Friday, February 15, 2013

John Bevere on Leadership

From the December 2009 E-Block.


In the last issue, we discussed John Bevere's basis for the "authority" of many of his arguments -- in essence, when caught in an epistemic corner without reason or evidence, Bevere will often resort to claiming that "the Holy Spirit" told him this or that, and that will, for him, settle the argument. 

Since we have covered that issue already, in this further discussion of Bevere's Under Cover (UC), we will focus on what little he has to offer in terms of Scriptural or rational argument when it comes to matters of authority. In UC, Bevere's theme is that Christians need to respect authority, and that is well and good to a point: Where there is a problem is in that Bevere finds little room for times when authority is to be dismissed, overturned, mocked, or even criticized. There are times indeed when Bevere approaches legalistic hysteria with his arguments, making rather much of an incident in which a Christian radio host made a joke about a politician's mouth being frozen shut by cold weather. 
[102f] Bevere describes the incident as "heartbreaking" (! -- it apparently takes very little to break Bevere's heart). 

The critical question is, as is frequently the case, "Where do we draw the line?" And in terms of arguments for drawing it far, far down the road, Bevere offers very little that doesn't rest ultimately on personal revelations, anecdotes, threats of punishment, or else reading the depth of his view into Scriptural texts on authority. The chapter, "Does God Know Who Is in Charge?" offers the most that can be found. 

To set the stage, we need to revisit an article of our own:

1 Peter 2:13 "Submit yourself to every ordinance of man . . . to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors."
Matthew 22:21 "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." See also Romans 13:1,7 and Titus 3:1.
The Bible quite often tells us to respect and obey the laws of men. So what, say the critics, about this:
Acts 5:29 "We ought to obey God rather then men."
Note well: in Acts, the "law" being set down countermanded God's requirements. The Jews told Peter and John to stop spreading the Gospel; that was opposite to Jesus' command to spread it. The other verses do not say, "unless they countermand God's commands" - but we are given credit for realizing that God's orders should not be overruled by any human intervention.
Indeed, the citation of the other verses as contradictory reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of when and why each was written -- truly enough, context is key, but here it is again a case of more than merely textual context.
Consider the social context of the verses from Romans usually cited in this regard (Rom. 13: 1, 7). When Paul penned this letter, Nero was emperor, but he was still in the realm of sanity and was a fairly good ruler; Christians were not being persecuted by Rome. Paul is not here concerned with the hypothetical possibility which eventually became reality: That the government would turn against the Christian faith.
Had these words been penned ten years later, the instructions would assuredly have been tempered quite differently, and be more along the lines of Acts 5:29, where a choice did indeed have to be made between obeying God and man -- because as of the time when this passage was written, there was no human law which was in contradiction to the will of God. Paul could truly say "obey the law" without qualification, because there was no law on the books at the time that was objectionable from a Christian perspective: Christians weren't being persecuted or told to give up or compromise their faith; they were under the protective classification of being a Jewish sect. (This also applies to Matthew 22:21, Titus 3:1 and 1 Pet. 2:13.)

Bevere's own exegesis is devoid of defining historical and social contexts, so he must struggle to reconcile these texts (and similar ones) in quite a different way -- in the main, by the use of contrivances (including consultations with the Spirit, as he finds necessary). We answer the question, "What about tyrants?" by noting the setting within which Paul wrote Romans (and the other NT books were written in the same context). Bevere does not have this option, so how can he answer this?

First, he points to Romans 9, where it is said that God "raised up" Pharaoh. [90] Many pages of simply reporting the Bible's contents thereafter, the apparent conclusion to be reached is:
  • God raised up Pharaoh, who did a lot of bad things to Israel.
  • Scripture says that God set up Pharaoh to punish Israel for sin.
  • Therefore, God also raised up people like Hitler, Stalin, etc. to punish people for sin.
The missing step in this line of reasoning is not hard to grasp. In particular, we have evidence that Pharaoh the evil leader was raised up in a particular case for a particular purpose. Bevere has illicitly expanded this to other dictatorial figures, while lacking the same sort of evidence. The fact that Pharaoh, for a limited time, had a specific role in salvation history does not mean that Stalin did likewise. Inevitably, then, Bevere has no real answer in this context when he asks himself, "What about someone like a Stalin?" He very quickly throws out a quotation of Romans 9:18, 20 and 11:33-34 [96], asking, "who can know the mind of the Lord?" In other words, Bevere does not answer the question, but begs it, and essentially says, "You'll see that God had a purpose for Stalin too. Then you'll be sorry for rebelling against someone like him."

Epistemically, this is hardly surprising as a line of reasoning from Bevere, as one who thinks he can hear God's voice 24/7. However, it is not reasoning that respects the contextual boundaries of Scripture, nor any rational application of it.

The next set of arguments comes from the incident alluded to above. Bevere confronted the radio show host with a mere two Scriptural texts in support of claiming that when the host joked about freezing the governor's mouth shut, he did not have "the heart of God." [102-3] The first was Romans 13:1, which we have discussed above and shown that Bevere misuses. The second is Acts 23:5:
Paul answered, "Brothers, I did not realize he was the high priest. For it is written, 'You shall not curse a ruler of your people.'"
Unfortunately, the situation is far from as simple as Bevere would like for it to be. While it is possible that Paul did not recognize the high priest for who he was, it is also possible that Paul was being ironic -- indicating that Ananias' order to have Paul slapped was itself a veiled insult, pointing to the fact that Ananias was not acting like a high priest -- applying punishment to Paul before he was found guilty (in violation of Lev. 19:15). That Paul recognized Ananias in reality is supported by his observation that he sat in judgment on him -- which was the role of the high priest. This would mean then that the appeal to Ex. 22:27 was also ironic -- and indeed it would have been, for Ananias was far from a good high priest; among his many sins was the illegal execution of James the brother of Jesus.

There is thus nothing about Acts 23:5 that permits us to say that it was unjustified -- much less broadly apply it to any mocking or negative statement about any leader at any time. Before moving on, however, I would note a reply by Bevere, who observes that Jesus was silent before his accusers and did not revile them in return. [163] This is true, but does not signify what we might think it does -- indeed, it would be an even greater insult than the one Paul offered. Silence before accusers can mean one of two things in an agonistic (honor/shame) society: You're either admitting you've been beaten, or you're saying that your accusers are so insignificant that they don't deserve an answer. Since the former is not an option for us (either Bevere or I) where Jesus is concerned --- that leads only to the conclusion that Jesus' silence was meant as a snub.

But then, it may be asked, what about 1 Peter 2:23?
When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
Bevere uses this verse to try to make out Jesus to be silent because he is trying to remain under the Father's protection [164]. But even if we assume the trial of Jesus is in mind here (as opposed to solely personal interactions), Bevere is starting at the wrong end of the exegesis. The message here is more to the effect that those who insult us and persecute us are not worth our time to respond to. Peter's agonistic readers would have been trained to respond in defense, but refusing to "engage the riposte" meant one of two things, as noted above, and again I don't see Bevere opting for it as an acknowledgement of victory by our opposition. Peter counsels us rather to heed the one who judges justly -- the real authority -- which in itself would be an insult to any pagan magistrate who did not acknowledge the true God.

Perhaps the gravest difficulty for Bevere is in reconciling his readings of various "authority" passages with the mockery of Elijah towards the prophets of Baal. [104-105] It is here where Bevere is at his most contrived, as he offers the excuse that the prophets "possessed not true authority" and "were not ordained by God." But how can this be, since Bevere has already accepted a view that even a Hitler or a Stalin is "ordained by God"? Bevere does not and can not explain this significant discrepancy in his position, and very quickly moves to another topic. He is not able to draw the line adequately so as to include Stalin but also exclude the prophets of Baal.

Bevere has but one other text to offer, supposedly supplied not by research in commentaries, but by "the Holy Spirit":
1 Timothy 2:1-2 First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.
Once again, all well and good, but the contextual restrictions of Romans 13 apply just as immediately. Based on the chronology, Nero was still in his right mind, and peace was the general rule. The very fact that the purpose of offering these prayers is to "lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity" shows that we're not dealing with a Hitler massacring innocents, nor even a Robert Byrd using the largesse of taxpayers nationwide to spread his name and legacy all over West Virginia. Once again, Bevere fails to draw a line that is anything but broad and fuzzy.

In the chapter "Obedience and Submission," Bevere promises to answer the question, "Where do I draw the line?" Unfortunately, his answer to this question [135f] doesn't help his case much, for it amounts to, "we do not obey when we are told to sin." That's a good answer, but it pushes the line far away from a place that allows Hitler, Stalin, or even Byrd to be obeyed or shown respect. (Bevere's examples for the latter -- that even when told to sin, Daniel and his friends were respectful to Nebuchadnezzar, and Esther to Xerxes -- ignores the fact that impoliteness towards a despot tends to equate with the death penalty, and also ignores the fact that there wasn't a lot of chance to cause a change in leadership. There's a difference between calling Hitler a racist pig when you're in America, or part of the German underground, and calling him one when you're in public in Nazi Germany.)

I would not do well if I accused Bevere of failing to draw a line while not trying to draw one myself. Bevere's single good rule, that a ruler orders sin, is a good place to start; but one must always weigh in the balance and decide when sin is being committed, encouraged, or enabled. My example of Robert Byrd would never make Bevere's list, but it is undeniable that he (and many others regardless of party affiliation) have essentially committed and encouraged theft by their wasting of taxpayer funds -- and that is the least of their sins and the sins they have enabled. Denigrating or even overthrowing a leader is indeed not something to be taken lightly, but it is also far from being off limits as Bevere would suppose.

Please note as well that these are not "the Lord's anointed" we are talking about, reflecting another justification Bevere tries to use, this with reference to David's refusal to kill Saul [171]. This rationale will not escape the inconsistency Bevere still has in his position, and also raises the absurd spectre of Stalin and even the priests of Baal being "anointed" by God. But these were not anointed by any prophet of God, and anyone who thinks so would need evidence to show it.

Rather ironically, Bevere, who tells us frequently of his personal hotline to the Holy Spirit, warns readers to be "cautious" in working against authority figures -- and then immediately thereafter relates one of his "conversations with God" to confirm this warning. [146] It seems no surprise that he cannot work his way out of any of his epistemic inconsistencies.

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