Sunday, March 30, 2014

Two Camps

In much of life, and in the Bible (which was written for our life) two ideas, two stories or even two bodies (male and female, for instance, or Jew and Gentile) are put together. They are different and opposite, and to the outsider appear to be irreconcilable, yet the Spirit puts it all there and says it is "very good." You might say the Christian lives in the valley of the Mahanaim, the "Two Camps." (Genesis 32:2ff)

At other times we are given two options, one good, the other evil. The Way of Destruction vs. the Path of Life. Wisdom or Folly. Heaven or Hell. Obedience vs. Disobedience. No harmony is possible.  Rather, we must utterly reject one and fully embrace the other.

Paradox is at the heart of Christianity, as Chesterton so wisely observed. A robust Christian will embrace the paradox in faith.

There are passages in Scripture that, on their face, seem to promise that all men have been atoned for in Christ, that all are saved. There are also passages that say very strongly that the atonement is limited, and that some will not believe to their eternal judgment and peril.

Some passages of Scripture can be read by believers as "health and wealth" passages. God promises to bless us if we believe in Him and keep His commandments. Jesus even says He will give us *anything* we ask in His name. 

At the same time, many other passages suggest that believers should expect suffering and distress. Other passages suggest that God is in control of evil, and that He freely permits it for His own mysterious purposes. We are to patiently accept whatever befalls us, for everything that happens, happens ultimately for God's glory. The Father, in the ins and outs of Providence, takes care of us, even if it is not clear to us at the time. The only acceptable response is one of childlike faith.

Of course, the paradox does not stand alone, unresolved. It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, and the glory of kings to search it out. Just because Scripture seems to contradict itself does not mean that it does. Real answers exist to the paradoxes I have posed here, but those answers will come to us as foolishness--as foolish as God dying on a tree to save His people. God is mysterious, but He is not utterly incomprehensible. God the Son exists as Word, as speech--words can be understood and applied.

If we are consistent in our thinking (and to their credit, many good Arminian Christians are not consistent in their thinking on this), there are only two responses (there I go again, with Two Camps) to both the paradox of limited and unlimited atonement and to the paradox of good and evil. Here we come to the irreconcilable Two Camps, the good/evil options presented to us.

1) We give up trying to understand God, reject His Fatherhood and turn our rebellious backs on Him and demand that God be "good" as we define "good." How could a good God give me cancer? How could a loving God send people to Hell? Why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? I could never believe in a God who...

In other words, we choose to resolve the paradox by not resolving it, but by simply dismissing it with the wild, flailing and self-defeating rage of unbelief and idolatry. We choose to curse God and die.

2) We accept God's Fatherly control of all things, all circumstances, all choices, all free wills and all destinies. We give God the glory in sickness, in health, in life, in death, in riches, in poverty, in trial, and in blessing. Rather than close our world to include only our own selfish vision of "goodness," we expand our world to include God's goodness, and find that we are as happy and carefree as a baby on Daddy's knee. 

A complete and total trust in a sovereign God doesn't destroy joy; it creates joy. It doesn't take away satisfaction; it gives us satisfaction like we never dreamed of. It isn't the end of wisdom; it is the beginning of wisdom. It isn't the end of true love; it is the very definition of true love--particular, effectual and fully committed. God's love for His people is particular--He knows our name and puts it on a white stone. Christ died for persons not abstractions. The Cross wasn't a grand gesture of sentimentality; it was an effective redemption

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. -- Matt. 16:25

How's that for a paradox?

In case you hadn't noticed, the first option is the one of unbelief, atheism and insanity. The second option is nothing more or less than a full-on, 100-proof, ge-golly-willickers Calvinism. Those are the Two Camps. 

Many well meaning Christians, fearing "100-proof" of any sort, will understandably find the above two positions intolerable, unkind and sure-fire crazy--Why, are not all these men Genevans? They are full of sweet wine! That does not change the fact that those Two Camps are very definitely out there, staring each other down, hands twitching, with pistols in the right-hand holsters, fully loaded. In a world of aggressive atheists and homo weddings, a mumbling, deny-the-cat Wesleyanism will not do the trick, but a steely and winsome Calvinism alone allows us to make sense of the world and the God who makes it His footstool.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Calvinistic Thoughts on our Economic Distress

The 2007-09 Calamity was earth-shaking and terrible. Both parties behaved very badly. Both showed themselves complicit in an evil system that protects the big banks at the expense of the public.

Quite subtly, when this crisis happened, and articles were written declaring "We Are All Socialists Now," the following sequence went through my head: You know what, maybe what the Left has been saying all these years was right. Capitalism doesn't work. All it does is create messes like this. And capitalists are absolutely dependent on central banks to bail them out when times get bad. Therefore, capitalism is morally bankrupt. The free market doesn't actually work if capitalism itself only survives through bailouts. If the capitalists need bailouts to make it, it's only fair to provide bailouts for the little man when he runs into trouble. Hence, the welfare state must be OK to some extent. Life is about who will get the bailout, who will get the largesse. If that's the case, better the little man get it than the rich man.

I strongly suspect that I am not alone. Many people began to think these thoughts. When I see the posts of some of my friends on Facebook, I think they've gotten bit by this bug too. In many ways, it makes perfect sense. Economic calamities shake up your worldview and force you to reevaluate your thinking.

If you are like me and find yourself thinking these thoughts, you have a gut reaction against them. You don't want to go all the way and become a Leftist because this goes against how you were raised. So you find ways to cover up your new sensibilities. You say, "Well I'm into Catholic Social Teaching. I'm a distributist." You read Chesterton or Pope Leo XIII or even Wendell Berry and some of the agrarians and think that those folks basically have it right. You throw mainstream economics out the window and pine for times gone by. Given what has happened, you think yourself justified. If the economists couldn't save us from this disaster, the whole science must be bunk.

Politics is not the rigid smashing together of people with differing ideologies and worldviews. It is a fluid thing, affected by the passions and emotions of ordinary, flesh and blood people. When times are good, it's easier for the common people to believe in the goodness of the free market. When times are good, we're all good capitalists. When times are bad, we're all good socialists.

Policy tends to be formed through reacting to past crises. When the Panic of 1907 happened, the reaction was to create the Federal Reserve System in response to the "robber barons" of Wall Street. Of course, this only made the problem worse, and certainly only increased the power of those same robber barons. The wealthiest banker of them all, Paul Warburg, was active in its creation, even having his own office in the capitol building.

The crash of 1929 was responded to with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the confiscation of gold and some reforms to the Federal Reserve System that remain with us to this day. Of course, these changes didn't make the situation better, but led us directly to the crisis we suffered years ago. 

When economic crises happen, whom do people blame? Do they blame central banking? Do they blame stupid central planning? Do they blame government meddling? No. Our instinct is always to blame "capitalism" and vote Left. We elect FDR four times by landslides even though his policies did nothing to help the Depression but in many ways made it even worse. We elect Obama even though his policies have done nothing to help the economy improve.

Reason alone cannot explain this political and social phenomenon. Scripture can. The root of this problem is our propensity to envy others' success and to zealously guard our own economic security no matter what. This stems from selfishness and laziness. Those come from our hatred of God. Hence our economic problem is at root a spiritual and theological problem. It can be solved not through stimulus but through repentance.

When times are bad, and we see our friends losing their jobs, the economy contracting and even we ourselves begin to lose our jobs, or hours, or benefits, we begin to view the economic system with suspicion, as if it were out to get us. We tend to view it as unfair if it does not work for us the way we want it to. We respond well to a politician who promises government enforced "fairness" for us.

Tied to this is fear of the future and the general sense that the economy, or even the world itself, is a finite pie out of which there's only so much to go around. Thus, the answer to the crisis is neither innovation nor investment nor forward-thinking, but rather dour redistribution and rationing. 

We see this in the manufacturing crisis. Anyone involved with the permitting process for building a new facility or starting a new business knows the choking effect of government regulations. Add to this the many more regulations and taxes surrounding the hiring of workers. Add on to that the demands of labor unions for "fair" pay, and so on. In that light, the relocation of millions of manufacturing jobs overseas makes total sense. If we live in a world where it is actually more cost effective and convenient for a company to go through the hassle of reading the thousands of pages of the North American Free Trade Agreement, dealing with a foreign country and foreign workers who don't speak English, training said workers to create certain products for English speakers and so on, clearly something is amiss with the way rules and taxes hinder innovation. Few of us want to hear this. Surely the owners of such companies are greedy sons of you know what, much like Bernie Madoff or the Wall Street thugs who got bailed out. 

Except the odd thing is, with the exception of Chrysler or GM, no manufacturers got bailed out this time around. Manufacturers in general have no attentive ears at their beck and call in Washington the way financiers apparently do. Many would like to open up shop in the U.S., but regulations, taxes or lack of qualified people hinder their way.

Given the popularity of "middle class" rhetoric, particularly in the 2012 campaign, many Americans apparently believe being middle class is more than an achievement but a right. They look at the success of those above them, making more than say, $500,000 a year and say "Tax the rich!"

According to the Bible, however, working long and hard for little return is the lot we truly deserve for our sins and trangressions against God. If we enjoy more than this we are to be thankful not resentful. We are not to covet our neighbor's house, his wife, his donkey, his manservant or maidservant nor anything else that belongs to him, even if he makes six figures. 

If you take a look at Proverbs 16 we find that God's Providence is the reason some of our ventures succeed while others do not. Many hard working men and women face failure, while others see success. Many succeed due to lying, cheating and deceit. We are not to inquire deeply into this, nor be angry at others for their success, but to simply trust the hand of Providence Who holds us. The doctrine of predestination involves more than salvation--it involves the whole of life, it involves especially our economic life.

Wealth and riches often go to the undeserving, and the idiot boss you work for probably did brown-nose his way up the corporate chain of command. Wealth and poverty, life and death--these things are all in the hand of the Lord (I Samuel 2:6-8). We are to trust. We are to live by faith not sight. God, in His mysterious Providence, may use our poverty for His greater glory, seeking to fill us with good things, while the rich He sends empty away (Luke 2:53). We are not to revolt against our economic circumstances, but to peaceably work within them and submit to them (Ephesians 6:5-10).

If we choose to be angry about our station in life, if we choose to be bitter about a job loss or an idiot boss, and as a consequence seek revenge from the wealthy through various redistributionist schemes, we will reap in ourselves the due penalty of our error. We will have the fleeting pleasure of economic indignation, but will eventually only suffer greater poverty and alienation. The wages of sin is death for the sinner. The wages of economic sin is death for the economy, death for innovation and death for human flourishing and advancement. We must not trust ourselves and our wisdom; we must trust God's Providence. We must become like a child to inherit the kingdom. If we fancy ourselves economic planning geniuses, we will find that our genius is about as effectual as the Obamacare website.

I do want to make the point that the only doctrine and the only theology than can bring us to grips with these truths is a crusty Calvinism--not an angry Calvinism but a hardy kind, the kind that goes to work with a song, a smile and a cheery wave at the incompetent butt-kissing boss as he fumbles with the fax machine.

Right doctrine is not enough. I want a worldview Calvinism. I want the sort of robust Reformed theology that Calvin, Bucer or Kuyper could recognize, a theology that becomes flesh and dwells among us. May we become known for the pleasant and functional economy of Geneva, and not only for our dumping hot tar on the heretics besieging the city walls. It does no good to do battle for a Christian culture if there is no Christian culture. A warrior fights not for abstract ideas and doctrines, but for country, city, family, wife, children, Thanksgiving dinner and summer days at the ballpark.

A high view of God, if true, calls us to humility--it calls us to transform our entire lives in light of what we know about our sovereign God. A Gospel of free grace must produce free men and free markets. A belief in an Invisible Hand in our salvation will lead to belief in an Invisible Hand in our economic affairs.

In our economic life, this means trusting that in every circumstance, God will take care of us. It means not coveting other people's stuff, nor voting for politicians who promise to give us what we sinfully desire. Economic liberalism is a sin, and we must recognize it as such.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Tale of Two Theologians

The following quote comes from John Calvin in his great work The Institutes of the Christian Religion

"God declares that he adopts our babies as his own before they are born, when he promises that he will be our God and the God of our descendants after us [Gen. 17:7]. Their salvation is embraced in this word. No one will dare be so insolent toward God as to deny that his promise of itself suffices for its effect." (Book IV, Chapter XV.20, Ed. John McNeill, Tr. Ford Lewis Battles, Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960. Vol. II, p. 1321)

The next quote comes from Pastor Rich Lusk in his modern book Paedofaith:

"God makes promises to our children. What is the content of those promises? Nothing less than salvation. He promises to be their God (Gen. 17:7), which is just a shorthand way of saying He promises to be a personal Lord and Savior to them. He promises to be for them in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we find God's supreme self-revelation of love directed toward His people and their offspring. All the promises of God are 'Yes!' and 'Amen!' in Him, including His promises to our children. In other words, God has promised our children the riches of the gospel, namely, Christ and his benefits. This includes giving them faith, even as infants. To be sure, covenant children can grow up to reject this promised offer just as their parents can. This apostasy is a sad and mysterious reality, but God's promise is what it is--a trustworthy and sure pledge of forgiveness and new life in Christ." (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2005. p. 39)

Aside from the length and wordiness of Pr. Lusk in contrast to Calvin's prose, and aside from some stylistic differences, one can see remarkable similarities in these two passages, right down to the Scripture proof utilized. One passage is condemned as "Federal Vision", making God a liar and promise-breaker and creating unbiblical presumption as regards the children of Christians. The other is regarded as the work of an esteemed theologian read in all Reformed seminaries and academies of repute. 

If Pr. Lusk is a heretic, Calvin must be also, for Calvin was the progenitor of the Reformed tradition Pr. Lusk is apart of and affirms. Of course lots of things have happened since 1559, and a good argument can be made that maybe we should move on from Calvin's thoughts on this particular subject. Sola Scriptura and all of that. However, if one of the great expositors and Reformers was guilty of heresy on this point, don't you think somebody would have noticed before now?

If need be, more quotes from Calvin can be supplied which suggest more his general orientation on this issue.

Honest question, gentlemen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Was Never A Christian Until...

Among the Young, Restless and Reformed (a group I have recently become part of) it is rather common to hear people say, "I discovered that I was not really a Christian when _____." Or, "I didn't really become a Christian until last year when _____." Many times these conversion stories have something to do with discovering Reformed theology, or realizing that the squishy evangelical church of their youth was getting a number of things dead wrong and had never taught them crucial doctrines about Jesus, sin, righteousness, imputation or penal substitution. Sometimes people awaken from a deadened faith in college or post-college to realize anew the wonders of the evangelical faith. 

I understand the zeal and deep emotion behind these conversion stories. I understand that easy believism and cheap grace are real dangers, quite abundant today. I think the fear of presumption that these comments reveal is a reasonable fear--certainly there will be some who say "Lord, Lord" and Jesus will answer "I never knew you." 

In many ways the stories of these converts is my story as well. The evangelical church I grew up in got much more squishy once I reached adulthood. There were periods when me and several friends who came from homeschool, Christian school or otherwise churchly backgrounds went to parties and behaved in ways scarcely different from the world. We did it to seem edgy, to seem more gracious, to seem less bent of shape--trying to be good hipster emergent-pomo whatevers, but it was, as all of that is, an act. And a bad one at that.

Going for full honesty here, there have been times when I've been tempted to walk away from Christ's exclusivity, when the arguments made by Rachel Held Evans and others of her ilk held some sway with me, when the possibility of universal salvation intrigued me, when Rob Bell or Brian McLaren seemed to be misunderstood fellows, rather than wolves. Name a contemporary fad or error 21st century Christians have been tempted to fall for, and I've probably fallen for it. Many of my friends, many of them like me newly Reformed, have too.

Through all of that, to suggest that I didn't "really become a Christian" until recently when I discovered the Doctrines of Grace seems to me a bridge too far. I fear completely disregarding the ministry I did, the study I did and more importantly the people who guided me and led me in those things. I fear seeming ungrateful to them by claiming that all that I did with them was a sham, that they taught me only "false Gospels" and I did not learn the real Gospel until some Calvinists handed it to me.

If there's anything my generation is guilty of, it's ingratitude. We think we're the first ones to experience economic hardship, trouble with school and career, romantic troubles, troubles finding a job, etc. Somehow, when we get to Reformed theology, we also think this is the first time anyone has ever understood Christianity and the first time we have been true Christians. Well, hate to break it to ya...

Tied with the ingratitude of my generation is our insufferable vanity. Social media amplifies vanity all the way up to 11. See me, hear me, watch me we say. Understand me. Check out my Twitter feed. Look at my Facebook photos. Read my blog. See how intellectual, sexy, fashionable, marriageable, good with kids, detached or into cool music I am. Look at my tatoos, piercings and unusually wide earrings that stretch my earlobes so tight that if the earrings slipped out there's a good chance my face would catapult into orbit. 

The genius of Reformed theology is that it forces us to see the truth about ourselves. We aren't special. We are unremarkable. God is powerful, Triune and utterly sovereign over all the Universe. Discovering that should make us tremble, and cause us to be humble about what we know, rather than turn us into the kinds of people Calvin would have had burned at the stake.

Sure...your bumbling Arminian church and your fuzzy Arminian parents taught you some bad theology, or left out really important stuff from the Bible. They are not, however, in the same category as Satan. They thought that teaching you the Bible was important. They saw your soul as worth saving. They made your spiritual growth a priority. They probably urged you to vote Republican, care about the unborn, work hard, and do other likewise uncool things. They did this even though they could have been doing other things on Sunday mornings, when they were working long hours at a job they hated to live a life that didn't seem to be going as they planned. Rather than feel sorry for themselves and withdraw, they engaged and brought you along. And you sat, listened and took it all in. 

Believe it or not, God's hand was on your life long before you plumbed the depths of the doctrine of justification, or election, or perseverance, or the sovereignty of God. You were part of the covenant. You received real blessings. The worship you gave, the faith that grew in you--it was real worship and real faith. Don't throw it all away. Be grateful for it. 

It is entirely normal, in the course of our Christian lives, for us to have progressive conversions. Faith is a like an organism. It doesn't stay the same; it grows and develops. Sometimes faith goes through hard seasons of drought, and death seems imminent, but miraculously, by God's Providence, it recovers and stands tall again. We serve a God who is in the business of resurrection. It is entirely normal for us to become newly conscious of sin, fear God's judgment, repent and turn to Him anew. We must be careful not to allow our personal experience and our hearts to trump the promises of God, or to say that previous conversions and previous professions of faith didn't take somehow. No, they did take but now, praise God, we know more and understand better. Now, praise God, we're Reformed. This does not give us a license to declare other kinds of Christians anathema.

God is still able to keep us from falling, and to make us to stand in His presence, blameless and with great joy. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

That's So Meta

Recently I was with a good friend of mine who said he had two major objections to the baptism of Christian children. 1) It is nowhere depicted in Scripture explicitly, and 2) Repentance then belief are required prior to baptism according to Acts 2:38 and Mark 16:16. Infants may be capable of having faith, but they cannot repent, which comes before exercising faith. 

This is significant to me because I have become convinced by my own study that the common presentation of the Gospel embraced by many Reformed people today (I'm thinking in particular of Tim Keller and the boys at Westminster Escondido) is all grace but no repentance. In other words, it encourages us to give people a get-out-of-jail-free card so that they may "sin boldly" which in turn enables sin without the accompanying sting of "Go and sin no more." This presentation of the Gospel is relevant if you're a hyper-scrupulous Augustinian German monk trying to flagellate yourself into heaven, but if you're a typical postmodern 21st century American, the message of grace, grace and more grace is more fuel for you to continue living as you always have. Those who have no fear of God have no need for grace either. 

A Gospel which has no room for the Law, and which ascribes 0 grace to the Law, is more Lutheran than Reformed. Our Lutheran friends, though well intentioned, are stuck in the monastery with Luther. Outside, the revelry of Sodom goes on. When the troubled consciences open the doors for a breath of fresh air, the crowds demand their daughters, and to their surprise, the message of free grace proves to be an ineffective substitute. Violating an all-grace, no condemnation Gospel is too easy of a lay for the men of the cities of the Plain. Yet there they stand, God help them.

Therefore, since repentance is a necessary part of a person coming to faith and being reconciled to God in Christ, what are we to make of infants? Can they repent? And if they cannot, why baptize them? Is serious violence done to the Gospel by doing so? These are worthy questions.

It is here that we must call Dr. Luther out of the monastery to have a word with us about what it means "to repent." The word for "repent" used in the New Testament at places like Acts 2:38 is metanoia which means a change in mind or disposition. It does not mean being sorry that we did wrong, or bewailing our sins. Plenty of sinners know that they do wrong, and suppress the truth in unrighteousness anyway. 

Changing our hearts, renewing our minds, exchanging the corruptible for the incorruptible, turning from hating God to loving God--this is the stuff of true repentance. It is not something that we can do for ourselves, rather it is something that is done to us, as the New Testament teaches. 

Repentance is a work that only God can do. Of ourselves, we will flee from God and hate Him, for we are under the bondage of sin. We are under this bondage from conception, as David tells us in Psalm 51. 

To be fair to my Baptist friend, he is about as Reformed as they come--like a TULIP 'ere blooming. He agrees with what has been said about repentance I am certain--and I am certain he remains unconvinced of the paedobaptist position. Infants remain incapable of changing their minds or being sorrowful for their sins, and so repentance in either case is impossible for them. 

My purpose was not to slander my friend, or the rock solid Reformed Baptists the world over, but to define my terms.

Now that I have done that I would like to throw a bone to our Lutheran friends after I consigned them to the hordes of Sodom earlier. Because metanoia is something that must happen to us rather than something we do for our own sakes, salvation indeed is a work of completely free grace, no trace of merit anywhere. Having said that, however, it remains the case that Scripture tells us that the presence of such metanoia can be tested, measured and observed. Faith is like a mustard seed. It is a living faith, not a dead faith. It is less like a china plate, refined and pristine, sitting in a cabinet undisturbed and glorious, and more like the bumbling child that tries to pick up the plate and breaks it into a million pieces. 

The child is a living thing, growing, developing and changing into what he is...a man. He will often make mistakes, he will often disappoint mother and father, but in time he will become more fully what he is. 

If the child refuses to grow beyond his china-breaking days, and is still a bull in the china shop at age 30, then he is worse than useless. He is not what he should be. He is like a vine branch that bears no fruit, fit to be cut away and thrown into the fire.

The critical thing here is to note that the testing for fruit and good works can only occur after metanoia not before. Also critical is the fact that because faith is living, it must grow and develop as all living things do. At first it may barely be noticeable, but over time it manifests itself in a life of repentance.

It is no accident therefore that our Lord, who gave us parables that compared saving faith with a mustard seed or a grapevine, also welcomed the little children into His presence. The disciples saw the children as a distraction and as a nuisance. How could they possibly understand the hard sayings of the Messiah? How could they be fit soldiers for the army of the conquering son of King David? The Lord knew something the disciples did not. 

From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. Psalm 8:2

We serve a God so utterly powerful and so sovereign that He establishes strength and stuns His enemies with the praises of tiny babies. One thing we know about those babies is that they were born sinners, conceived in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). Yet the Psalmist also says that little ones can praise God, and that they can hope in God from their mothers' breast (Psalm 22:10). The Psalmist is not contradicting himself. The babies of Psalm 8 were indeed born corruptible, in the body of sin and death, but by the grace of God they were born into covenant families where they could receive the instruction from their parents when they sat in the house or walked by the way, and when they sat down or got up (Deut. 6:7). 

Since a sinful man would never want to praise God, that infants would praise Him is a sign that they have faith--tiny faith, seed faith, baby faith--but faith nonetheless. If a child possesses faith this means he has gone through metanoia. His mind is renewed. He is in the Kingdom. His family is God's family.

When a farmer plants a seed, he calls it by its proper name: these are my mustard plants. That the plant exists only as a seed for the moment does not change its status. The farmer knows that if the seeds live and grow they will become more fully what they are. 

The same is true of the children of Christians. God welcomes the children of Christians and calls them holy. Their identity is that of a son of the covenant. Christian parents can be confident in forming their children into who they are in Christ because that is their children's identity

While all of this may well sound either fanciful, heretical or wonderful, none of it matters if there is no practice, if there is no fruit. Living things need food and sustenance to grow, and so does faith. Too often Reformed and Presbyterian men are more content to systematize and argue the doctrine of baptism rather than practice it. In this respect the Reformed, and other churches that baptize Christian children, exchange the power of God for the form and for their tradition. Until Reformed men practice their covenant baptism as fervently as Baptist men practice their professor's baptism, the Reformed church has no future, and the landscape of evangelicalism will continue to be what it has been in America--baptistic. 

Too many padeobaptists have treated the sacrament superstitiously and/or carelessly, resulting in multitudes of people baptized into Christ, declared part of the covenant, but who possess a dead faith which cannot save them, a faith in a magical act rather than the Son of God. This only strengthens the case of evangelical baptists and rightly so. To channel Chesterton, Covenant baptism has not been tried, and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.

I'll throw in a few more firebombs to cause my Baptist friends to, if not leap for joy, at least snicker and have a good belly laugh:

1) If a Reformed man wishes to be consistent with the practice of infant baptism, he must admit those baptized to the Lord's Table. No family excludes children from a meal, and neither should God's family. Children in Israel were allowed to partake of the Passover meal, and so should Christian children take part in the Christian memorial meal.

2) The covenant baptism of families is a political act. Thus the Gospel has political ramifications. Jesus is King of the World, and will not return until the Gospel has been preached to all nations. He is Lord of everything. Therefore, a consistent Reformed man must not only call for the discipleship of families but for the discipleship of whole nations, i.e. a form of theocracy, as the early Reformed did in their time. As James B. Jordan has said, "The Holy Spirit wants to turn the nations of the world into theocracies, and it starts with sprinkling water on the heads of babies."

3) Circumcision, as the rite of entrance into the Old Covenant, is alike to baptism as the rite of entrance into the New Covenant in many respects, but it is a mistake and too large of a stretch to insist on a 1:1 relationship between the two, as some are prone to do.

4) As Dr. Luther said, if we maintain that infants are incapable of exercising faith, we have no business baptizing them. Reformed men who baptize babies so they can put them into a hypothetical "sort of in sort of out" status in the covenant are doing themselves no favors. Scripture clearly connects metanoia, faith and baptism. We must wholeheartedly agree with our Baptist friends that only believers should be baptized...and that the children of Christians are to be included in that category.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Engineers & Authority

The following is from a second paper I submitted for my engineering ethics course at the University of Louisville. This one concerns the question of engineers and the ethical standard they should live up to.

Broader society already presupposes that engineers as professionals, and civil engineers in particular as a discipline within engineering, should be held to higher ethical standards because engineers are required to be licensed by the state. This is a good, necessary and salutary thing, because civil engineers, as well as engineers in other disciplines, design and construct buildings and other works used by the general public. The consequences should these works fail are dire, including serious injury, death and the destruction of livelihoods and workplaces. Thus ethical standards must be publicly enforced, meaning they apply to all engineers practicing within the jurisdiction of a state. These standards affect me because as a citizen I use public works designed by engineers all the time, and as a prospective engineer I hope to one day be licensed.

Governmental standards set for engineers can often seem cumbersome, and the temptation is to want to remove these altogether. The thinking could be: Since as a profession engineers are taught to design things, why not allow them to design as they see fit, and dispense with building codes, external licensure and other regulatory artifices? I am reminded of what G.K. Chesterton once said: “Don’t ever take a fence down unless you know the reason why it was put up.” (My memory tells me this is from The Thing, but I could be wrong.) In order to make a home in the world, human beings must construct artifices (“fences” for the purpose of metaphor) that serve definite purposes. Birds build nests, foxes build dens, and the son of man builds houses, makes laws, and creates forms out of formless voids. Man has priority in building over other creatures because man is a little lower than the angels; he is crowned with glory to rule over them not as a dictator but as a husband, a leader and caretaker of a house. Houses, laws, streets, vacuum cleaners and such are artificial—they don’t come from nature ready-made, they must be made by man. Our sex drive doesn’t tell us to get married or live in a committed relationship—marriage is an artifice that channels the sex drive into something constructive.  The artifice we are concerned with here—the artifice of licensure and examination—is a “fence” in place for a reason. Jack McCormac in Structural Steel Design makes a great point about legal standards for engineering practice: while ancient engineers in Rome for example did have more freedom to make their own standards, they frequently did so “without regard to cost of material, labor, or human life…Their likely numerous failures are not recorded in history, only their successes endured.” (p. 40, 5th ed.) Standards of practice are therefore essential and we need to have them.

In the United States, licensure of engineers, architects and other professionals has traditionally been handled by states. This is as it should be, for in our history, the sovereignty of state governments has been taken for granted. As James Madison said in the Federalist, the powers of the federal government were “few and defined” while those left to the states were “numerous and indefinite.” The Tenth Amendment reads, The powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. Ethical standards and/or standards for licensure should not be set by Congress or the federal government on that principle (the Constitution says nothing about licensing engineers), except as necessary for working on federal projects, or on projects that involve interstate commerce. In that sense ethical standards within the U.S. should not be “all inclusive” but locally determined and enforced, to ensure maximum accountability and accessibility for the public. It is extremely difficult to get a congressman’s attention; it is several degrees of magnitude easier to contact a state legislator or, say, a member of the state board of licensure for engineers and land surveyors. While this often means different states will have different standards, the accessibility to the public is the main thing—giving them a channel to have complaints and grievances addressed. We have ethical standards so that the public may be protected from poor engineering.

The discussion has assumed all along that the reader has a certain understanding of law, order and authority. This assumption should be tested and established, as I will attempt to do now. The reason to have law and order, a “fence” of human making, is that man is a relational creature. As relational creatures, our freedom is not absolute. Necessarily as soon as we are dealing with others, their freedom enters the picture. Engineers have the freedom to design things, and the public uses their freedom to use them. What if, in the exercise of freedom, the engineer freely makes a huge error and several individuals freely use a stairwell which collapses, sending them to the hospital, where nurses freely bandage their wounds and leave them a bill? To sort all this freedom out we need laws. We need authority. Relationships must be established. Submission and agreement to authority are needed. This authority must be binding on everyone, in order to have any force. In that sense, within a jurisdiction, standards of practice for engineers would indeed be “all inclusive.” It could be no other way.

Man is a relational creature because he was created by a relational God, who Himself is Trinity, existing in Three Persons, consubstantial and coeternal. Even within the Trinity there is authority, structure and roles. In Creation, there is authority, structure and roles as well. Man’s authority therefore is delegated authority. Necessarily all authority proceeds from God as Creator and Father. Since God is the standard, human authorities may be judged by how closely they conform to God’s standards of authority, revealed in the Scriptures.

Is it legitimate to bring religion into a discussion of engineering ethics? As Dr. Cornelius Van Til and other philosophers/theologians have demonstrated, it is impossible for law and ethics to not have a religious foundation of some sort. Either the religion will be from the Bible or perhaps another holy book, or merely human in origin. We all have a worldview; we all have to believe in something in order to say, “Do this, but not this. Obey this law but not this one.” I am proceeding to outline the correct foundation of ethics as I see it from a Christian worldview because I am a Christian, and therefore see reality in a certain way, though far from perfectly.

With all the particularities of individual cases, is it possible to develop an ethical standard that could take into account all possible failures? The more we add to written laws, the more legal complications we invite. The Biblical standard is: present the law in a general way, prescribing what is right and wrong and attaching the penalties God sees fit to require: but allow the actual enforcement and judgment to be done on a case by case basis at the local level. In other words, few parents, when their children were disobedient to them, would have brought their children before the elders to be executed, although the law of Moses required this. The law was a general standard meant to instruct the people in what God hated and wanted, and how much He hated or wanted certain things (such as hating disobedience to parents so much that the penalty was death)—actual enforcement was done case by case. Penalties written in the law were more intended to describe the seriousness of the offense, not really prescribing how to prosecute the offense.

In a sense we already do that with engineering ethics. If someone has a problem, the board of licensure looks at it and determines if it complies with their standards or not and what to do to enforce those standards. Engineers may be fined, reprimanded or have their license revoked. From there, other actions may be taken in the courts.

In conclusion, ethical standards for engineers must have a basis, for in order to tell someone to do something, one must have a reason for claiming authority. Law and order are constructs put in place on some foundation, necessary for the right ordering of society and the conflicting freedoms of individuals. Ethical standards for engineers are necessary, but should be set and enforced by state governments and not nationally according to Biblical principles and the Constitution.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vladimir Putin's Impressive Op-Ed

My sense of history in the making is roughly as poor as anyone else's but I wanted to record here Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the New York Times. The Russian president made a number of excellent points, and showed himself to be a true world leader, appealing to international cooperation and international law as the key for solving problems of violence and warfare, rather than aggressive American military intervention in other countries.

For most Americans I suspect (though a lot of people have been waking up lately, and reacting strongly against the proposed Syria strike) Putin's observations about how America is perceived abroad will come as an unpleasant surprise, which they may or may not accept. What remains is that Mr. Putin's observation is simply true. The world tires of America's intervention in other nations' internal affairs. They tire of "American exceptionalism." They seek nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction, in order to be free of the fear of being invaded and messed with themselves.

Putin observantly, again probably surprising his American readers, points out that the poison gas used in Syria was likely used by the Syrian rebels to make it appear as though the Syrian government used it, in order to provoke an intervention from the U.S. to topple Bashar al Assad's regime. Unlike most Americans, Mr. Putin is aware that "false flag operations" exist. He is aware that international intrigue is a "real thing." He saw, and the world saw, though America in her media fog did not, that the people of America were being suckered into another foreign conflict for trumped up concocted reasons. Mr. Putin acted to stop it.

Putin began his first term as president of Russia in 1999, when he took over for Boris Yeltsin. Early in his presidency, I recall George W. Bush meeting with Putin and saying something to the effect of "I look into his eyes and can see he is a good, God-fearing man." Mr. Bush was made fun of for his naivete, but I think there was something to it. I think George W. Bush, before 9/11, before the neocon handlers in his administration completely took over, had a pretty good read of the world. It was Bush, after all, who promised a "humble foreign policy" when he first ran for president in 2000.

Mr. Putin has shown himself the good man in this drama, but I think there's more going on here than meets the eye. The United States has been prevented from doing something that, for over 20 years now, it has taken for granted: the right to strike or invade any country at any time. Could it be that after years of a bad economy, crippling debt and deficits, unwinnable foreign conflicts and suchlike, America has been weakened, while Russia and China have been growing stronger? Could it be that the old unipolar world is giving way to a multipolar world? We will see. But the winner of "the hearts and minds" this week was clearly Vladimir Putin, with Obama coming in far behind.