Thursday, May 30, 2013

Take more notice of the good

I think every married couple should read Richard Baxter's advice on maintaining conjugal love. I've shared Baxter's wisdom on the subject here, but what I particularly like is where he says to husbands: 

Take more notice of the good, that is in your wives, than of the evil. Let not the observation of their faults make you forget or overlook their virtues. Love is kindled by the sight of love or goodness.

Make not infirmities to seem odious faults, but excuse them as far as lawfully you may, by considering the frailty of the sex, and of their tempers, and considering also your own infirmities, and how much your wives must bear with you.

Stir up that most in them into exercise which is best, and stir not up that which is evil; and then the good will most appear, and the evil will be as buried, and you will more easily maintain your love. There is some uncleanness in the best on earth; and if you will be daily stirring in the filth, no wonder if you have the annoyance; and for that you may thank yourselves: draw out the fragrancy of that which is good and delectable in them, and do not by your own imprudence or peevishness stir up the worst, and then you shall find that even your faulty wives will appear more amiable to you.

Overcome them with love; and then whatever they are in themselves, they will be loving to you, and consequently lovely. Love will cause love, as fire kindleth fire. A good husband is the best means to make a good and loving wife. Make them not froward by your froward carriage, and then say, we cannot love them.

Give them examples of amiableness in yourselves; set them the pattern of a prudent, lowly, loving, meek, self-denying, patient, harmless, holy, heavenly life. Try this a while, and see whether it will not shame them from their faults, and make them walk more amiably themselves.
    To read more of Baxter's advice, see 'Maintaining Conjugal Love.' To read about Baxter's remarkable life, order my book Saints and Scoundrels.

    Institutional Marriage

    This post as moved to here.

    Communication Impasse and the Meaning of Marriage

    For a long time, my writing about 'gay marriage' has been focused on the arguments against legalizing gay marriage. You know...think of all the arguments you can against gay marriage and then write as many articles as possible on the subject. This has led me to produce 25 articles on the subject. Recently, however, my thinking has started to shift and become more focused on the sociological and psychological factors that create the impasse of communication between the two sides in this debate. What are the issues behind the issue that account for the chasm of mutual incomprehensibility between the two sides? Why can't we actually listen to each other instead of thinking they just need to shout louder?

    Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    On Goodness, Truth and Beauty

    "“…the greatest defense against evil is to enjoy the good…the strongest bulwark against unbelief is our capacity to love what is beautiful…the surest support against the lies of the devil is to be attracted to what is true.” Saints and Scoundrels, page 14


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    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    Religion and Sexual Fulfilment

    Alfred Kinsey's studies were methodologically flawed
    We now know that when Alfred Kinsey reported on the sexual habits of Americans in the mid-20th century, his research was methodologically flawed.

    In an attempt to gather more reliable data on the sexual habits of Americans, social scientists Robert T. Michael, John H. Gagnon, and Edward O. Laumann initiated a comprehensive study into the sexual habits of Americans in the early 90's. They commissioned a staff of 220 interviewers, stationed at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Instead of relying on unrepresentative groups of volunteers, as Kinsey had done, these researchers selected random samples. Over a period of seven months, they interviewed 3,432 respondents and asked them questions about all aspects of their sex lives.

    Much of what their study uncovered was predictable, while some things came as a surprise. The greatest shock of all concerned the relationship between sexual pleasure and religious belief.

    Using objectively verifiable criteria, the study found that the people who have the most sex, the best sex, and are the happiest about their sex lives are monogamous, married, religious people.

    I have explored the implications of this in my recent Salvo feature. To read my article, click on the following link:

    Friday, May 24, 2013

    Insight on Calvin from Zachman

    I have written elsewhere of the way Calvin emptied the church of all concessions to materiality, leading to a hyper spiritualized liturgical theology. In fairness to Calvin, he did this because he was keen to emphasize that human beings themselves, not inanimate objects, are the ultimate image of the Creator. 

    However, to the extent that these living icons are visible, a consistent application of his argument against inanimate images excludes even human beings from being able to represent God in any meaningful way. For example, Calvin’s comment in his Exodus commentary that “It is wrong for men to seek the presence of God in any visible image, because he cannot be represented to our eyes”, seems to dampen the prospect of the congregation of living saints being able to image God in any meaningful way.

    It also throws into question the legitimacy of Calvin's notion that nature functions as the theatre of God’s glory. Zachman explored this tension in Image and Word in the Theology of John Calvin, suggesting that one of the reasons why the theme of manifestation has been neglected in Calvin scholarship is because it has been overshadowed by Calvin’s appeal to the incomprehensible essence of God.
    “According to this argument, the essence of God is invisible, and is unlike anything else in all creation. It is therefore impossible for God to be represented in any visible way whatsoever….Far from seeing countless images of God whever our eyes may turn, we now seem to find ourselves in a universe in which there neither are nor can be any images of God whatsoever. If this second argument from the essence of God is taken to its logical conclusion, then it would be impossible for the invisible God to become somewhat visible before our eyes in any way whatsoever, not only in images made by human artistry, but also in the works that God does in the universe.

    “…an unresolvable tension lies at the heart of Calvin’s discussion of the living images of God….This tension is compounded by the various reasons Calvin gives for the rejection of images of human institution in the worship of God. On the one hand, Calvin contrasts the ‘dead images’ that humans create, which h are only the image of absent things, with the ‘living images’ instituted by God, which truly present the reality they represent. On the other hand, Calvin rejects the use of images in worship on the basis of the invisible nature of God, which cannot be represented in any symbol or image. He can at times so insist on the essential invisibility of God that he appears to undermine his whole understanding of divine self-manifestation in symbols and living images.”

    Wednesday, May 22, 2013

    What the Marriage Debate Tells us About America

    In the question and answer I did with the American Family Association, I addressed the question "What does this debate reveal about America today?" In my answer I touched on the generation gap and the changing ideas about normalcy prevalent in the younger generation. I always made some suggestions about how we can begin to have genuine communication with the other side in this debate, while sharing some of my struggles to get the message of real marriage across. This is what I said:
    I don’t watch the news very much, partly because we don’t have a television. But when I do catch a news report, this issue is almost inevitably being framed in generational terms. The subtext is that it is the old people who are clinging to outdated ideas while the young people have learned to adjust to life in the 21st century. Consequently, most young people don’t really know what all the fuss is about when it comes to “letting homosexuals get married.”

    To the younger generation gay ‘marriage’ just seems
    Now the generational gap isn’t quite as stark as the media is trying to portray. If it were then 41 states wouldn’t have been able to pass laws defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman! But still, there is some truth to it. It’s interesting for me because I’ve written about normalization theory and it seems that for the younger generation gay ‘marriage’ just seems normal. More than that, supporting gay ‘marriage’ seems like the progressive, trendy, modern and cool thing to do. You get some idea of this by the way the media makes heroes out of any public figure that “come out” in support of gay marriage. This is reversing the field of play that used to be at work: vice used to have the exhilaration of going against the grain, but now it is those who contend for virtue that find themselves being marginalized against the forces of prejudice and suspicion. I believe this will become more apparent in the days ahead, and it brings to mind G.K. Chesterton’s words, “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

    Something else this whole debate has revealed to me about America is that everyone seems to be trapped within their own interpretive communities, unable to have constructive dialogue with those in different communities. The two sides seem to be separated by a chasm of mutual incomprehensibility that short-circuits genuine discussion. Social critics have been commented on this for a while, but now it seems to have reached a pitch.

    We see this in the way that so many people—on both sides of the debate—have been unable to transcend beyond simple sloganeering and unsophisticated argumentation, and this even includes people with legal training. As I shared earlier, so much of the case for same-sex ‘marriage’ rests on premises that already implicitly assume the conclusion and so are viciously circular. The result is that we do not really have dialogue at all, but simply cycles of assertions, denunciations and reassertions. As a result, each side is often unable to really address the concerns of the other side in a way that is satisfying and shows they are really listening.

    This is constantly a source of frustration to me. Again and again I find that no matter how carefully I frame my arguments so they can be meaningful to those on the other side, my opponents will keep coming back at me with a retort like, “You’re just saying that because you believe the Bible” or “it’s clear the bottom line is that you just hate homosexuals.” It’s like the opposite side wants me to be arguing from the standpoint of a narrow-minded fundamentalist because they have the categories for dealing with that, but when I appeal to tightly reasoned arguments that are not explicitly religious, they don’t know how to deal with that so they resort to ridicule and insults.

    I don’t want to make the same mistake, and so I always try to make sure I can summarize my opponents’ case in a way that they can say, “Yes, that’s what I’m trying to say. Robin understands where I’m coming from even if he doesn’t agree.” Then, when I present my case, I try to emphasize the things I agree about. For example, I will acknowledge that the push to legalize it has brought some important truths to the public consciousness, such as the importance of equal protection under the law, the understanding that marriage has never been a static concept, and the limitations involved in trying to impose a religiously-derived concept onto a pluralistic society. I can even share that of all the arguments that can be made in support of gay marriage, it is the last that I find the most compelling. You see, as a Christian I recognize the problem in trying to impose the teachings of my religion onto those who have different perspectives and lifestyles. This isn’t because I think the state can be religiously neutral, for I would follow William Cavanaugh and other thinkers in denying that the concept of religious neutrality is even coherent. However, even in a society governed by the teachings of the Bible, there is an important distinction between a sin and a crime, or between what is morally ideal and what is legally permissible. So it isn’t a matter of just saying, “This is what the Bible says, therefore gay marriage is bad.” It’s a matter of looking at the common good, considering how same-sex ‘marriage’ will affect everyone, carefully thinking through the legal ramifications, and so forth.

    I find that if I lay things out like this, it breaks down some of the hostility. One person commented on one of my articles saying, “After reading it I can sort of understand where the 'other side of the argument' is coming from.” He still disagreed, but at least he was starting to understand the case that could be made against same-sex ‘marriage.’ I hope to have the opportunity to see more of that sort of thing in the days ahead, but I often get discouraged because of the abuse that is thrown at me by the other side.


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    Monday, May 20, 2013

    The Meaning of Marriage

    What is marriage?
    After much study and consultation with people on both side of the gay “marriage” debate, I have concluded that all the various answers to the question “What is marriage?” usually always boil down to one of the following three options:
    1. Although our concept of marriage involves a degree of cultural relativity, at its core marriage is something specific, namely a sexually dimorphous union publicly recognized because of its potential fecundity.
    2. Although our concept of marriage involves a degree of cultural relativity, at its core marriage is something specific, namely a union of consenting persons (or adults) who commit to romantic partnership and domestic life.
    3. Our concept of marriage is entirely culturally relative; therefore marriage is a social construct and can mean whatever we choose for it to mean.
    None of these positions easily maps over to the “gay marriage” debate, which is about more than simply one’s personal view about the meaning of marriage. Yet often the position we adopt on the meaning of marriage will directly feed into how we think about these more practical political issues. 

    In a new series of articles at the Colson Center, I have constructed a systematic argument for option #1. Instead of relying on explicitly Biblical reasoning, I have sought to anchor my argument in considerations that Christians and non-Christians alike should be able to accept. To read my arguments, visit the following articles:

    The religious dimension of American nationalism

    If I can ever get funding to do so, I hope to someday research and write a short book about the strange confluence of evangelicalism with American nationalism.

    One of the greatest paradoxes of American history is that the strain of evangelicalism represented by revivalists like Finney – and latter his heirs such as Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday – which stripped religion of its sacerdotal, institutional and liturgical apparatuses, would begin to invest all these same qualities in the civic rites, institutions and metanarratives of American nationalism, in addition to what William Cavanaugh has called the “enacted myths of patriotic ritual.”

    Keep reading...

    Five Gay Marriage Myths

    Over at Salvo Magazine's blog, I have analyzed and debuked the following gay marriage myths:

    • Myth #1: Marriage is fundamentally a voluntary union of persons in a committed relationship.
    • Myth #2: Gay marriage legislation would remove the ban on same-sex couples getting marriage.
    • Myth #3: Gay marriage is the most tolerant option.
    • Myth #4: Gay marriage will bring greater equality
    • Myth #5: Gay marriage will not undermine the traditional family
    To read my article about these five topics, click on the following link:

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Why the State Should be Involved in Marriage

    In my various writings on the topic of same-sex 'marriage' (for a complete list, click here) I have argued that government has a duty to recognize marriage as being between a man and a woman. But perhaps the state should get out of the marriage business completely. Perhaps the state should not be involved at all in publicly recognizing certain types of relationships as being marriage. This is the position taken by radical libertarians and it is an attractive solution to the ‘gay marriage’ debate, even among Christians. According to this line of thinking, once the state begins pronouncing that certain types of relationships are marriage, this itself shows that government has overstepped its God-appointed mark.

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    Guns and Killing Part 3

    A friend recently told me about an experience her daughter recounted upon her return from an Eastern Orthodox youth retreat. In response to a question about violent video games, a priest shared the experience of an Orthodox military chaplain who had served in one of our country’s recent military actions overseas.

    Given the fact that there were numerous chaplains available from other Christian groups and very few Eastern Orthodox soldiers, it was a surprise to learn how popular the Orthodox chaplain had been among the soldiers stationed there.

    These soldiers were gripped by the horror of taking human life, and the Orthodox chaplain was the only one who met the men where they were and affirmed that grief was an appropriate reaction for what they had done. Though the soldiers were serving their country with honor, and though they were not sinning to kill enemy combatants, the Orthodox chaplain understood that taking another life still leaves a wound on the soul.
    By contrast, I am told that the other Christian chaplains were content to merely assuage the soldiers by repeating they had done nothing wrong, reminding them that they were doing their duty and encouraging them not let be troubled by their experiences. Only the Orthodox priest had a clear understanding of the tragedy of our human condition together with an appreciation of the pain that death properly brings. By facing and identifying with the sorrow the soldiers felt, he able to help them grapple with the reality of our fallen humanity and experience the healing and redemption Christ brings.

    Keep reading...

    Thursday, May 16, 2013

    Marriage and Positive Law

    In my recent Christian Voice article 'Why Gay Marriage is a Public Threat Part 1', I pointed out that in the conjugal view of marriage there is an empirical reality we can point to when establishing whether a relationship is really a marriage, or at least a complete and consummated marriage. But there is no corresponding empirical reality that can constitute what it means to be in a marriage regulated by the new understanding of marriage that is being forced upon us. This is because a person might have a 'committed and loving relationship' with any number of other persons without it being marriage. Now precisely because of this, the only way that a committed and loving relationship can be upgraded into marriage is if the state steps in and declares that relationship to be a marriage, in much the same way as the state might declare something to be a corporation or some other legal entity. By contrast, conjugal marriages have and could exist without the state’s recognition because it is fundamentally a pre-political institution. Marriage is pre-political in the sense that it has intrinsic goods attached to it, not least of which is the assurance of patrimony and thus the integrity of inheritance. Such goods do not exist by the state’s fiat even though the state may recognize, regulate or protect them.

    “By rearranging the very nature of what it means to be married, gay marriage raises the question of whether family and marriage can be considered pre-political institutions on the basis of natural and biological realities and intrinsic goods. This is because such natural and biological realities are being expunged from the essence of what we are now told marriage.

    John Milbank echoes some of the concerns I raised
    last month
    “Since consummation is unnecessary for a same-sex union to be called a complete marriage (even putting aside the question of what would count as consummation within a same-sex context), then what determines whether or not a heterosexual marriage is complete? Either we can have two separate non-equal definitions of marriage, or we can realize the logical consequence of same-sex marriage and say that the only thing left to determine what actually makes something a complete marriage or a legitimate family is the law itself. But have we really considered the implications of saying that traditional marriages and families are entirely the construct of the law? John Milbank thinks we have not, in a recent article on the impossibility of gay marriage  which echoes many of the concerns I raised in my Christian Voice article last month.

    Wednesday, May 15, 2013

    Aesthetics and Creation

    In an article I wrote for the Colson Center titled 'Aesthetics and Creation', I pointed out that one of the striking features of the creation account is that God’s activity is not purely functional. He spends one whole day resting from His work and reflecting that it is very good (Gen. 1:31-2:2). The fact that God is able to sit back (so to speak) and appreciate His artwork tells us an important thing about His nature. It tells us that the Lord exercises aesthetic appreciation.

    Even if it were not for the creation narrative, this same fact would be evident when, like David in Psalm 8, we consider the work of God’s fingers. When we look over God’s artwork, we see that not everything in our world has a purely functional or instrumental value. Whatever evolutionists may try to say, there are some things that God made just to look nice, to smell pleasant, and to sound delightful. This suggests that God puts a premium on aesthetic considerations.

    To read more about this, and what we can learn about the importance of aesthetics from the Genesis creation account, click on the link below:

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Neuroscience and the Reductionist Temptation

    In C.S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a fascinating dialogue that happens after the company from Narnia voyage to an island at the beginning of the end of the world. The Narnians meet a star named Ramandu, who dwells on the island with his beautiful daughter.

    When the company are told that Ramandu is “a retired star”, Edmund announces, “In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

    Ramandu replies: “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

    That’s an important distinction. What a thing is made of is not always the same as what a thing actually is.

    I thought of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week when I came across an intriguing article by Dr. Michael Merzenich, one of the leading pioneers in the burgeoning field of neuroplasticity.

    Keep reading...

    Hell and Beyond Interview and Discussion, Part 5

    Below is the fifth and final segment of the interview I did with my dad on his new e-book Hell and Beyond.

    For background about the book and this interview, see my earlier post 'Introducing Hell and Beyond.'

    To read all the interview segments on this blog click here.

    To download the entire interview as a pdf, click here.

    A Facebook plugin has been imported into the end of this and every other interview segment to facilitate a user-friendly discussion. We want to here from you, so please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts or further questions.

    On Solzhenitsyn’s View of Democracy

    "Given the crucial role that repentance played in his thought, Solzhenitsyn cautioned us not to put too much confidence in political solutions, including the solution of democracy. Democratic institutions, he warned, cannot act as a hedge against the latent corruption of the human heart any more than communism could. This is because democracy is just as capable of being corrupted, and Solzhenitsyn pointed to the triumph of mediocrity “under the guise of democratic restraints” as an example." Saints and Scoundrels, page 334

    Monday, May 13, 2013

    The Shallows

    Last year I posted a link to my review of Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, which appeared in Volume 2, Issue 2 of Fermentations. I have subsequently published a longer review of the book on the Salvo blog, which can be read by clicking on the following links:

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    Nudity and the Christian Worldview

    In an article I published last year with the Chuck Colson Center, I explored some of the implications of nudity in public spaces, such as the television airwaves. I argued that, ironically, nudity in public space tends to desexualize us in an important sense.

    Wednesday, May 08, 2013

    Hell and Beyond Interview and Discussion, Part 4

    Below is the fourth segment of the interview I did with my dad on his new e-book Hell and Beyond.  For background about the book and this interview, see my earlier post 'Introducing Hell and Beyond.' To read all the interview segments that have been published so far, click here. To download the entire interview as a pdf, click here. A Facebook plugin has been imported into the end of this and every other interview segment to facilitate a user-friendly discussion. We want to here from you, so please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts or further questions.

    RP 14: You say in your Preface that “we do not and cannot know what the afterlife holds.” You also say that the goal of your “imaginative supposals” is to “guard against…imbalance toward error”. But if we cannot know what the afterlife holds, how can we know what constitutes imbalance or error?

    MP 14: That was perhaps a poor way of stating it. It was my way of highlighting what I emphasized in the previous answer, that taking one or another firm and dogmatic stand on any

    Children and Same-Sex 'Marriage'

    From virtually all angles, the modern-day equivalent of uprooted blacks
    reduced to chattel and severed from their own flesh and blood is not anyone
    in a same-sex couple, but rather, any child forced to be raised by such
    a couple!

    Over at The Witherspoon Institute, Robert Oscar Lopez has made some long overdue points about the neglected role of children in the debate over same-sex 'marriage.' He begins his excellent article by looking at the role of symbols in California's raging debate:

    Monday, May 06, 2013

    Is Peter Leithart also among the Nominalists?

    Here's a teaser from my latest article with the Colson Center 'Gay Marriage and Creational Realism,' in which I interacted with the implicit nominalism of Peter Leithart's approach to the marriage debate. The entire article can be read here.

    The impasse of communication that persists in the “gay marriage” debate has left some Christian thinkers suspecting that genuine dialogue with unbelievers about the meaning of marriage is impossible. The thinking tends to run something like this: if someone doesn’t share our Christian worldview, there isn’t much we can appeal to when defending traditional marriage. Moreover, why would it even make sense for the other side to listen to us given that they don’t share the worldview that gives rise to our understanding of marriage in the first place?

    Peter Leithart reflected this attitude in his post earlier this year, “Gay Marriage and Christian Imagination.” Musing on a debate that took place between Douglas Wilson and Andrew Sullivan, Leithart suggested that we need “a cultural revolution” before our arguments for traditional marriage can even to be heard. This is because appealing to “liberal polity…leaves biblically-grounded Christians with little to say.” All we can do is fall back on “The Bible says” and make “theologically rich, biblically founded arguments against gay marriage” that will probably not “make any sense to the public at large” but may have an aesthetic pull.
    Although numerous thinkers, including myself, have shown that it is possible for Christian to make non-religious arguments to show how gay marriage is a public threat (see here and here and here), Leithart concedes that “it’s a hard case to make” that “gay marriage has harmed society.” In the end, Leithart wonders if we are trapped in our own interpretive communities, unable to truly communicate with those outside: “Perhaps we have entered a phase in which God has closed ears, so that whatever we say sounds like so much gibberish….Because the only arguments we have are theological ones, and only people whose imaginations are formed by Scripture will find them cogent.”
    The problem here is that Leithart’s approach only works if one begins by divorcing what we know of marriage from the order inherent in creation. If the Christian understanding of marriage arises from the raw command of an omnipotent God arbitrarily constituting the world in a certain way that might just of easily have been otherwise, then I agree that there is little we can say about the moral constitution of the world to those who do not share our theocentric worldview. On the other hand, if we are realists then we believe that God’s commands about sexual ethics flow out of the teleological directedness intrinsic to creation itself (a point I have developed in more detail in my article ‘Sex and the Ockhamist Revolution.’) Under the realist scheme of things, it becomes possible to appeal to unbelievers on the basis of that ordering without needing to invoke explicitly Biblical arguments.

    This is exactly the line that Girgis, Anderson, and George have taken in their book What is Marriage? These authors have received push-back from the Christian community for being content to construct purely secular and even non-moral arguments. However, the irony is that we actually have good Biblical reasons for making non-biblical arguments. It is clear from Genesis that believers and unbelievers alike share a common world, a common rationality, and a common human nature. This remains constant even if an unbeliever’s worldview prevents him from giving a consistent account of these things, just as gravity remains constant even for those whose worldview cannot give a coherent explanation for gravitation.
    Christians generally understand this principle in other areas. For example, in mathematics we generally understand that even if the worldview of an unbeliever precludes him from being able to give a consistent account of mathematics, a Christian mathematician can still prove mathematical truths to the unbeliever on the basis of a shared creation without having to explicitly invoke the Bible. Now a Christian mathematician may want to invoke Scripture for evangelistic purposes, or he may want to use reason to demonstrate that an atheistic worldview cannot consistently explain mathematics, but this is not strictly necessary before a believer and unbeliever can communicate meaningfully about numbers.
    Similarly, in talking about the meaning of marriage it is possible to appeal to the realities of our shared creation without needing to invoke the Bible. We can point to the order of the world and the pushback that occurs when that order is flouted. We can show that biologically, socially, psychologically, legally, and historically, there are good reasons to be cautious about gay marriage, and we can make these points by appealing to creation itself. This is because unbelievers live in a world informed by moral truth just as they live in a world informed by scientific and numerical truth. When confronted with unbelievers who deny this fact and attempt to live as moral relativists, we should not shrink back from pointing to the many ways that our shared experiences in the world contradict moral relativism.
    The Christian nominalist is not in the same position of being able to appeal to creation. This is because, for him, there can never be any question of a right-ordered nature that stands antecedent to, and the reason for, God’s commands: we simply need to know what the rules are and to keep them. All the ordering in our world becomes deliberate ordering, and creation becomes radically contingent. But this brings communication into atrophy, for then we can never make appeals to creation, and if someone with a different worldview disagrees with our morality, all we can do is to throw up our hands and say “Unless you accept the Bible, we really don’t have any basis to talk about this.”
    (We see this same nominalist bent in numerous other areas, where Christian reluctance to appeal to the patterns of creation throws many upon the type of narrow Biblicism that erroneously equates any appeal to creation as either a concession to secular epistemology or an abandonment of Scripture’s sufficiency. This error surfaces in theonomy, in certain forms of presuppositionalist apologetics, in nouthetic counselling, in Christian rejections of natural law theory, and in various modalities of Biblical worldviewism when applied to the liberal arts. Such ideas often begin by turning away from a rationality grounded in the patterns of creation and, consequently, seeking to interpret the Bible in a void. The end-result is often the type of bastardized and non-historical approach to Sola Scriptura similar to what T.M. Moore addressed in his article, “Worldview: Biblical or Christian.”)

    Unquenchable Fire in Mark 9

    Jesus’ words in Mark 9:42-50 form another favourite proof text for those who support the doctrine of endless torment. Yet as with the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the context is often neglected.

    The recurring motif in this passage about the worm and the fire is drawn directly from Isaiah 66:24, the final verse in the book of Isaiah. By repeatedly citing this motif, Jesus is invoking for His hearers the whole Isaianic narrative and bracketing his words within the context of the story Isaiah was telling. That story, of course, was the narrative that Israel’s God would renew the earth through the work of his Servant. It was a narrative that would have been common knowledge to Jews of the Second Temple period and by invoking it, Jesus is implicitly saying that he is the Servant who is restoring the earth; He is the Servant who is bringing all flesh to worship Him. Isaiah‘s story, the story of the New Exodus, is unfolding right before them and in front of the disciples’ very eyes.

    Yet He is not merely bracketing His ministry within the context of the Isaianic narrative; He is also characteristically investing it with a new twist. The subtext of Jesus’ use of Isaiah 66 is that the Jews who believed they had Abraham as their father, will find themselves cast into Gehenna (the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where non-covenant members were traditionally dumped as an alternative to ceremonial burial), if they continue to reject Jesus. By telling the people to cut off their offending hand, foot or eye, Jesus is essentially saying: abandon everything that is standing in the way of embracing My agenda of New Creation, or you will find yourself outside the covenant. It is the same message that we find in many of Jesus’s parables: the insiders will become the outsiders, and the outsiders will become the insiders.

    Now, we know that there were many things standing in the way of the Jews accepting Jesus work, not least their own ideas of how the kingdom would unfold, including but not limited to their nationalistic aspirations. Those nationalistic aspirations would eventually bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the literal death of the generation that refused to heed Jesus‘s warnings. In AD 70 the unbelieving Jews did parish in exactly the way Jesus described in Mark 9. Rotting and smoking corpses became a literal reality. This is one of the reasons we need not invoke the idea of eternal hellfire to explain Mark 9. It points to a judgment within the space-time continuum – not hellfire but Roman-fire, not the cosmic rubbish dump but Jerusalem’s rubbish dump. It is the same reality towards which the Olivet discourse points (see Mark Hornes The Victory According to Mark for the reasons why everything about the Mount Olivet prophecy indicates a local fulfilment).

    (Understanding this helps us to avoid the contradictions which follow from belief in literal hell fire. For example, how can the descriptions of hell be literal when such descriptions include both fire and darkness? Fire, by definition, cannot be dark or it isn’t fire.)

    Mark 9 stands as a solemn warning throughout the ages that destruction comes upon those who reject Jesus. Whether that destruction includes endless hellfire is a question that must be settled from an appeal to other passages, not Mark 9. Nevertheless, Mark 9 remains one of the most cited proof texts of endless torment.

    For further reading about this, visit my series  'Rethinking Unquenchable Fire.'

    Thursday, May 02, 2013

    Hell and Beyond Interview and Discussion, Part 3

    Below is the third segment of the interview I did with my dad on his new e-book Hell and Beyond.  For background about the book and this interview, see my earlier post 'Introducing Hell and Beyond.' To read all the interview segments that have been published so far, click here.

    If you would like to contribute your own thoughts to these questions, use the Facebook links at the end of this segment. This is your chance to continue the discussion about God, the afterlife, and the nature of reality, even if you haven't read the book. 

    RP 10: Let’s move from the evolution of Lewis’s thought to the evolution of your own. How does this project relate to, or bring together, themes you’ve previously explored, or hinted at, in some of your earlier literary works?

    Wednesday, May 01, 2013

    Gay Marriage Articles: Complete List

    Over the last twelve months I have been very active writing articles to warn the public about the consequences of legalizing 'gay marriage.' Below is a complete list of my various articles on this subject so far:


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