Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Snap: "True Reason"

For today, we'll link to a review of this book by my ministry partner Nick Peters.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ministering to Cult Members


From the February 2011 E-Block. This is a transcript of a talk I gave at my home church on the general subject of cults. The audience was a group of counselors who needed some prep on how to deal with clients who were cult members, but you can use this presentation for just about anyone.

I’ve been asked to speak generally on the subject of cults and how to deal with someone in a cult. For many of us, the word “cult” brings to mind some pretty powerful and disturbing images – of people dancing around a fire making funny noises, or sacrificing chickens or lizards in the moonlight, or of members who commit mass suicide at the command of a dictatorial leader.

But these popular images don’t tell the full story, and are mainly the result of the media making as much of a sensation out of religious deviancy as they can.

Originally the word “cult” simply meant, according to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, “a body of religious beliefs and practices associated with a particular god or set of gods, or even an individual saint or spiritually enlightened person, that constitutes a specialized part of the religious institutions of a society.” In other words, a “cult” was not at first considered something strange or abnormal, but was any religious group that was part of a larger one, but had some sort of specialized concern that made them slightly different than the rest of the larger group. By this definition, your Sunday School class might have been called a “cult” if they decided to use a different curriculum than the other classes.

In 1932, a social scientist named Howard Becker used the word “cult” to refer to the same kind of groups, but used it, as the Encyclopedia says, “stressing the private, personal character of the adherents' beliefs and the amorphous (that is constantly changing) nature of the organization.” So the definition of a cult narrowed somewhat to stress the deviancy of the group from the norm of a larger group, and the fact that the group was in a stage where its beliefs were not entirely set in stone and were subject to change. This is why it is not appropriate to refer to world religions like Islam as cults.

These days, no one is quite sure what a “cult” is, although one thing everyone agrees on is that they aren’t one, and they don’t want to be called one. In general it becomes safer to use the term to refer to a group the more deviant they appear to be – say if they dress strangely, or if they have someone in charge who exerts control over the members to the point where they won’t even use the bathroom unless they ask him first.

One of the things I was asked to talk about was to answer the question, “What constitutes a cult?” Based on these last few comments, you can see that this is an easy question to answer – as long as you aren’t worried about offending anyone.

Many apologetics ministries devote themselves entirely to ministry to cults. For my ministry in particular, it’s not the main focus, but it is one of my concerns. So let me answer that question of what constitutes a cult, first by issuing some cautions.

The first is that “cult” is a four letter word. If you want to shut off conversation with someone who you think may be in a cult, the easiest way to do so is to use the word “cult.” Indeed, some groups, particularly the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, have trained themselves and their members to immediately shut their ears once that word comes out of someone else’s mouth.

When people are trained to be offended by such things, it is done as a way to keep them from hearing more – which ironically enough, is said to be one of the characteristics of a cult: They do all they can to insulate members from other points of view.

Since the word “cult” has become so offensive, therefore, I usually counsel others not to use it, and instead deal in the broader category of whether what someone believes is right or wrong. Bottom line is, you can think “cult” all you want, but unless you want to stop a conversation, avoid saying “cult”.

Second, because of the historical definitions of the word “cult” have changed so much, it has become easier to define a cult by way of typical characteristics. Frequently, ministries to cults will look for one or more of the following in a group as a way to define them as a cult.

A claim to have some sort of special revelation, especially a revelation that contradicts a former revelation, such as the Bible.

A claim to have some special means to interpret the Bible or some other religious text, that is not available to anyone who is not a member of the group.

As mentioned, the presence of a charismatic and frequently dictatorial leader to whom members defer in even the smallest things.

Also as mentioned, some special and unique mode of dress or behavior that is required for membership in the group.

A claim that there is some impending disaster ahead from which only they will be rescued.

Now you might be nodding your head and thinking that sounds pretty good and sounds like some cults you know. But the problem is that if you twist your head enough, some of those might sound like even – Christianity. I know of atheists who call Christianity a cult because of that last one: “A claim that there is some impending disaster ahead from which only they will be rescued.” They say, “Oh, well that Rapture stuff!”

So once again, we end up with it being simpler just to decide on beliefs to a group being right or wrong, rather than trying to work up a definition of what characterizes a cult.

About all we can say, again, is that the more deviant a group is, the more clear it is that the can be called a cult.

In the end, the answer to the question, “What constitutes a cult?” is very similar to the answer Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart gave when he was asked if he could define hard-core pornography. In answer to that question, he said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” And maybe that’s the best we can do as well, given the history and usage of the word “cult.”
I was also asked to discuss how to show others the way out of a cult – and as counselors, this is something that your training will already give you a lot of your instinct to do, for the process is in many ways little different than leading someone out of any erroneous conclusion – you have to find the evidence for the truth – in the Bible, in some educational resources, or what have you – and find a way to present it to a client in a way that will convince them of a need to change.

This is where it gets kind of tough, though, because there are so many cults out there with so many different beliefs that if you as a counselor get hit with a really way out there one, you’ll find it harder to engage the person you’re counseling.

I want to say first: Don’t be discouraged if this happens. When Pastor ___ first came here, there was this group making the rounds that has a strange belief that there is a Heavenly Mother, or Momma god. He had never heard of these people before and wrote me about them asking what I knew. I had never heard of them either. I had to go look up some of their material and tell him what I found. So, if you have someone who comes to you and they’re either part of, or considering joining, the First People’s Holy Solar Order Temple of the Steel Belted Radial – don’t despair if you have no idea what that group is or what they believe. Even those of us who have been doing work on cults for years miss some of them and have to hit the books to know what we’re talking about.

Now that leads to the question of what exactly you can do when you have someone to deal with who is in a cult. You have two broad choices. One is to call in the cavalry, meaning someone who is in ministry who knows more about cults, and ask for advice. When I get done here I’ll suggest some resources if that’s the route you choose.

The other choice is to try to handle it yourself. If you know your Bible well, this is a good option. You’ll need to be familiar with what passages are used as a basis for the elemental doctrines of Christianity. This will involve becoming so familiar with the Bible that you can either quote or turn to those passages quickly, and know what they mean. Now if that’s the option you take, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first is that many cult members will say to you, “Oh, I agree with the Bible.” How can they do that?

Well, they may have no idea what it really says. Or in some cases, they may have their own “version” of it that is adjusted by the cult to reflect what they want to see in it. Or, most often, they may simply reinterpret passages so that they say what they want them to mean. Any of those three actions means you’re going to have to be familiar with the Bible AND how to interpret it in order to have a discussion.

As counselors, by the way, you’ll already be aware that something like this can easily disintegrate into an argument, and I won’t assume to advise you on that. Presumably when it comes to counseling, you have some people who want to hear the truth and others who don’t, and that holds for any topic, so I’m sure you have certain strategies to deal with each situation.

A second thing to keep in mind is that some cults simply dispense with the Bible altogether – they may say it has been superseded by some other revelation by their cult leader. Or they may say that the Bible was changed by evil church leaders, like the 4th century emperor Constantine – he’s kind of like a Darth Vader figure for some cults. If you have someone like that, you’re getting even deeper into what I’d call hardcore apologetics.

Bottom line: If your client has a respect for the Bible, it may be possible to gently lead them to see the error of a cult by appealing to certain proof texts. But that will require you to know your Bible like the back of your hand. You can then go through texts one at a time, discussing their meaning and their relationship to what the cult believes. As an apologist, when I have a willing dialogue partner, I often find that a Socratic approach – where I ask the other person questions as a way of leading them to the truth – is most helpful.

I’ll close with reference to some resources you can turn to, and then I want to open up for questions. We haven’t talked about specific cults here tonight, because ministry people like me can and have done entire seminars on specific cults. I just did one on Mormonism back in December here at _____, and it took about an hour and a half just to give some basic explanations of what Mormons believe. Don’t hesitate to call on other ministries as resources if you need help understanding a cult.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Star Trek Miracles


From the February 2011 E-Block.
***
Our item in the last issue about talking animals in the Bible led a reader to write us with this point, among others: 

A month or so ago, I got into a British sci-fi T.V. show called "Doctor Who." In one episode of the 1st seasons, aliens, in an attempt to deceive the human race, give a pig some semi-sentient qualities. Although, it doesn't gain speech, but I don't think my analogy needs to be direct to make the point. My point is that my impression is that sci-fi is supposed to contain things that are possible if we only discover more using science. Therefore, it's not saying something like the pig must be "fantasy." If something like that can come out of Western culture, then skeptics are being a little too harsh on the "unbelievability" of some Biblical events, especially those are who are really into sci-fi. Any thoughts?

Indeed so.

I have always found it remarkable that while Skeptics may be quick to condemn Biblical miracles as unscientific or impossible, their science fiction – such as that produced by Gene Roddenberry, who was a secular humanist – presents ideas and concepts that they would reject as primitive and unscientific if it appeared in the Bible.

As the reader also noted, part of the problem here is that Skeptics maintain a false and forced dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural. As I wrote on this in Defending the Resurrection:

The most frequent philosophical objection to the Resurrection has been around since at least the 18th century, and goes something like this: “Resurrection would be a violation of the laws of nature.” In turn, it may then be argued that the Resurrection is a highly improbable, and therefore unhistorical, event.
At the heart of this objection there lies a false dichotomy, one that continues to be assumed to this day: The dichotomy between natural and supernatural, which was created wholesale in the Enlightenment age.

God resurrecting Jesus is no more a "violation" of nature's laws than one of us picking up a box is a "violation" of the law of gravity. While God's work may involve acts beyond our range of competence, the basic manipulation of matter and energy that the Resurrection would have constituted is no more in violation of natural law than the picking up of a box. Miracles are merely God acting in nature as any person would.

The idea that works of God are somehow “above” nature was simply invented by writers like Hume and does not appear in ancient literature. Davis remarks that in the New Testament, people “seemed to view miracles not as violations of natural laws but as revelatory and awe-inspiring acts of God.” [1] Likewise, Tucker notes that “Hume’s definition of miracles as breaking the laws of nature is anachronistic” and recommends that rather than being seen as “supernatural,” miracles ought to be understood as “divine feats of strength” within nature. [2]

In light of this, consider how many concepts in Roddenberry’s Star Trek alone had analogies to Biblical miracles:
  • The transporter is effectively nothing different than Philip finding himself suddenly in Azotus (Acts 8:40).
  • The replicator is nothing more than a machine that does what Jesus did when he multiplied fishes and loaves.
  • The Organians (and several other races) are essentially spirit beings just like angels or demons.
  • Relatedly, if materialism is correct, how could Kirk exchange his consciousness with Janice Lester in Turnabout Intruder?
  • Vulcan telepathy is functionally no different than Jesus knowing what the Pharisees were thinking in their hearts (Matthew 9:4).
  • In the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, the Platonians exhibit telekinetic powers that could have easily lifted an axehead out of water (2 Kings 6). Other episodes also feature such abilities, as was given to Gary Mitchell in Where No Man Has Gone Before or Charlie X.
  • The holodeck – or the Talosian “Cage” -- may as well be a tool for the sort of apocalyptic visions experienced by Ezekiel, Daniel or John.
  • Anyone who has a problem with Moses’ staff turning into a snake may wish to take notice of Trek’s races of shapeshifters (like Odo in DS9, but even earlier, in the original series, in episodes like The Man Trap and its “salt vampire”).
  • Some (myself included) theorize that Sarah and Abraham were given back their youth so that they could have children. If so, it sounds like Harry Mudd was distributing his “Venus drugs” long before ST:TOS.
  • When Jesus vanishes from sight in front of his disciples, Skeptics object. But they don’t seem to object to a Romulan cloaking device at all.
  • An incredible irony is the episode Who Mourns for Adonis?, in which it was suggested that the Greek god Apollo was actually a powerful alien being. Ironic indeed that this reflects the very essence of what Tucker said when he defined miracles as “divine feats of strength”.
  • Biblical reports of people living to be 900+ years old are rejected by Skeptics, but what about the immortal Flint in Requiem for Methusaleh?
Of course, Skeptics may retort that these inventions of Roddenberry’s were never meant to reflect some actual scientific advance, but that doesn’t seem to be a very permanent excuse. It used to be said that warp drive, for example, was impossible, but Trek fans nevertheless continued to discuss whether it might be possible anyway, and now, you can even find plenty of debate back and forth by reputable scientific authorities. Though one suspects that if it were the Bible reporting faster than light travel, it would be immediately be dismissed by many Skeptics as fantasy.

In sum: There’s a clear inconsistency in the way many Skeptics approach the subject of miracles. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the false natural-supernatural dichotomy, but we may rightly suspect that with some of them, personal prejudice has a lot to do with it too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mark Hitchcock's MacGuffin City


From the January 2011 E-Block.
***
As one of his students, Mark Hitchcock is the natural inheritor of the mantle of prophecy teacher John Walvoord, and we are pleased to note that he follows Walvoord into the tradition of moderately rational exposition of dispensational eschatology, lacking the sensational aspects found in many other writers like Hagee and Lindsey. For this survey we consulted three of his books:

Apocalypse of Ahmadinejad [AA]
The Late Great United States [LGU]
Second Coming of Babylon [2CB]

I chose Hitchcock as a subject because my interest for this series at this time is how writers understand America’s role in dispensational prophecy. But when it comes to Hitchcock, the answer is contrary to my goal: As the title of LGU implies, Hitchcock sees – almost no role for the US in Biblical prophecy. Hitchcock’s premise rather is that America is not in Bible prophecy because we’re such a moral cesspool and such an economic mess that we’ll drop out of the picture and become unimportant as a nation. Plus, it also won’t help that the Rapture will depopulate us (something Dave Hunt also suggested – which is quite logical, if dispensational scenarios are granted). And, we might get hit with a terrorist nuke or something else that will decimate our lives and economy.

So in essence, rather than finding America in Bible prophecy, Hitchcock devotes himself to not finding it there, and explaining why. The paradox is to some extent disturbing, for there’s a certain imperialist arrogance to the premise that America, being as important as it is, certainly would have been part of prophecy: And Hitchcock’s explanation actually assumes that same imperialist arrogance even as it dispenses with the US, for it assumes the US would have been mentioned if it hadn’t been devolving as Hitchcock supposes it to be.

Generally, there’s not much else specific to report aside from one topic we’ll deal with below. Like most prophecy writers, Hitchcock is compelled to read the newspaper to try to find a way for events to match what he thinks prophecy will bear. These days radical Islam is all the rage in eschatology, where Communism used to be. Hitchcock is right in with that crowd; in AA112, for example, he says that Israel may attack Iran to stop its nuclear program, and that this may instigate the Ezekiel 38 war of Gog and Magog (Russia) versus Israel.

The one major topic I see a need to address has to do with what Hitchcock says of Babylon. His scenario requires Babylon to be literally rebuilt and to become the Antichrist’s central HQ. In LGU and SCB, he discusses several reasons why Babylon must and will be literally rebuilt, and these will concern us because under our preterist understanding, “Babylon” in Revelation is a code word for Jerusalem. Although Hitchcock is not addressing preterism in these volumes (see link below for where he does), his arguments in LGU concern attempts to identity “Babylon” as code for “New York City” – and since he replies by affirming a literal Babylon, this has an obvious impact on preterist arguments as well.

As a preface, I will note again what I said on this topic in reply to another dispensational writer, Chambers:

But as to the rebuilding of Babylon, this is PFA’s showcase, and I’ve noted that other folks have picked up on this view as well since then: Search “Babylon rebuilt” online and there will be a host of observers breathlessly pointing to it as a sign of prophecy fulfilled.

The question is – why?

By all accounts, the rebuilt Babylon was, and still is, intended to be a glorified tourist trap. Thinking that it is a sign of prophecy fulfilled would be like arguing that such could also be found in the Holy Land Experience theme park, which rests not 10 miles from where I now sit. Is the model of the Jewish Temple at the Holy Land Experience a signal of soon to come sacrifices, and of eschatological fulfillment?

One might also point to a variety of other factors. There’s apparently been a lot of guff over the US military being careless with the site…The fact that people are very much concerned about damage to artifacts more than they are about plans to make this into a world political capital (meaning, they are not concerned at all) does not bode well for predictions of this as a future Antichrist HQ.

Of course, the dispensationalist will inevitably encourage us to wait and see; just like the European Union will eventually have exactly 10 members – some way or another – so someday this tourist-trap Babylon (which even Chambers admits has been described as a "megalomaniacal Disneyland") will host the Beast. You just wait and see. But don’t hold your breath while you wait.

Hitchcock, of course, must also have a “wait and see” approach: There’s nothing offered to explain why what is now a tourist trap will eventually become Antichrist Central. However, let’s look at the reasons he offers for reading “Babylon” in Revelation as the literal Babylon.

First: Hitchcock says that while it is possible Babylon is a code for some other city, “the text contains no indication” that it is.

Well, if it did, then it would hardly be a code! But there are two reasons that this protest is ineffective. First, it is fairly clear that 12 Peter 5:13 refers to “Babylon” as a code for some other city – some say Rome; I would say Jerusalem is possible as well. But Peter doesn’t offer any “indication” that it is. Nor would he need to: This is a demand made by Hitchcock as a member of a low-context society. As a member of a high-context society, Peter MIGHT give an indication that he is using code (see below), but there is greater likelihood that he will not, for he can and will presume his audience understands his references.

In 2CB, Hitchcock adds that John tells people when he refers to Jerusalem figuratively as Sodom and Egypt, and supposes this means that he would have to indicate when he refers to it figuratively as Babylon. But per the above, the high context nature of communication means that he need do no such thing. At most it might tell us that John’s “Sodom” and “Egypt” designations are new to his readers, while the “Babylon” reference is familiar to them (as the Petrine usage also suggests).

Second, it is said that Babylon is the “most-mentioned city in the Bible” (except Jerusalem) and is “consistently pictured as the epitome of evil and rebellion against God,” so it “makes sense that in the end times [God] will once again raise up this city as the capital of the final world ruler.”

Well, no, it doesn’t make sense at all, actually: Why bother with all the fuss of raising a whole new city just to have an “epitome”? Indeed, it makes far more sense for the “Babylon” designation to be applied to a city that epitomizes evil and rebellion, for that would be in line with the cultural linguistics of applying names to things (eg, as Jesus called Peter “Satan”) to signify something. While I imagine dispensationalists could simply say that “only God knows” how logical it will be to raise up a whole new city for this purpose (!), that resort in itself will show that there is no rational argument for it to happen.

Third, Hitchcock says that Babylon fits the geographic criteria for world rule, being on the Euphrates, and centrally located in the world. This is an odd argument, since I have heard the same said of Jerusalem. But it is meaningless anyway: Modern commercial travel and electronic communications make the location of an administrative location irrelevant. If anything, it makes little sense to run new communication lines out to a site in the desert when so many other cities already have it (as well as other necessary infrastructure) in place.

Fourth, noting that the Euphrates is referred to in Rev. 16:12, Hitchcock says it “makes sense if the rebuilt city of Babylon on the Euphrates functions as a religious and political center…”

Well, again, no it doesn’t – it makes sense if Euphrates is simply a barrier to travel, which it also would not be; if anything an empty river is more of a barrier to modern transport than a filled river. There is no logical connection between this imagined Babylon as a “religious and political center” and the Euphrates being run dry.

Fifth (also: 2CB, 79)Hitchcock appeals to several OT prophecies about Babylon that are yet fulfilled, so he assumes there must be a new Babylon to fulfill them. In all cases Hitchcock either begs the question of a dispensational interpretation, or makes the same errors of hyperliteral interpretation that Skeptics do when considering Ezekiel’s Tyre prophecy. (Link below.)

In sum: While Hitchcock is certainly one of the more rational dispensational expositors, his analyses ultimately fail on the same grounds as they all do.
Links:

Ezekiel and Tyre
Review of anti-preterist book in which Hitchcock took part, and committed several errors.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When Skeptics Ignore History

This guest post is by W. R. Miller.

    Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect & to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private & public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure--reason & experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. --President George Washington. Washington's Farewell Address, September 17, 1796.

* * *

In a two-part series at his blog, Increasing Learning, Bill Fortenberry uncovered the usual misleading sophistry from atheist Richard Carrier, who believes Jesus never existed. The unemployed Dr. Carrier claimed it was Greek philosopher Solon, not Moses, who inspired the foundations of American government. Fortenberry responded here and here.

In response, Carrier supporter Ed Babinski tried to spin away from the charge at Fortenberry’s blog.

BABINSKI: The question for Christian apologists should not be, "Look, Carrier made an error," but, "Can we prove the divine inspiration of either the Ten Commandments or any biblical writings and laws?"

But wouldn't Babinski agree that errors should be corrected? Is he not grateful that Mr. Fortenberry exposed Carrier’s fraudulent claims? Aren’t skeptics interested in the truth? The topic of divine inspiration of Biblical laws and their influence has been addressed, and proven, in the documentation provided here.

BABINSKI: I am content with the fact that freethinkers and deists played a visible and significant role in the founding of the U.S., even in the earliest anti-slavery societies (of which Franklin and Paine, and Quakers, whom the other Christians regarded as "heretics," played significant roles),

The number of Founding Father freethinkers and deists can be counted on one hand. And they were in agreement with Christian-inspired principles. See here and here.

Benjamin Franklin? Babinski is apparently unaware of his conversion, as documented by Bill Fortenberry here.

Thomas Paine? The man who New York Evening Post, June 10, 1809 labeled as traitorous as Benedict Arnold? The man who, through the auspices of Le Bien Informé, n. 375, September 12, 1798 / 26 Fructidor. An VI, 14 fructidor, 15 fructidor, is said to have recommended an invasion of America by the French?

As for Paine's Common Sense, John Adams downplayed its importance:

    Dr. Rush put him [Paine] upon Writing on the Subject, furnished him with the Arguments which had been urged in Congress an hundred times, and gave him his title of Common Sense.
    . . .
    The third part of Common Sense which relates wholly to the Question of Independence, was clearly written and contained a tollerable Summary of the Arguments which I had been repeating again and again in Congress for nine months. But I am bold to say there is not a Fact nor a Reason stated in it, which had not been frequently urged in Congress. The Temper and Wishes of the People, supplied every thing at that time: and the Phrases, suitable for an Emigrant from New Gate, or who one who had chiefly associated with such Company, such as "The Royal Brute of England," "The Blood upon his Soul," and a few others of equal delicacy, had as much Weight with the People as his Arguments. It has been a general Opinion, that this Pamphlet was of great Importance in the Revolution. I doubted it at the time and have doubted it to this day. It probably converted some to the Doctrine of Independence, and gave others an Excuse for declaring in favour of it. But these would all have followed Congress, with Zeal: and on the other hand it excited many Writers against it, particularly plain Truth, who contributed very largely to fortify and inflame the Party against Independence, and finally lost us the Allens, Penns, and many other Persons of Weight in the Community.John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776, sheet 23 of 53, January - April 1776.
Quakers? George Washington wrote to them, saying:
    Your principles and conduct are well known to me; and it is doing the people called Quakers no more than justice to say, that (except their declining to share with others the burden of the common defense) there is no denomination among us, who are more exemplary and useful citizens.
BABINSKI: ... regardless of whatever additional roles were played by "Moses and the Ten Commandments." 

Moses and the Ten Commandments are foundational to the Christian paradigm, which was influential to the decision-making of the Founders. Not Solon, as advocated by Carrier.

Noah Webster wrote, in History of the United States: to which is prefixed a brief historical account of our [English] ancestors, from the dispersion at Babel, to their migration to America and of the Conquest of South America by the Spaniards. New Haven, Conn.; Louisville, Ky, 1832. 321 pp.:

    ... "[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion." p. 6.... 578. "Origin of Civil Liberty. Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion. Men began to understand their natural rights, as soon as the reformation from popery began to dawn in the sixteenth century; and civil liberty has been gradually advancing and improving, as genuine Christianity has prevailed. By the principles of the Christian religion we are not to understand the decisions of ecclesiastical councils, for these are the opinions of mere men; nor are we to suppose that religion to be any particular church established by law, with numerous dignitaries, living in stately palaces, arrayed in gorgeous attire, and rioting in luxury and wealth, squeezed from the scanty earnings of the labouring poor; nor is it a religion which consists in a round of forms, and in pompous rites and ceremonies. No; the religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and His Apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our free constitutions of government." pp. 273-274.
    ... 53. "But were we assured that there is to be no future life, and that men are to perish at death like the beasts of the field; the moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. These principles and precepts have truth, immutable truth, for their foundation; and they are adapted to the wants of men in every condition of life. They are the best principles and precepts, because they are exactly adapted to secure the practice of universal justice and kindness among men; and of course to prevent crimes, war, and disorders in society. No human laws dictated by different principles from those in the gospel, can ever secure these objects. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible." pp. 309-310.
    ... 54. "As the means of temporal happiness then the Christian religion ought to be received, and maintained with firm and cordial support. It is the real source of all genuine republican principles. It teaches the equality of men as to rights and duties; and while it forbids all oppression, it commands due subordination to law and rulers. It requires the young to yield obedience to their parents, and enjoins upon men the duty of selecting their rulers from their fellow citizens of mature age, sound wisdom, and real religion -- 'men who fear God and hate covetousness.' The ecclesiastical establishments of Europe, which serve to support tyrannical governments, are not the Christian religion, but abuses and corruptions of it. The religion of Christ and his apostles, in its primitive simplicity and purity, unencumbered with the trappings of power and the pomp of ceremonies, is the surest basis of a republican government." p. 310.
    "...Now reason, unaided by revelation, cannot answer these questions. The experience of the Pagan World has long since determined this point. Revelation alone furnishes satisfactory information on these subjects. Let it then be the first study that occupies your mind, to learn from the scriptures the character and will of your maker; the end or purpose for which he gave you being and intellectual powers, and the duties he requires you to perform. In all that regards faith and practice, the scriptures furnish the principles, precepts and rules, by which you are to be guided. Your reputation among men; your own tranquillity of mind in this life; and all rational hope of future happiness, depend on an exact conformity of conduct to the commands of God revealed in the sacred oracles."


BABINSKI: I am content that the founders ratified a First Amendment and Bill of Rights that includes, "Freedom of religion and speech," RATHER THAN, a First Commandment that says, "No other God's before me" [under penalty of death] including laws against blasphemy and taking the Lord's name in vain. 

Sorry. There is no death penalty mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

Skeptics should also realize the principle of “Freedom of religion and speech” is due to Christian influence, not Solon, as demonstrated in this article.
Do skeptics not know that the Constitution acknowledges the Christian Sabbath?

    Article I, Section 7, Paragraph 2: "If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law."
BABINSKI: I am content with John Adams being a devout Unitarian, i.e., a "Christian religion" that did not preach the doctrines of predestination, original sin, or the full divinity of Christ. 

Then Babinski should be content with Adams crediting the general principles of Christianity in his letter to Thomas Jefferson, to which Jefferson did not refute.

    "The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature and our terrestrial, mundane system. I could, therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present information, that I believed they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles."The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856. 528 pp. Volume 10 of 10. Letter to Jefferson, 28 June, 1813. Also in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904, Vol. XIII, pp. 292-294.
Bill Fortenberry expounds further on the topic here.BABINSKI: Rather, he emphasized the importance of reason and morality in religious life, and that he remonstrated against religious intolerance In a letter to Thomas Jefferson in which he wrote: "I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"

Except Babinski fails to comprehend what Adams said next:

“With the rational respect which is due to it . . .”
“It,” referring to the Cross.
Then Adams describes the cause of the abuse:
“knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill, or might fill, the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.”

Note the difference between “the Cross” -- and “abuse of the Cross” and “prostitutions of it.”

As Bill Fortenberry says, “Adams was not opposed to Christianity at all. He identified Christ as his Savior on multiple occasions, but he was very much opposed to the abuses which had been promulgated in the name of Christianity by the established churches of Europe.”

BABINSKI: In his letter to Samuel Miller, 8 July 1820, Adams admitted his unbelief of Protestant Calvinism: "I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination."

It would be helpful for skeptics like Babinski to read his words in context, and to consider the positive attributions to Christianity and the Bible. He said elsewhere:

    TO SAMUEL MILLER.
    Quincy, 8 July, 1820.You know not the gratification you have given me by your kind, frank, and candid letter. I must be a very unnatural son to entertain any prejudices against the Calvinists, or Calvinism, according to your confession of faith; for my father and mother, my uncles and aunts, and all my predecessors, from our common ancestor, who landed in this country two hundred years ago, wanting five months, were of that persuasion. Indeed, I have never known any better people than the Calvinists. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination. My opinions, indeed, on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself. To develop them, and the reasons for them, would require a folio larger than Willard's Body of Divinity, and, after all, I might scatter darkness rather than light. Before I was twelve years of age, I necessarily became a reader of polemical writings of religion, as well as politics, and for more than seventy years I have indulged myself in that kind of reading, as far as the wandering, anxious, and perplexed kind of life, which Providence has compelled me to pursue, would admit. I have endeavored to obtain as much information as I could of all the religions which have ever existed in the world. Mankind are by nature religious creatures. I have found no nation without a religion, nor any people without the belief of a supreme Being.
Note what Adams says next:
    I have been overwhelmed with sorrow to see the natural love and fear of that Being wrought upon by politicians to produce the most horrid cruelties, superstitions, and hypocrisy, from the sacrifices to Moloch down to those of Juggernaut, and the sacrifices of the kings of Whidah and Ashantee.
Here, Adams is making a distinction between abuses and “the natural love and fear of that Being.” He continues:
    The great result of all my researches has been a most diffusive and comprehensive charity. I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious. That you and I shall meet in a better world, I have no more doubt than I have that we now exist on the same globe. If my natural reason did not convince me of this, Cicero's dream of Scipio, and his essays on friendship and old age, would have been sufficient for the purpose. But Jesus has taught us, that a future state is a social state, when he promised to prepare places in his father's house of many mansions for his disciples.By the way, I wonder not at the petition of the pagans to the emperor, that he would call in and destroy all the writings of Cicero, because they tended to prepare the mind of the people, as well as of the philosophers, to receive the Christian religion.
Note also Adams's statements in this letter:
    TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
    Quincy, 18 December, 1819.I must answer your great question of the 10th in the words of D'Alembert to his correspondent, who asked him what is matter; "Je vous avoue que je rCen sais Hen." In some part of my life I read a great work of a Scotchman on the court of Augustus, in which, with much learning, hard study, and fatiguing labor, he undertook to prove that, had Brutus and Cassius been conquerors, they would have restored virtue and liberty to Rome. Mais je rCen crois rien. Have you ever found in history one single example of a nation thoroughly corrupted, that was afterwards restored to virtue? And without virtue, there can be no political liberty.
    If I were a Calvinist, I might pray that God, by a miracle of divine grace, would instantaneously convert a whole contaminated nation from turpitude to purity; but even in this I should be inconsistent, for the fatalism of Mahometans, Materialists, Atheists, Pantheists, and Calvinists, and Church of England articles, appears to me to render all prayer futile and absurd. The French and the Dutch in our day have attempted reforms and revolutions. We know the results, and I fear the English reformers will have no better success.

    Will you tell me how to prevent riches from becoming the effects of temperance and industry? Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury? Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly.
    When you will answer me these questions, I hope I may venture to answer yours. Yet all these things ought not to discourage us from exertion, for, with my friend Jebb, I believe no effort in favor of virtue is lost, and all good men ought to struggle, both by their counsel and example.
    The Missouri question, I hope, will follow the other waves under the ship, and do no harm. I know it is high treason to express a doubt of the perpetual duration of our vast American empire and our free institutions; and I say as devoutly as father Paul, " Esto perpetua;" but I am sometimes Cassandra enough to dream that another Hamilton, another Burr, might rend this mighty fabric in twain, or, perhaps, into a leash, and a few more choice spirits of the same stamp might produce as many nations in North America as there are in Europe.
    To return to the Romans. I never could discover that they possessed much virtue or real liberty. Their patricians were, in general, griping usurers and tyrannical creditors in all ages. Pride, strength, and courage, were all the virtues that composed their national character. A few of their nobles affecting simplicity, frugality, and piety, perhaps really possessing them, acquired popularity among the plebeians, extended the power and dominions of the republic, and advanced in glory till riches and luxury came in, sat like an incubus on the republic, "victamque ulciscitur orbem."
Note how critical Adams was of the Romans. Does Babinski believe Richard Carrier took this into consideration? 

BABINSKI: In his, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], John Adams wrote:

    "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
And where does the use of reason and the senses come from? Adams tells us in the same source:
Adams also said,
    “It would be as reasonable to say, that all government is altogether unnecessary, because it is the duty of all men to deny themselves, and obey the laws of nature and the laws of God. However clear the duty, we know it will not be performed; and therefore it is our duty to enter into associations, and compel one another to do some of it.”[Adams, John, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, vol. 3, John Stockdale, London, 1794, pg 293]
BABINSKI, citing Adams: ". . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. The experiment is made, and has completely succeeded: it can no longer be called in question, whether authority in magistrates, and obedience of citizens, can be grounded on reason, morality, and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests, or the knavery of politicians."

Babinski doesn't cite the sentence marked in blue, which undermines the point he's trying to make, and puts Adams comments into their proper context. We'll address this shortly. There is a difference between “pretence of miracle” and “an actual miracle.” Adams knows that difference, even if Babinski does not.
In his diary, Adams wrote:

    The great and almighty Author of nature, who at first established those rules which regulate the World, can as easily Suspend those Laws whenever his providence sees sufficient reason for such suspension. This can be no objection, then, to the miracles of J [Jesus] C [Christ]. Altho' some very thoughtfull, and contemplative men among the heathen, attained a strong persuasion of the great Principles of Religion, yet the far greater number having little time for speculation, gradually sunk in to the grossest Opinions and the grossest Practices. These therefore could not be made to embrace the true religion, till their attention was roused by some astonishing and miraculous appearances. The reasonings of Phylosophers having nothing surprizing in them, could not overcome the force of Prejudice, Custom, Passion, and Bigotry. But when wise and virtuous men, commisioned from heaven, by miracles awakened men's attention to their Reasonings the force of Truth made its way, with ease to their minds.John Adams diary 1, 18 November 1755 - 29 August 1756.
Adams, when President, issued two Prayer and Fasting Proclamations. Here’s what he said in the second:
    And I do also recommend that with these acts of humiliation, penitence, and prayer fervent thanksgiving to the Author of All Good be united for the countless favors which He is still continuing to the people of the United States, and which render their condition as a nation eminently happy when compared with the lot of others.By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation. March 6, 1799.
Does Babinski believe these “continuing” and “countless” favors are not miraculous, being of supernatural origin?Skeptics should heed the Declaration of Independence, which states,

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
    . . . We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
John Adams signed this document, as did 55 others. Did Babinski not know that?No mystery here. No pretence of miracle.

Note what Adams says:

    “It already appears, that there must be in every society of men, superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the constitution and course of nature the foundations of the distinction.” [Adams, John, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, vol 1, Philadelphia, 1797, pg 159]" ... I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization."--pp. 608-610. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston, 1850-1856. 659 pp. Volume 9 of 10. Letter to François Adriaan van der Kemp, 16 February 1809. Also here. Extract.
John Adams also stated:
    "Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straightened means and my busy life would allow me, and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation."The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private, Published by the order of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, from the original manuscripts, deposited in the Department of State. With explanatory notes by the editor, H.A. Washington. Washington, D.C.: Taylor and Maury, 1854. Volume 6 of 9. John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Quincy, 25 December, 1813.
    February 22. Sunday. "Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law-book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged, in conscience, to temperance and frugality and industry; to justice and kindness and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence, towards Almighty God. In this commonwealth, no man would impair his health by gluttony, drunkenness, or lust; no man would sacrifice his most precious time to cards or any other trifling and mean amusement; no man would steal, or lie, or in any way defraud his neighbor, but would live in peace and good will with all men; no man would blaspheme his Maker or profane his worship; but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected piety and devotion would reign in all heats. What a Utopia; what a Paradise would this region be!"
    The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston, 1850-1856. 553 pp. Volume 2 of 10. Preface and Diary. Includes diary entries for February 15-28, March 1-7, 12-26, August 1, September 10, October 17, 1756. Extracts.
    "The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If 'Thou shalt not covet,' and 'Thou shalt not steal,' were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free."
    The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston, 1850-1856. 546 pp. Volume 6 of 10. Four Letters: Being an Interesting Correspondence Between Those Eminently Distinguished Characters, John Adams, Late President of the United States; and Samuel Adams, Late Governor of Massachusetts.
    The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion.
    The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a life of the author, notes and illustrations. Boston, 1850-1856. 659 pp. Volume 9 of 10. Letter of John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 4, 1816.

Here, it should be evident to skeptics that Adams does believe in the Ten Commandments.Babinski neglected the sentence following the quote he cited:

    “The experiment is made, and has completely succeeded: it can no longer be called in question, whether authority in magistrates, and obedience of citizens, can be grounded on reason, morality, and the Christian religion, without the monkery of priests, or the knavery of politicians.”[Adams, John, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, vol 1, Philadelphia, 1797, pg xv]
Adams makes a distinction between “the monkery of priests” and “reason, morality and the Christian religion,” even if skeptics do not.And consider this:

    “The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no scepticism, Pyrrhonism, or incredulity or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one.”John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
To the skeptics, we make the following recommendations:Do not quote out of context.

Learn the difference between “abuse” and the object being abused.

Avoid the genetic fallacy in your discussions.

Accept responsibility for your errors.

And accept the fact of America’s Christian Heritage.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Snap: Mary Poplin's "Is Reality Secular?"

I'm rounding off the last revisions to Tekton's new website revamp, so I'm pleased to have another guest review by my ministry partner Nick Peters.

***




Recently, JPH sent me to review the book “Is Reality Secular?” by Mary Poplin. I found myself immediately impressed by the premise right at the start and the book impressed me so much that I have arranged for Poplin to be my guest on the Deeper Waters Podcast on May 10th, 2014.

The opening premise is that at the start, we have accepted so much about reality that it must be secular. This is the case with atheists who think that the Christian alone has the burden to prove their worldview. The atheist does not. They just have to show that they lack “God belief.”

Yet what if this is not so? How could someone establish that secularism is a true view of the world? It is just fine that the skeptic is one who is questionable about the possibility of miracles, but upon what basis can they make statements such as “We know that miracles don’t happen” or that “Today, science has shown us X” as if that clinches the whole debate. (This might be a shock to such people, but back in Biblical times, they knew dead people stay dead, virgins don’t give birth, etc.)

Poplin also points out that while such a view was meant to be tolerant, it turns out to be the opposite. When secularism reigns, all religions are indeed seen as equally false, but they are also seen as equally harmful. Want to know why you should argue against Christianity? Well look at what happened by Muslim terrorists on 9/11. Well yeah, it was a different religion, but the Muslim operated from faith and the Christian operates from faith and therefore, both are faith positions and both are evils to be avoided. (If you think this sounds bizarre, then why is it that Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” was started on 9/11 and while there is a section in there on Islam, most of it is arguing against Christianity?)

Poplin takes us through four major worldviews. Those are materialism, secular humanism, pantheism, and monotheism. She examines each of them and in her own way has been a practitioner of each. She concludes that Christianity can not only explain itself, but the other worldviews as well and the other worldviews cannot understand Christianity from the outside.

Poplin also includes much of her own story in this such as her work with Mother Teresa that led to her conversion and the sinful mistakes that she made in her past. She is a highly candid writer who does not hold back and at the same time writes with a great thankfulness for the grace of God in her life.

Having said that positive, I do think at times that there can be some reliance on pop apologetics at times and I don’t agree with her views on Biblical matters, such as her views on the end times presented in the book, but those are more often than not side issues as she does react greatly with actual scholarship on the issues as well.

In conclusion, I do recommend Poplin’s book. The opening question is one that is worth discussing and Poplin’s style by making it personal can also be quite engaging. I encourage Christians and non-Christians to get this book and consider the arguments that are therein.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Popular Preachers Past: Charles Spurgeon's Spiritual Comfort Food


From the February 2011 E-Block.

***

I chose Charles Spurgeon as a subject for this series because I have known more than one person who held Spurgeon in high esteem. This included two of my pastors (one of whom wrote a book about him) as well as a prominent pastor with a Spurgeon website. I thought that if I read some of Spurgeon’s works, I might come to understand this fascination with him.

I read a collection of about 25 of his sermons. I still don’t understand the fascination. And no – I don’t think reading more will help. Quite the opposite.

Well, all right, maybe I do understand. Although Spurgeon lived in the middle of the 19th century, I found in his sermons the germs of what would become what is most popular in pastoral writers like Lucado and Swindoll and Arthur today. He refers frequently to his hearers/readers as “beloved” or “brethren”. (I understand why extroverts like this, but as an introvert, it creeps me out.) He uses stories and illustrations – frequently. He often poses his teachings in the form of a conversation between himself and his hearer. He repeats single points about 50 different ways – and in a way that is not entirely disinteresting, at least as long as you only read one of his sermons a week. (Reading 25 in a row, though, will make his style much less engaging.) And he adds just enough conscience-pricking admonitions to make the faithful nod in vigorous assent. Spurgeon’s material doesn’t have much meat, but it is definitely akin to the modern stuff that I’d call spiritual comfort food.

What else, other than that? I didn’t come to Spurgeon’s material expecting to find anything factually wrong, any more so that in any other average pastor’s sermon (e.g., imposing modern ideas of “conscience” on the text, and being too familiar in references to God and Jesus). And I didn’t: Only one passage truly made me cringe, and it reflects a broader practice within Spurgeon as well. It’s rather long (as is just about anything Spurgeon does), so I’ll sum it up.

He tells an account of an elder divine who evaluated a younger man’s sermon -- apparently on some text that did not have Jesus as a subject -- as a poor one. The younger man asked if he had not done a competent job of exegesis, and asked of various other faults; the elder man said none of those were the problem. The problem was that the younger man hadn’t brought his sermon back to the topic of Jesus.

Now while this may seem like admirable piety, in reality it is badly misguided. In this I see the seeds of such things as modern Sunday School material that strains mightily to make even obscure OT texts relevant to a modern Christian life – when they aren’t. In turn, this leads to a perception (rightly) that Christians force meanings into texts that simply aren’t there.

Perhaps what is happening here is that Spurgeon was torn between having an emphasis on the Gospel and acknowledging that the whole Bible was the Word of God – and the only way he could reconcile these two options – which for most of the Bible, will end up being mutually exclusive – was to imagine some way to connect the dots of every text so that eventually, it got back to Jesus. The only problem is the same one we’d get with connect the dots if we had dots, but assigned the numbers to the dots ourselves: you’re hoping to end up with a duckie or a horsie, but you end up with something patently unrecognizable as much of anything.

The end result of this kind of reasoning is also exhibited in Spuregon as he frequently takes texts broadly afield of their contexts and develops them into lessons that would never have been derived from them in their original settings. Taking Ezekiel 9:9, for example -- and only a quarter of it at that (“The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great”), and expanding it into an entire teaching of the greatness of every person’s personal sin, is an act of homiletic outrage. Likewise, adding all manner of speculative details to the backgrounds of Biblical stories in order to draw lessons (e.g., Cain may have “laughed and jeered” at Abel’s sacrifice) is simply uncalled for apart from solid social or literary evidence. Spurgeon clearly added such details not because he knew what was likely to happen, but because it added weight to his point. Exegetically, that’s a no-no.

On the brighter side, Spurgeon had plenty to say about Christians truly living their faith and being committed to serving Christ. In that respect, he is also like many modern authors (such as MacArthur), and is to be commended. But I would also say that Spurgeon is best admired as a historical curiosity, a step (or mis-step) on our road to where we are now, with a spiritual crisis on our hands. 

Modern authors like Lucado, whether directly or indirectly, are imitations of Spurgeon – and they need a better role model.