered over the world’s blasphemy against God. It is entirely another thing, however, to be filled with anger and indignation because we have been offended” (56). So vanishes any justification for personal vengeance, or the self-centered anger underlying it, by Christians (in case verses like Romans 12:19 weren’t clear enough). So also vanishes any alleged tension or conflict between New Testament teaching and the harsher psalms.

Songs of a Suffering King also includes some interesting disagreements with manners of expression prevalent among today’s Christians. Whereas today’s Christians often assert the need to “love the sinner but hate the sin,” apparently assuming that this is what God does, Fesko emphasizes how Scripture attributes sinful actions to sinful hearts (69), so that “the sin and the sinner are irrefragably [undeniably, indisputably] joined” and God, in “manifestation of His perfect justice and holiness,” “not only hates the sin but…also hates the sinner!” (70). Thus, “God’s holy hatred, his just wrath and condemnation, hangs over the sinner’s head” (Ibid.), unless and until the sinner repents.

Another locution common among today’s Christians is that which defines grace as “God’s unmerited favor.” Fesko finds this inadequate. “God’s grace is…His demerited favor,” he writes. In the case of David, “In other words, David did not merit God’s favor, but neither is His favor [solely] unmerited—that is, undeserved. Rather, it is demerited, in that David has received God’s favor in spite of his demerits, his sins” (81). (Since anything demerited must also be unmerited, demerited things being a subset of the larger set of things unmerited, I’ve added “solely” in brackets. I don’t believe Fesko would find this clarification objectionable.) Prior to reading Fesko’s remarks, it had never occurred to me that there could be anything inadequate in describing God grace as his “unmerited favor.” Now, however, I can see that it really does fall short. There is a difference between saying God saves persons who have done nothing to deserve to be saved (their salvation is “unmerited”) and saying God saves persons who have done everything to deserve not to be saved (their salvation is “demerited”). Both statement are correct, but the second makes more clear just how amazing God’s “amazing grace” really is.

Songs of a Suffering King is not wholly without weaknesses, at least not without points of possible concern or discomfort. Though I encountered no difficulties serious enough to make me deduct a star from my book rating, I do think some merit mention. One of these is Fesko’s reference to Eden as a “garden-temple” (21) or “temple-garden” (111). I see this as a difficulty only because Fesko nowhere in the book explains why he considers Eden a “temple,” nowhere relates his biblical basis for this identification. Additionally, he nowhere says why Eden’s being a “temple” is relevant or important to his discussion of Psalms 1-8. Since God did manifest himself personally in Eden, and since one can understand a sacrifice to have been offered there (Genesis 3:21), I don’t reject the possibility that calling Eden a “temple” is appropriate. If it is to be called so, however, one would like to know in detail why, and why it matters in our reading of Psalms 1-8.

Another area of difficulty also concerns the Genesis account. After showing how the New Testament applies Psalm 8 to Christ’s reign (citing Hebrews 2, Ephesians 1, and 1 Corinthians 15), Fesko adds the following: “If Psalm 8 is a prophecy of Christ, then we must realize that the opening chapter of the Bible serves the same purpose” (116). He adds: “Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, therefore, are not primarily about man…but rather prophetic promises of Jesus’ reign, one that has been inaugurated in His resurrection and ascension…” (Ibid.). Since humans only enter the picture at verse 26 of Genesis 1, I assume Fesko mainly has just verses 26 and following in view. Seeing the historical events described in Genesis 1:26 and following as have typological significance isn’t necessarily problematic. The “If..then” Fesko asserts is not obviously true, however. Does David’s use of the story of humanity’s creation to typify Christ imply that Moses must have had similar typology in mind when he wrote Genesis? No doubt David could have intended, and his recipients could have understood, the Messianic meaning. Does the same apply to Moses and his original recipients? Whether or not Fesko has made the case for this elsewhere (this is not his only book, though it is the only one I’ve read), he does not make the case in Songs of a Suffering King.

Additionally, given how unwilling many Christians are to take what the early chapters of Genesis say at face value (that is, as meant in the same straightforwardly historical fashion most take the later chapters to be meant), claims about how one should interpret Genesis 1 should always include explanation of what one does and does not mean to imply. For instance, when he suggests that Genesis 1 is “primarily” prophetic of Jesus’ reign, does Fesko mean only to add the prophetic or typological understanding on top of the historical understanding, or might he consider dismissing the ostensible historical meaning? His exposition of Psalms 1-8, where he always grants the link between each psalm’s content and David’s life situation when writing it, suggests that he only means to point out the prophetic or typological significance of the historical events, not to cast doubt on the literal truthfulness of the (ostensible) history. Given how eager many are to dismiss the literal content of Genesis 1 (and other early chapters of Genesis), however, I’d be more comfortable if Fesko had made his stance clear and explicit. (While he may do so elsewhere, he has not done so in this book.)

Fesko also fails to support an assertion he makes about the consequences of Adam’s sin. Whereas in Genesis God promises only death (normally understood by Christians to mean both mortality, and so eventual and inevitable physical death, and spiritual death, separation from God) as the consequence of disobedience (Genesis 2:17), Fesko asserts that through his sin Adam “forfeited his dominion over the creation” (111). Maybe he did, but Fesko present no argument demonstrating such. So far as I can determine from Genesis or from Songs of a Suffering King, humanity’s God-granted dominion over the creation, with all its privileges and responsibilities, remains intact in spite of the Fall.

A final point of possible concern to some, such as to those dedicated to an especially literal interpretation of “end times” prophecy, might be the suggestions here and there in Songs of a Suffering King of Fesko’s own eschatology. Concerning Revelation 19:15, for instance, where Christ is portrayed judging the nations with a sword issuing from his mouth, Fesko writes: “If we realize that Christ’s Word, the gospel, is a double-edged sword, then it is through the proclamation of the gospel that Christ brings the nations under judgment, even at this moment” (30). Those who understand this passage as referring to a future judgment, not to something currently in progress, do not miss the association between this sword and Christ’s Word. Rather, they see the image of Revelation 19:15 as emphasizing that Christ’s judgment of the wicked “in the last day” will be based upon his Word (John 12:47). Those who understand Revelation 19:15 in this way may find Fesko’s “even at this moment” mildly uncomfortable.

More uncomfortable for some might be Fesko’s present-tense reference to the new heaven and new earth (see Revelation 21). In saving us, Fesko relates, Jesus “permanently and irreversible brings us into the new creation, the new heaven and earth, where He…rules” (114). Rather than a literally remade creation still in the future, the new heaven and new earth, in Fesko’s eschatology, are (it seems) just a picture of the spiritually new order of things that is Christ’s kingdom, the domain of his rulership over his elect. While not uncommon either today or historically, this view is sure to prove objectionable to partisans of the contrary (“literal”) understanding.

In my judgment, none of these difficulties or areas of discomfort reduces the book’s ability to edify Bible-believing readers. Even readers averse to Fesko’s eschatology (it’s not an eschatology I’m prepared to endorse) should find that the wealth of positive materials makes his rare eschatological remarks worth enduring. If you’re shopping for some devotional reading or something to study in your small group, you could do worse than Fesko’s Songs of a Suffering King.

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Moynagh’s Being Church, Doing Life: Creative Outreach Made Practical

beingchurchdoinglifecover_courtesy_publisherMoynagh, Michael. Being Church, Doing Life: Creating Gospel Communities where Life Happens. Oxford/Grand Rapids: Monarch, 2014. 352 pages. ISBN 978-0-85721-493-5. Kregel’s featured $1.99 Kindle book through 26 September 2014.

An author who makes a point of quoting both Charles Darwin (116) and Peter Enns (112) obviously moves in different theological circles—and holds different ideas about Scripture’s inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency—than I do. (I’m a Reformed Baptist and biblical creationist who still finds the late Edward Freer Hills’ arguments persuasive and agrees with most of what the Trinitarian Bible Society has to say.) As well, someone who thinks first of ecological causes, “social justice,” and immigration reform (193, 282) when contemplating what shared interests and goals might form the basis of “doing life” groups—“witnessing communities” founded and led by Christians but seeking to serve, and inviting participation by, “not-yet-Christians” (137)–probably holds rather different political convictions than mine. (While not all my political convictions are settled, I’m sufficiently “conservative” and “religious right” to find this list of causes, characteristic of the “religious left,” off-putting.) Since Being Church, Doing Life is a practical rather than doctrinal or political work, however, I tried while reading to keep an open mind about author Michael Moynagh’s suggestions.

I’m glad I did. Being Church, Doing Life is a treasury of creative outreach ideas, not all of which solid Bible-believers will wish to endorse or try themselves, but even the most suspect of which might prompt fruitful reflection on how believers can more effectively reach out to unbelievers, and support and encourage fellow believers (219-20), in various social, economic, geographic, and vocational settings. Observing how, since the Industrial Revolution, the church “as a community presence” has become “increasingly remote from the office, the café, the bowling alley, and other centres of people’s lives” (62), Moynagh asks, “how can the congregation represent the gospel to people if it is not present in their daily lives?” (35). The implied answer, of course, is that the congregation cannot. Moynagh’s solution, one he observes already being undertaken by many Christians, in sufficient numbers to constitute a movement, is for groups of Christians to go out and found “witnessing communities” where people “do life.”

Moynagh considers such communities, not just forms of weekday outreach by persons committed to standard Sunday-meeting churches, but as themselves each (ideally) an “expression of church,” a “different kind of church” (67). “Churches,” he writes, “are emerging not just in community centres, but in pubs, schools, gyms, workplaces, sports clubs, and other settings” (63). While some Christians may continue attending a standard weekend church, the sort of witnessing communities Moynagh promotes often “become church for those who attend,” even “their sole church” (42). In fact, that such communities “At their best” must “provide a taste of church for people involved,” meaning they must engage to some extent in corporate worship (such as common prayer and observation of the Lord’s Supper), is among the four characteristics he deems essential for such communities. The community must, as he puts it, be ecclesial. Additionally, it must by missional (“work mainly with people who do not attend church”), contextual (“find culturally appropriate ways of reaching people”), and formational (“aim to form disciples”) (41). Moynagh likes to call these “fresh expressions of church” (151). He’s even part of a “national Fresh Expressions movement” in the United Kingdom (promotional email from publisher, 07 July 2014).

At this point, reflection suggests a difficulty. Moynagh recognizes (216 ff.) the need for Christians to alternate between engagement with the broader culture of not-yet-Christians (unbelievers who, of course, may never become Christians) and withdrawal from that culture for corporate Christian worship, including instruction in the Word and other things standard Sunday-meeting churches focus upon (those, at least, I note, that are not so “seeker-sensitive” as to have become perpetual evangelistic outreaches providing little special attention to already-Christians). Throughout the text, Moynagh proposes that not-yet-Christians be welcomed and encouraged to participate in the witnessing community. (Seeker-sensitive churches also emphasize participation by not-yet-Christians, calling it “belonging before believing.”) This would seem to make these communities (like highly seeker-sensitive churches) little suited for Christians’ restorative and preparatory periods of withdrawal. Yet, Moynagh suggests that “New believers can withdraw into the witnessing community for worship and to learn about the faith” (217). Witnessing communities’ function of reaching out to and engaging not-yet-Christians is not obviously compatible with the proposal that they also function as places to which already-Christians may withdraw for worship and instruction.

Worship practices in the witnessing communities (like those in seeker-sensitive Sunday churches) are to be tailored to the audience, of a form that feels “authentic” to it, that does not make attendees “feel awkward” (192). The community’s “style of worship” must not be “out of sync with the culture of the people it plans to serve” (160). While tailoring evangelistic outreach to the interests, aesthetics, and schedules of not-yet-Christians (75) may make biblical sense (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), an argument can be made that corporate worship and fellowship for already-Christians should require some effort, and perhaps involve both inconvenience and aesthetic adjustment. Once one has entered God’s kingdom, one must begin a process of adjusting one’s preferences and lifestyle to kingdom norms. Take music, for example. Music in corporate worship and at non-evangelistic Christian gatherings should not (this argument holds) mimic the world’s music, but try (insofar as scriptural guidance and sanctified reflection permit) to praise God in a manner of which God would approve, and through which Christians’ emotions and aesthetics might be slowly molded to a heavenly norm. I don’t propose in this review to determine what forms of “worship music” are truly suitable for corporate worship (positions vary from permitting psalm singing only, to permitting anything “traditional,” to permitting everything one can label “Christian”), only to note that when considering this subject of music, as when considering any other aspects of Christian corporate action, a distinction must be drawn between outreach activities, which it is hoped not-yet-Christians will participate in and find to some degree attractive and agreeable, and corporate worship, where already-Christians are to receive instruction and join in other acts of worship in a God-centered and Scripture-guided fashion neither unbelievers nor backslidden believers should find appealing. (Convicting and discomfiting? Yes. Appealing? Not so much.) Received instruction should be of a sort requiring significant preparation, strongly scriptural preaching/teaching, not just such “simple and brief” talks as Moynagh suggests could suffice in witnessing communities (174).

Moynagh, of course, might not agree that there is ever any problem with Christian worship practices mimicking a surrounding culture’s style. He assures members of various cultures, “Your cuisine, music, clothes, social habits, and general pattern of life are not embarrassments, to be jettisoned as you become more like Christ” (113). Those who see this mimicry as problematic would note, however, that Moynagh’s assurance claims more than Scripture warrants: surely some music, some styles of attire, and some social habits do run contrary to divine preference. As well, they would add, corporate worship of God is not merely an extension of the day-to-day conduct of one’s life, but a special exercise deserving special treatment. After all, though God always intended to bless all nations through Israel (Genesis 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, etc.), he never displayed much tolerance for Israelite mimicry of the broader culture’s worship practices (Exodus 32) nor, in fact, for any worship practice (however sincere or heart-felt) he did not explicitly authorize (Leviticus 10:1-2). Corporate worship must focus on God and his requirements, not on the feelings, preferences, and habits of human worshipers.

Moynagh recognizes that “Some Christians worry that, in trying to connect with the surrounding culture, Christian communities risk selling out to that culture and soft-pedalling the costly demands of the gospel” (112), in particular, I would note, the gospel’s demand that one bring every thought into obedience to the full inerrant counsel of God (2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Timothy 3:16). (Moynagh’s false dichotomy, “Jesus did not write a book but formed a community” [35], might suggest weakness in this area, as it seems to downgrade Scripture’s importance. Since Jesus is God and Scripture is God-breathed, Jesus did in fact write a book, as well as form a community.) The sorts of witnessing communities described and encouraged in Being Church, Doing Life do seem to risk exactly this by failing to make any strong and obvious separation between corporate worship and general outreach. Moynagh’s own counsel sometimes seems to contribute to this risk. For instance, he wants witnessing communities to do all they can to accommodate people in “our low-commitment culture” (145), who “prefer to be on a journey rather than reach a destination” (142), and wants them to avoid “a subtle superiority that puts others off” created when any church (standard or “fresh expression”) “assumes it has a gospel that everyone else needs” (167). In this softest of soft-sell approaches, one doesn’t press for commitment one way or the other (Joshua 24:15), but simply starts discipling—hence the inclusion of both not-yet-Christians and already-Christians in the various activities of the witnessing community. “Even if an individual never comes to explicit faith,” Moynagh states, “he or she may have become more like Jesus” as a result (179). Doesn’t this approach soft-pedal the costly demand to “repent…and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15)?

This difficulty aside, if a movement at once (1) makes the positive influence of Christian community more pervasive in the lives of believers by situating Christian communities in places of work and leisure beyond traditional church services, and (2) ensures gospel witness’ presence in various niches of life through the same communities, then that movement can’t be all bad. While scripturally questionable practices, shallow or erroneous teachings, and other products of undisciplined experimentation might arise at times, perhaps even frequently, they do not negate the fundamentally positive nature of the movement. Neither does the difficulty I’ve noted negate the positive value of Moynagh’s how-to book for would-be participants in the witnessing communities movement. Christians looking for creative ways to live out and share their faith in their everyday lives should find much of value in this interesting text.

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Consent: Only Repeated Yeses Will Do, Say State Lawmakers

California State CapitolImage: California State Capitol, courtesy Wikipedia user Coolcaesar (Creative Commons license).

The local paper today informed me of my state’s passage of an interesting bill to formally define, in the context of sexual assault investigations on college campuses, what does and does not qualify as “consent” to sexual activity (Fenit Nipappil [Associated Press], “State Ban on Plastic Bags OK’d; Bill Moves to Senate,” U-T San Diego, A1-A2; among “In other action, lawmakers…” mentions on A2). While far short of the Christian requirement of a signed (marriage) contract, this secular effort to replace lost moral awareness with formal legal definition intrigues me.

“In order to receive state funds for student financial assistance,” states the bill, “the governing board of each community college district, the Trustees of the California State University, the Regents of the University of California, and the government boards of independent postsecondary institutions shall adopt a policy concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking” that, among other things, adopts “An affirmative consent standard” (“SB-967 Student safety: sexual assault,” accessed 29 August 2014), what supporters of the bill are calling a “‘yes’ means ‘yes,’” but what would more accurately be called an “only repeated ‘yeses’ mean ‘yes,’” standard. More precisely, the policy must “include all of the following” (Ibid.; emphasis added):

  1. An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

  2. A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in any disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse to alleged lack of affirmative consent that the accused believed that the complainant consented to the sexual activity under either of the following circumstances:

    1. The accused’s belief in affirmative consent arose from the intoxication or recklessness of the accused.

    2. The accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.

  3. A policy that the standard used in determining whether the elements of the complaint against the accused have been demonstrated is the preponderance of the evidence.

  4. A policy that, in the evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process, it shall not be a valid excuse that the accused believed that the complainant affirmatively consented to the sexual activity if the accused knew or reasonably should have known that the complainant was unable to consent to the sexual activity under any of the following circumstances:

    1. The complainant was asleep or unconscious.

    2. The complainant was incapacitated [as a legal term, meaning “deprive[d] of the legal power to act in a specified way or ways”] due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication, so that [now, here are the sorts of incapacitation in view:] the complainant could not understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual activity.

    3. The complainant was unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.

Most of this, of course, simply expresses what is obvious to any reflective individual whose God-given innate moral consciousness has not yet been seared away by the pervasive anti-moral influences of our post-Christian culture (influences strongly promoted in the halls of state-funded academia, as it happens). Other aspects of it I’m not so sure about.

For instance, “consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity,” but “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence.” If I read this correctly, one participant in a sexual activity could, in theory, cease to consent after the activity is underway but offer no indication whatsoever that such is the case. Since silence, lack of protest, and absence of resistance do not indicate consent, and since consent must be ongoing, what seems required here to avoid later charge of sexual assault of one party against the other is that both parties repeatedly request their partner’s (“Shall I continue?”), and repeatedly state their own (“You may proceed.”), consent throughout. This sounds a bit impractical to me. But, then, I’m celibate, so perhaps I underestimate how formal and cautious one can be in these situations.

Two other requirements of the bill also have interesting implications taken together. Surely, “I was drunk and didn’t know any better” strikes few if any of us as an acceptable excuse for sexual assault: If someone voluntarily gets drunk, we reason, they voluntarily assume responsibility for whatever they do while in that voluntarily-entered state. 2A in the above may, therefore, seem reasonable to us. However, it does combine in an interesting way with 4B. While “I was drunk and didn’t know any better” does not free the person accused of sexual assault from responsibility for sexual activity, an alleged victim’s claim that “I was drunk and didn’t know any better” does free that person from responsibility. This doesn’t seem to apply evenly the idea that if one becomes intoxicated voluntarily one is responsible for what one does while intoxicated. As currently worded, the implication seems to be that (1) persons at risk of engaging in sexual activity initiated by others may freely imbibe all the intoxicants they like and bear no responsibility for any act they engage in while intoxicated, but (2) persons at risk of initiating sexual activity with others will be held accountable for everything they do while intoxicated. Regardless of how intoxicated persons initiating sexual activity might be (and regardless of how intoxicated their partners also happen to be), initiators retain the same responsibility as fully sober persons to avoid sex with anyone whose own intoxication makes any consent they seem to offer illusory. At least, this is the case if “the preponderance of the evidence” (not the evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt”) indicates the activity-initiator “reasonably should have known” that their partner’s “consent” was just the intoxication speaking.

The question that arises, of course, is just what an intoxicated initiator of sexual activity “reasonably should have known” about seeming consent by an intoxicated partner. Were 4B the only part of the bill involved, what reasonably should have been known by the initiator could be determined case-by-case based on the initiator’s own level of intoxication, the circumstances in which both the initiator and his or her partner became intoxicated, and so on. However, 2A makes intoxication of the initiator irrelevant to determination of his or her responsibility, so that what the initiator “reasonably should have known” would seem to always be whatever should reasonably have been known by a perfectly sober initiator. Students who think they might initiate sexual activity while intoxicated would, I think, be well advised to avoid all use of intoxicants! (Personally, I would advise everyone generally to avoid intoxicants, but my opinion here is far from mainstream, even among Christians.) I don’t know if it is a valid or flawed analogy, but the following question keeps occurring to me: If two drunk drivers crash into one another, can one claim to have been victimized by the other? In at least some cases, apparently, one can (at least if one is a lawmaker).

The lower-than-criminal-court evidentiary requirement (“preponderance of the evidence” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt”) should also prove interesting in practice, since it requires disciplinary action against accused students whom courts cannot convict. Were I running a private college and wanted to minimize sexual assaults, I might support a policy setting the evidentiary requirement this way. Still, “innocent till proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” might be the most appropriate standard for publicly funded institutions. Should someone who could not be convicted by the state of any crime in its courts be punished by (or expelled from) its schools?

In any case, when formal legal regulation of an irreligious people replaces moral self-regulation of a religious people, such are the issues that arise. (Yes, Christianity is a religion, not just a relationship. It is a religion grounded in a relationship.) It isn’t easy to make people behave while encouraging them to freely indulge assorted lusts and to generally defy God’s moral directives.

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