Tuesday, January 16, 2007

IN PREP FOR PART 2 ON THEONOMY

In preparation for part 2 on my theonomy critique, please read the article that follows below.
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ON GUARD FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
(this article appears at www.libertymagazine.org/article/articleview/610/1/94/ )

The Reverend John Leland was not a man to mince words when it comes to religion and politics. Candidates who advertise their personal faith, he insisted, should be avoided by the voters. “Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives,” observed Leland. “It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. “If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates,” he continued, “those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.” As America comes out of another round of elections, in which the line between faith and electioneering is being aggressively blurred, Leland’s words seem extraordinarily current. In fact, however, his comments come from an Independence Day oration he gave in Cheshire, Massachusetts, more than two centuries ago. On July 5, 1802, Leland, a Baptist preacher and staunch religious liberty advocate, held forth on the importance of choosing public officials who will defend the Constitution and its separation of church and state. “Be always jealous of your liberty, your rights,” he thundered. “Nip the first bud of intrusion on your Constitution.… Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny—the worst of despotism.” “It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll,” he continued. “It converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between churches and state; their embraces, therefore, must be unlawful.” Today, when some prominent Baptist preachers denounce such church-state separation and urge evangelicals to “vote Christian,” Leland’s words may sound strange. But Baptists in Revolutionary-era America were in no position to try to take over the government. Persecuted minorities in many states, they fought against official preference in matters of religion. Leland, like many of his coreligionists, believed government interference in matters of faith violated the will of God and individual freedom of conscience. According to scholar Edwin Gaustad, Leland declared that persecution, inquisition, and martyrdom all derived from one single “rotten nest-egg, which is always hatching vipers: I mean the principle of intruding the laws of men into the Kingdom of Christ.” Leland is little known to most Americans today. But he and other evangelical Christians played a critical role in establishing religious liberty and its constitutional corollary, church-state separation. Born in Grafton, Massachusetts, on May 14, 1754, Leland said he spent his teenage years in “frolicking and foolish wickedness.” But at 18 he converted to Christianity and became an itinerant Baptist preacher. After visiting Virginia in 1775, he and his wife, Sally, moved to that state, and he soon became a prominent figure in both religious and political life. Leland served as a member of the Baptists’ “General Committee,” a group formed in 1784 to agitate for religious liberty. He and other dissenting clergy fought alongside James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the battle to overturn Virginia’s state-established Anglican (Episcopal) Church and ensure equal rights for all. The Baptist preacher insisted that religion is hurt more by government favor than by government oppression. Experience has informed us, he wrote, that “the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than persecutions ever did.”
Observed Leland, “Persecution, like a lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure; state establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints but corrupts Christianity. ” Thanks to the leadership of Enlightenment thinkers such as Madison and Jefferson and the grassroots organizing of devout Christian believers such as Leland, the Virginia legislature in 1786 adopted Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom. That groundbreaking law served as a model for other states as they moved toward religious liberty guarantees, and it paved the way for the church-state separation safeguards in the U.S. Constitution. According to historian Anson Phelps Stokes, “The Baptists played a large part in securing religious freedom and the abolition of the State-Church in Virginia, and Leland was their most effective advocate.” Leland also played an important role in securing the Bill of Rights. When the Constitution was first submitted to the states in 1787, many in Virginia and other states were alarmed because it lacked a Bill of Rights. Leland and other Baptists were particularly worried that the Constitution included no guarantee of religious freedom, and they joined the rising chorus of opposition. In an August 8, 1789, letter to President George Washington, written by Leland, the Baptists’ General Committee said its members feared that “liberty of conscience, dearer to us than property or life, was not sufficiently secured.” Recognizing that the states might not ratify the Constitution unless these concerns were met, Madison assured Leland and the other Baptists that he would work to add a Bill of Rights if they would support ratification. The deal was accepted. Virginia ratified the Constitution, and Madison kept his promise. The First Amendment he helped craft forbids the government to make any law “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In 1791 Leland moved back to his home state of Massachusetts, where he continued his religious and political work. In a pamphlet titled “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” he advocated a free market of religious ideas. “Government,” he said, “has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse, or loss of property, for his religious opinions…. [I]f his doctrine is false, it will be confuted, and if it is true, (though ever so novel,) let others credit it.” Leland added, “Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense—it will stand upon its own merit. It is error, and error alone, that needs human support; and whenever men fly to the law or sword to protect their system of religion, and force it upon others, it is evident that they have something in their system that will not bear the light, and stand upon the basis of truth.” Leland did not hesitate to bring his principles into politics on behalf of religious freedom. He supported Jefferson’s candidacy for president in 1800, and after his longtime ally was elected, the Baptist minister came up with a unique way to celebrate. On New Year’s Day, 1802, Leland showed up at the White House with a 1,325-pound wheel of cheese. A placard that accompanied the tribute on its way to Washington proclaimed it: “The Greatest Cheese in America for the Greatest Man in America!” Jefferson, who was often brutally abused by establishment-minded clergy, was deeply gratified by Leland’s dramatic gesture, and fragments of the cheese were reportedly still being served to Jefferson’s guests two years later (although one diner found them “very far from good”). The U.S. Constitution and the broad-minded policies of Jefferson and Madison protected religious freedom at the national level, but in Leland’s time (before the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment), states remained free to promote favored faiths and oppress religious minorities. Leland never accepted that discriminatory policy as just, and he relentlessly fought government-backed religious establishments in his own state as well as neighboring Connecticut. In 1820, in his Short Essays on Government , Leland argued for religious liberty on the broadest possible basis. “Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another,” he wrote. “The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” Leland’s views finally triumphed. In 1831 the Massachusetts legislature separated church and state, and two years later the action was overwhelmingly ratified by popular vote. In 1788 Leland introduced a resolution at the Baptists’ General Committee meeting in Virginia denouncing slavery as “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature and inconsistent with a republican government” and urging the use of “every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land.” Leland died on January 14, 1841. His tombstone reflects the passions of his life: “Here lies the body of John Leland, who labored 67 years to promote piety, and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men.” Historians find the epitaph, which Leland himself composed, to be very revelatory. In Revolution Within the Revolution , William R. Estep says, “The order of these phrases is significant, indicating that Leland considered himself first and foremost a minister of the gospel and only secondarily a political activist.” Leland certainly did not let his civic work get in the way of his Christian evangelism. According to The Baptist Encyclopedia , his 15 years of preaching in Virginia involved more than 3,000 sermons, 700 baptisms, and the creation of two churches. By 1820 he estimated that he had given nearly 8,000 sermons over the course of his preaching career and had baptized 1,278. Leland even gave sermons along the way as he hauled his mammoth cheese to Jefferson’s White House. “Notwithstanding my trust, I preached all the way there and on my return,” he recalled, “had large congregations; led in part by curiosity to hear the Mammoth Priest, as I was called.” Basing his views on both his theology and his political philosophy, Leland was a church-state separation purist who never veered from support of freedom. He opposed Sunday laws, all special privileges for the clergy, state-paid chaplains, and any government aid to religion. He said Baptists did not want the “mischievous dagger” of government help. Leland gave his last sermon on January 3, 1841, just six days before his death at age 88. “Next to the salvation of the soul,” he once observed, “the civil and religious rights of men have summoned my attention, more than the acquisition of wealth or seats of honor.”

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A FED UP ESSAY I WROTE

I am so fed up and tired of my credential and Masters in Education program's stress of "tolerance" and "multiculturalism" (not to mention their lack of tolerance of "white Protestant males") that I wrote the following essay for an assignment for my current online class. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope you get a good laugh. The essay was on how our students can benefit from reading Native American literature. Well, here is what I said.

By the way, most of my professors don't even care about scholarship, and they hardly ever read my papers. I've gotten A's on terrible papers before. I'll let you know what I get on this essay. It was worth 10 points. Won't it be funny if I get all 10 points? :0)
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Aspects of Native American Tales

There are different kinds of Native American tales. These tales help explain different kinds of Native American beliefs and practices. In this short essay, we will be looking at some of them.

The Abenaki

For example, http://www.answers.com/ says the following tale:

Tabaldak, the creator god, made humans and then Gluskab (several variants of whom were associated with different branches of the Abenaki, including Glooscap, Glooskap, Gluskabe Klooskomba and Nanabozho) and Malsumis sprang from the dust on his hand. Gluskab and Malsumis both had the power to create a good world, but only Gluskab did so. Malsumis still seeks evil to this day. Gluskab founded the Golden Age of the Earth by rendering the evil spirits of the Ancient Age smaller and safer, as well as teaching humanity how to hunt and fish, build shelter and all of the Abenaki's knowledge of art, invention and science. Gluskab's departure ended the Golden Age, though he is prophesied to return and renew it again. Me-koom-wee-soo was Gluskab's assistant and wields an ivory bow. He has a fierce temper and gains weight as he gets more angry; eventually, it is said, he sinks into stone. Gluskab and Me-koom-wee-soo had an archery contest once; Me-koom-wee-soo fired an arrow into the top of Mt. Washington, creating a pond, while Gluskab's arrow created a hole in the sky that was then called msatawa (the Evening Star). Gluskab realized the strain hunters can cause on an ecosystem. He asked a woodchuck spirit for help, and she gave him all the hairs off her belly, woven into a magical sac. This is why woodchucks have bald bellies. Gluskab then went to a mountain, where Tabaldak had placed a huge eagle (P-mol-a) that made bad weather by flapping its wings. After binding it, Gluskab realized some wind was necessary and loosened them slightly. Gluskab saved the world from a frog monster that swallowed all the planet's water. When Gluskab cut open the monster's belly, some animals jumped into the water and became fish. Some modern Wabanaki believe that Gluskab is angry at white people for not obeying his rules.

As we look at this, we can see how this may be used to benefit every member of a diverse classroom.

The Importance of this in the Diverse Classroom

So, how can we use this for the benefit of our students in the diverse classroom? Well, especially for our younger students, they like to pretend. These kinds of stories can help develop their imagination. It is the imagination which likes to run wild, and these stories can help contribute to an appreciation for pretend games. These stories also help our students understand the importance of tolerance of other cultures. The Abenaki is just one example of many of the different kinds of rich and interesting stories that abound in Native American literature.

It is clear to this writer that it is of utmost importance, therefore, that we carefully select our multicultural literature in such a way that it reflects the true spirit of Native American literature. What we have seen above is only one example of Native American folklore. We can conclude that there is so much more for our students’ entertainment and imagination.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A PUBLIC RETRACTION ON CALVIN'S VIEWS ON THEONOMY

To my blog readers:

My series on theonomy will continue soon, but first I must make a public retraction and apology when it comes to John Calvin's views regarding theonomy. I should have studied more deeply before I declared publicly what Calvin believed on this issue. After having done further study, it seems that I cannot be dogmatic as to what Calvin believed. Calvin himself makes both statements that seem anti-theonomic, but elsewhere he makes statements that seem to be clearly supporting of the theonomic thesis. It is for this reason that I cannot be dogmatic as to what he believed.

For further reading, I recommend The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen, in particular Christopher Strevel's article, "Theonomic Precedent in the Theology of John Calvin."

I regret my careless error here and do hereby retract my previous post on Calvin's views.

--Josh Brisby

Monday, January 01, 2007

A CRITIQUE OF THEONOMY, part 1: Calvin's Thoughts

Greetings once again to my blog readers. I have not yet blogged on the issue of theonomy, so I thought I would go ahead and do so. This will be a three-part series, and I welcome interaction in the comments section. Feel free to invite other brothers and sisters to interact in this discussion as well. I hope and pray that this will be a fruitful discussion.
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Does God intend for the state to enforce His civil laws found in the Mosaic Covenant today? This is the question of theonomy. We are defining theonomy as the view (found in small numbers in Reformed circles) that God will hold the civil magistrate accountable to enforce His civil law, and in fact desires or intends for them to.

Part 1 of our series here will simply be quotes from the great Reformer, John Calvin, with short commentary by me. I recognize, of course, that Calvin was not infallible, but of course I think what he says should not be dismissed flippantly.

Part 2 will be some of my own thoughts on the theonomic thesis. I have much respect for our brothers who are theonomists, but I remain unconvinced of it. In part 2 I will tell you why.

Part 3 will be my answers to common theonomic arguments, with some brief final thoughts to sum up this series.

So . . . get yourself some popcorn and a drink, and cuddle up with your loved one, and come enjoy part 1. I will place Calvin's thoughts in italics, and then my commentary will be in regular print below them. The quotes come from his Institutes, Book IV, chapter 20, sections 14, 15, and 16, in order.

Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for our teacher on the theonomy issue, that great Reformer, that non-theonomist himself, John Calvin!!!

(Crowd cheers.)

Let us hear what Calvin has to say:
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"This I would rather have passed in silence, were I not aware that many dangerous errors are here committed. For there are some who deny that any commonwealth is rightly framed which neglects the law of Moses, and is ruled by the common law of nations. How perilous and seditious these views are, let others see: for me it is enough to demonstrate that they are stupid and false."

Well, here the great Reformer makes no bones about it. He says that theonomy can lead to dangerous ideas, that the view itself can be dangerous. He then declares that it is a view which is "stupid and false." Calvin certainly had a way with his pen, didn't he? Although I would give more respect to our theonomic brethren than that, I find it interesting, nonetheless, that he thought it can be dangerous. Let's hear from him again:

" . . . And as that exercise in ceremonies properly pertained to the doctrine of piety, inasmuch as it kept the Jewish Church in the worship and religion of God, yet was still distinguishable from piety itself, so the judicial form, though it looked only to the best method of preserving that charity which is enjoined by the eternal law of God, was still something distinct from the precept of love itself. Therefore, as ceremonies might be abrogated without at all interfering with piety, so also, when these judicial arrangements are removed, the duties and precepts of charity can still remain perpetual."

Here Calvin argues that Israel's holiness demonstrated itself in its ceremonies, but yet their holiness was not intrinsically tied to the ceremonial laws; likewise, he argues that the judicial or civil laws were not necessarily tied to holiness. These laws helped keep Israel in the religion and worship of God, but were not so vitally necessary to do so. Moreover, for those reasons, even as the ceremonial laws can be abrogated and not interfere with true holiness, so can the civil/judicial laws be abrogated and not interfere with true holiness.

Finally, Calvin says:

" . . . The allegation, that insult is offered to the law of God enacted by Moses, where it is abrogated and other new laws are preferred to it, is most absurd. Others are not preferred when they are more approved, not absolutely, but from regard to time and place, and the condition of the people, or when those things are abrogated which were never enacted for us. The Lord did not deliver it by the hand of Moses to be promulgated in all countries, and to be everywhere enforced; but having taken the Jewish nation under his special care, patronage, and guardianship, he was pleased to be specially its legislator, and as became a wise legislator, he had special regard to it in enacting laws."

Here the great Reformer is very clear, and I think has a good message for our theonomic brethren. Many theonomists accuse us of moral relativism if we do not embrace the theonomic ethic. In fact, I have heard them tout, "God is not a moral relativist." This kind of talk is extremely unhelpful. No one is saying that God is a moral relativist. Calvin is clearly saying that, just because we speak of a new law in the New Covenant, and just because we may argue that the law of Moses was only for Israel, does not make us moral relativists. In fact, he is clear that these laws were not for us, and that it was not God's intention that it be enforced in all countries, but only for Israel. I will give my thoughts on this specific point in part 2.

Until next time, may our Lord strengthen our understanding according to His Word.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year to all my blog readers. May the Lord bless you all in this year 2007. Most of all, may we know Christ more and more this year than in our previous years.

Our friends left today to go back to Georgia. We had a great time with them, and they were able to worship with me yesterday at our church. That was the highlight for me. It is amazing to think about the fact that, almost wherever you go, you can find God's people.

B.J. and Laura, we had a great time! We will be praying for the soon arrival of your little one as well. May the Lord bless you both and continue to be gracious to you both.

Happy New Year everybody!