Do They Have I-Pods in Prison?

Ray Boltz, the contemporary Christian artist who came out of the closet a handful of years ago, has recently released a new song entitled “Don’t Tell Me Who to Love”.  Here are the lyrics:

The year was 1966 and they were wearing their wedding bands

She was black and he was white and some people didn’t understand

The judge said that’s not legal, the preacher called it a sin

But they couldn’t stop them cause he loved her and she loved him


Don’t tell me who to love, don’t tell me who to kiss

Don’t tell me that there’s something wrong because I feel like this

I know what’s in my heart, that should be enough

Don’t tell me, don’t tell me no, don’t tell me who to love


Maybe you’re in love today and you’ve been making wedding plans

But there is someone in your way shouting things cause they don’t understand

The judge says that’s not legal, the preacher calls it a sin

Oh you just remember they were wrong before and they’re wrong again



Now there always will be hatred and voices that condemn

Oh but I believe that true love is gonna make it in the end


If Jerry Sandusky is allowed an IPod in prison, he’ll have plenty of time to bop along with this one.

You see, what this song really means is, “Don’t tell me who to love….as long as I’m not a pedophile, a polygamist, or in an incestuous relationship.  Then you can tell me all you want.”

It’s not a question of whether there will be boundaries, but where they are.

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The Movie Theater Massacre and the Limits of Our Understanding

As human beings, we yearn to understand.  We crave meaning, because the horror of genuinely random meaninglessness may be too much to contemplate.  And so, as has long been our practice when faced with an unthinkable event, such as the massacre in Aurora, Colorado, our natural instinct in public discourse is to seek answers.

The search for answers takes place on different levels.  Theologically, an event like this one raises afresh for us the problem of evil.  Why would a good God allow such a thing to happen?  Some of us are prone to justify God by limiting him, which is essentially to place him on a human level and assert that he, like us, did not want this to occur, but he was unable to stop it.  This inability may be due either to a real limitation on his power or because of a self-imposed limitation he has enacted as a way of creating space for our free decisions.

Others may be prone to justify God by seeking to explain the divine will in such an event.  God permitted this atrocity because he wanted to accomplish X.  The assumption behind this view is not just that God is comprehensively sovereign, but that his ways are comprehensively understandable to a finite mind.

For me, neither answer works, primarily because neither answer is biblical.  I am content to leave this question without an answer, simply because God has not given me one, and God does not owe me one.  I continue to believe that God is supremely good and completely sovereign over all that occurs and that, in spite of my inability to see how, he is working together all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).  I cannot assign divine meaning to this event, simply because I am not God.  I must acknowledge my limitations and recognize that, where God has not spoken, no answers will be forthcoming.

Politically and sociologically, the budding conversation in the aftermath of this tragedy shows signs of conforming to the established template: What social factors led to this tragedy?  What political policies should we now pursue to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?  Do we need to regulate violence in the entertainment industry?  Do we need tighter gun control laws?  Do we need to mandate airport-level security at movie theaters, baseball parks, churches, and other public gathering places?  Do we need to start monitoring closely the activities of isolated individuals like James Holmes when they begin to exhibit disturbing behavior?

The assumption behind these questions is that we can find an explanation for this tragedy in the structure of our society and thereby enact policies that will rectify whatever structural defect led to this event.  Sin, on this view, does not reside in the human heart.  It resides in the structures of society.  Our benevolent central planners, in their infinite wisdom, will now come along, isolate whatever structural defect led to James Holmes’s murderous rampage, and address it through legislation that scrapes away another layer of freedom for us all.

I think we instinctively leap into these kinds of discussions because we fear the alternative: what if we really are limited in our ability to eradicate evil?  What if James Holmes is a severely deranged man who would have perpetrated a massacre no matter what kind of gun control laws or security measures had been in place?  What if there are no sociological answers to be found, and what if a lethal injection forever puts to rest any hope we had of receiving a rational account of this deranged man’s motive?  What if, years from now, we are no closer to an explanation than we are today?  If we admit that, we are admitting that we, and in particular our central planners, are not in control of everything.  We are acknowledging that our god has a chink in his armor.  We are blaspheming the all-powerful, all-benevolent State.

I believe in limited government, not only as a prescriptive political philosophy, but also as a descriptive statement about the way things are.  Government is not, and can never be, our god.  It cannot protect us from everything.  It cannot plan and legislate a utopian society.  It cannot exterminate the sin that resides within the heart of every individual under its authority.  In a way, the search for answers is an attempt to prop up a cardboard deity that has failed us once again, only because it is not, and never was, the real thing.  Instead of the usual political posturing, why don’t we take this opportunity to recognize how limited we are, not only in our understanding, but also in our ability to prevent this kind of senseless evil?

But if we entrust ourselves to the God who has promised that nothing unclean will pass through the gates of his city in the world to come (Revelation 21:27), we can rest in the assurance that evil will not have the last word.  And that takes the sting out of the realization that sometimes there are no answers to be found.

Posted in Contemporary Issues, Doctrine of God, Eschatology, Life and Living | 1 Comment

Could Roe v. Wade be overturned?

What would it take to overturn the horrendous 1973 Supreme Court case that has led to the murder of more than 50 million unborn children?  It takes five Supreme Court justices to form a majority, and I used to think that we had four solid votes against Roe: Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.  Kennedy is generally conservative, but not on social issues, and he has already voted to uphold Roe v. Wade.  The other four justices (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan) are ideologically liberal and hold abortion to be a sacred right.

Justice Ginsburg is the oldest on the court.  Kennedy is not far behind, and Breyer is just two years younger than Kennedy.  Surely, I thought, of these three, at least one will retire soon, and if we had a Republican President we could pick up a net gain for conservatives that would push the balance of the court against Roe v. Wade.  I no longer hold that opinion.

I am almost certain now that Justice Roberts will never vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.  In addition to credible rumors I have heard about a libertarian streak in him, he has made it clear that he is unwilling to make waves on highly charged political issues that are settled policy.  He cares too much about the public reputation of the court.

This means, of course, that we only have three justices aligned against Roe v. Wade.  And one of them, Scalia, must also be close to retirement.  If Mitt Romney is elected President, he will likely have the opportunity to appoint two justices in his first term, but I would guess that one of them will be Scalia’s replacement, meaning Romney could only supply one net gain against Roe v. Wade.  He would probably have to be elected for a second term before he would have the opportunity to appoint another justice to shift the balance of the court against abortion-on-demand.

So, I am betting that Romney would have to appoint, at a minimum, three justices before there could be any hope of a reversal.  On top of that, all three appointments would have to be reliably conservative.  As past experience has demonstrated (now with Roberts as well),  reliable conservatives on the court are hard to come by.

What would the repeal of Roe accomplish?  Simply this: it would put the question of the legality of abortion back into the hands of the states.  No doubt, different states would regulate abortion in different ways (even as they do now under the parameters of Roe), but for the first time since 1973 states would have the freedom to put real protections in place for the unborn.  I would imagine that states like California would continue with the status quo, but a large number of states would virtually outlaw the practice, leading to a result of far fewer abortions and a culture that reflects, through its laws, a higher value placed upon human life at all stages.  It would not be the ideal situation, but it would be a lot better than what we have now.

At this point, it is still a dream that will be harder to reach than I previously thought.

Posted in Contemporary Issues | 4 Comments

The Obamacare Decision

In case you are not familiar with the nuances of what occurred yesterday at the Supreme Court, here is the bottom line: the majority (five justices) determined that the mandate that requires (almost) every American to purchase health insurance is not constitutional in one way, but it is constitutional in another way.  The sense in which it is not constitutional is that it is not an act consistent with Congress’s constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.  The court has spoken clearly: requiring Americans to engage in economic activity is out of bounds insofar as the commerce clause is concerned.  That’s the good news.

The bad news, however, is that the majority determined that Obamacare’s mandate that all Americans buy insurance or pay (what used to be called) a penalty is indeed within the constitutional power of Congress when that penalty is redefined so as to be considered a tax.  In other words, the court says that Congress can require us to buy insurance or pay up if we don’t so long as that “paying up” is considered a tax and thus legitimately falls under Congress’s power to tax.

As I see it, there are two enormous problems with this decision, which was apparently orchestrated by the chief justice, John Roberts.

(1) It is abundantly clear that the “penalty” that was written into this law was intended to be just that: a penalty for failure to comply with the law, not a tax.  The administration sold it to the public as a bill that did not include a new tax.  The government argued before the Supreme Court back in march that the penalty was not a tax.  The government’s strategy was to justify the law on the basis of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.  When Justice Roberts saw that this argument would not work constitutionally, he deliberately rewrote the law to make it fit his understanding of the Constitution.  Judges should not be writing tax policy, but that is essentially what the Supreme Court did in this case.  Congress wrote a bad law, and instead of throwing it out, Justice Roberts said, in effect, “If we as judges do a little rearranging here, we can cram this thing into a Constitution-shaped box.”  This is judicial activism.

(2) Even supposing this thing formerly known as a “penalty” is a tax, what gives Congress the power to tax certain individuals for not doing something?  As far as I’m concerned, it makes little difference what constitutional power Congress is asserting when they force Americans to buy a product.  It’s still tyranny no matter what section of the Constitution you point to to try to justify it.  It brings me little comfort that the court placed clear limits on what qualifies as the regulation of interstate commerce, because at the very same time it widely expanded Congress’s power to confiscate our wealth under its power of taxation.  Justice Roberts, seeing Congress beating us with a bat, ran over to the scene, promptly took the bat away and handed them a whip instead, saying, “Here, use this.  It’s within your Constitutional power.”

The upshot of all of this is that the government is inching ever closer to total control of our lives.  We are a long way down the road to serfdom.  If Congress has this kind of power over us, what can’t they do?  What won’t they do?

What should we do?  I agree with Douglas Wilson’s call for state governments to refuse compliance with this federal overreach:

There is now, in principle, no limiting principle on the congressional power to tax, and the absence of such a limiting principle has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Even if Obamacare is repealed (as I now believe to be likely), this is now just a policy decision — the constitutional green light has been given. If Congress is deemed to have the constitutional authority to tax you for not doing whatever it is they dictate (eating brocoli, wearing blue tee-shirts, whatever), there is no other name for this than despotism. The fact that it is a nanny despotism helps not at all. The fact that their exercise of this authority is currently in abeyance matters not at all.

And so this means that we should resort to Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrate, and call upon our state governors and legislatures to simply refuse to comply with Obamacare. The time has come to just say no. This is because there is no form of government more fundamentally anti-Christian than a government that recognizes, in principle, no limit to what it can require. Absolute claims are the prerogative of Deity. If this decision is allowed to stand, there is no longer any limiting principle inside the Beltway whatever. It is time for the ruling class to discover that there is still a limiting principle outside the Beltway, enforced by those who believe that the only real limiting principle is at the right hand of the Father.

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That Sound You Heard This Morning…

…was the sound of liberty dying.

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Good News from the SBC

Many others have noted the historic news of the election of the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Fred Luter.  I wish I could have been there to witness history in the making.

But for this post, I have in mind a particular bit of good news that relates to what I have been blogging about here lately: the “Traditional Statement” on salvation.  Today messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans passed the following resolution that strikes just the right note of mutual respect and cooperation between brothers and sisters of different theological persuasions:


WHEREAS, We celebrate the history of faithful cooperation of Southern Baptists in the work of world evangelism and missions; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message has been approved by our Convention as our confession of faith regarding our commonly held convictions; and

WHEREAS, The Baptist Faith and Message in its affirmation of local church autonomy does not define what individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches must believe but rather what they generally and historically have believed regarding the doctrine of salvation; and

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19–20, 2012, do without reservation reaffirm as our confession of faith The Baptist Faith and Message; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that The Baptist Faith and Message provides sufficient parameters for understanding the doctrine of salvation, so that Southern Baptists may joyfully and enthusiastically partner together in obedience to the Great Commission; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptist churches to continue in faithful cooperation as we deepen our commitment to equip the saints and reach the lost with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptist churches to continue in faithful cooperation as we deepen our commitment to equip the saints and reach the lost with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a very encouraging sign.  The convention has spoken strongly in favor of unity defined according to our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, for the sake of the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

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The “Traditional Statement” and the Creator-Creature Distinction

The recent document, “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” (hereafter “TS” for “Traditional Statement”) provides us with a good opportunity to examine hidden presuppositions that affect our way of doing theology, particularly with regard to the God-world relationship.

Take a look at articles 7 and 8 of TS:

Article Seven: The Sovereignty of God

We affirm God’s eternal knowledge of and sovereignty over every person’s salvation or condemnation.

We deny that God’s sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause a person’s acceptance or rejection of faith in Christ.

Article Eight: The Free Will of Man

We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person. We deny that there is an “effectual call” for certain people that is different from a “general call” to any person who hears and understands the Gospel.

The framers of this statement clearly seek to affirm human freedom as the ability of the will to determine itself.  In other words, what the framers mean by “actual free will” is libertarian freedom, or the ability of a person to choose or non-A under the exact same set of circumstances, thereby making the will of man supreme in all of its decisions.  Another way of saying this is that the framers of TS affirm that man has the ability to make decisions that have not been preordained by God (foreknown, yes; permitted, yes; but not preordained by a sovereign act of God’s will).  Any decision that has been preordained by God has not been made with the ability of “actual freedom,” and any decision made with “actual freedom” is a decision that God could not have preordained.  Hence, their conclusion that God does not call his elect effectually to salvation, for to do so would violate the “actual freedom” that he has given them.  If we are looking for a final explanation as to why person A responds to the gospel and person B does not, that reason must be found, not in the will of God, but in the will of person A and the will of person B.

Now, here is the hidden presupposition that informs the reasoning of TS: divine and human action take place on the same plane, such that one always limits the other.  If God preordains it, it is not free, and if it is free, then God did not preordain it.  It’s that simple.  Of the many different causal features of this world, God’s own intervention happens to be one of them, but that is all: it is one causative feature among others.  If God puts too much pressure on us, he, like any other created personal being, lapses into coercion, which is something he won’t do.  God has voluntarily limited the accomplishment of his will by putting his will on equal footing with ours, even giving us the ability to thwart his will if we so choose.  For where our free will begins, God’s causative agency must end.  This is what I mean when I say that divine and human action exist on the same plane and mutually limit one another.

But a more biblical (and historically Protestant) theological method recognizes that the Creator-creature distinction requires us to think of God’s actions on a higher plane than ours.  His acts do not cancel out our freedom, nor does our freedom limit the accomplishment of his will.  He can decree all things in advance and exercise meticulous sovereignty over absolutely everything that occurs in creation (Eph. 1:11), and he can do so without coercing us, precisely because he relates to us, not as a fellow creature who exists and acts on our plane of existence and action, but as sovereign Creator who transcends his creation.

Consider an analogy: William Shakespeare, as the author of Macbeth, has causative influence over every detail of the story, and yet his characters act freely in accord with who they are.  Macbeth, spurred on by his wife, murders King Duncan out of a desire to take the throne for himself.  Shakespeare ordained it to happen that way.  Does that make Shakespeare a murderer?  Of course not!  But is Macbeth a murderer?  Yes, absolutely!  Shakespeare did not coerce Macbeth into doing something Macbeth didn’t want to do, and yet Shakespeare is the one ultimately responsible for every detail of the story.  If the actions of the characters are rightly recognized as taking place on a plane that is distinct from the actions of the author, we see how the author’s will is compatible with the will of his characters.

The objection will come: “But we are not fictional characters!  We are real people!”  Two words in response: (1) My analogy is only that: an analogy.  By definition, it is not the same thing as what it pictures. (2) It is certainly true that our actual existence distinguishes us from fictional characters like Macbeth.  But if Shakespeare is free to write the story that he wants for his own purpose, is not God all the more free to do so with us?  Do we have any claim upon God that would require him to limit himself in order to allow us the kind of “actual freedom” that TS demands?  Is God obligated to subordinate his will to ours by lowering himself to our plane of action rather than acting as the sovereign God who transcends his creation?  Wouldn’t such an act on God’s part obliterate one major aspect of the Creator-creature distinction?

Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are great mysteries of our faith.  Statements like TS try to make sense of the mystery by conceptualizing all divine acts as though they proceed from one more character in the story (and thus limit and are limited by the actions of other characters), but not from the Author himself.  It is far better to submit to the teaching of Scripture and protect the mystery of divine omnicausality, fully integrated with the integrity of human freedom and secondary causes.  We must let God be God.

Or, as Geoffrey Bromiley said it a decade ago: Only God is free.

Posted in Contemporary Issues, Doctrine of Salvation | 3 Comments

And John Cassian said, “Amen.”

In a defense of the “Traditional Statement” on Southern Baptist soteriology, Paige Patterson recently said the following:

“We are obviously not semi-Pelagians. We do believe that the entire human race is badly affected by the fall of Adam. However, we don’t follow the Reformed view that man is so crippled by the fall that he has no choice.”

I take Dr. Patterson at his word that he does not want to associate himself with semi-Pelagianism.  I would assume that no one who has signed the recent statement would want to associate themselves with that view.  However, Patterson’s actual words in this quote, if they are meant to distance his view from semi-Pelagianism, do nothing of the sort.  John Cassian (a famous semi-Pelagian from the 4th-5th centuries) would agree wholeheartedly with what Patterson says here.

Semi-Pelagians do not deny that the human race has been badly affected by the fall of Adam.  They explicitly affirm it.  Pelagians are the ones who deny that Adam’s race has been infected with a sin nature, but not semi-Pelagians.  Furthermore, semi-Pelagians would agree wholeheartedly that the natural free will of man to choose the good, while it has been affected by the fall, has not been obliterated.

The real issue that Patterson and the other signers of the “Traditional Statement” need to address is this: Do sinners require internal divine grace that precedes the exercise of their will and thus enables them to respond positively to the gospel?  Or do they retain enough power of will to respond to the external call of the gospel without an internal grace that draws them?

It would seem that if they affirm the first question, they do in fact believe that man’s free will has been crippled by the fall until the grace of God awakens it.  They would be closer to Calvinists than they think.  (Arminianism, as far as its doctrine of man goes, is indeed very close to Calvinism).  On the other hand, if they affirm the second question, then they are semi-Pelagian, for that position is the hallmark of semi-Pelagian theology.

The “Traditional Statement” clearly needs some revision.  Any theological statement that requires its signers to make these kinds of denials (even though the statement itself contains ten such denials, yet never includes one denying semi-Pelagianism) is clearly not one that has promoted clarity, which is what theological statements are normally intended to do.


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The GOP should make this a campaign poster


Let’s see who can suggest the best caption.

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Somebody Needed to Say It



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