Monday, November 28, 2011

Song of the Week

I forgot about this band till mid last week. I love the southern rock sound!

Dirty Guv'nahs, "Song for my Beloved"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Song of the Week

I tried to find this song before Sunday. It would have gone well with the sermon on Galatians 2:15-21, but alas, I couldn't find it till today (actually, I had to reorder a lost copy of the cd and it finally arrived today).

Candi Pearson, "Galatians 2:20"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ethics, Church & Undocumented Workers

I appreciate, though don't always agree, with Dr. Moore of SBTS. He posted this on his blog a couple of days ago - it's the final exam question for his ethics class. In light of the focus of this years Missions Conference at ECC, I thought it would be a good thing to consider some more. I'll offer my thoughts on this next week (as well as more thoughts on the implications of Natural Law like a promised). Offer your thoughts!

You find yourself far away from this ethics class, twenty years from now in your ministry, serving a church in south Florida. Pablo is a man you met, with his wife Hannah, after they attended a small-group Bible study in the home of a family in your church. Both of them, after hearing you explain the gospel, were convicted of sin and, after several weeks of conversation, both announced they were ready to confess Jesus as Lord and to follow him in baptism.

Before the baptism, though, Pablo approaches you to say that he’s not sure he meets the requirements for Christian baptism. He’s not sure he’s a repentant sinner. He sees himself as guilty, he is sorry for his sins against God and others, and he wants the forgiveness that comes through Jesus’ bloody cross, the new life that comes from Jesus’ empty tomb.

But there’s something that kindles fear in him.

Pablo tells you he is an undocumented worker, what some would call an “illegal immigrant.” Years ago he left conditions in El Salvador that, due to famine there, led him to near starvation. Moreover, he worked, like others in his village, for a multinational plantation where he was physically beaten and sexually abused. There were no other options for him, as the only employers in the country were made up of similarly exploitative companies. He slipped into this country undetected and has since lived with an artificial Social Security number he purchased on the black market, enabling him to work in this country.

Pablo’s employer knows his immigration status, but operates with a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy when it comes to such questions about his workers. Indeed, several outside financial consultants say that, without such labor, this employer’s business would be financially unfeasible and would have to close, since there is not a sufficient employee base among native-born Americans willing to work in such a job.

The employer is Tyler Rogers, also a member of your church, one of your most Christlike people in the congregation, and he teaches the Bible in a large Tuesday night small group. It was at his family’s house that you met Pablo and Hannah, since he had been sharing the gospel with them for months and inviting them to hear more through your church.

The United States immigration policy is, if anything, more restrictive than it was when you were in ethics class at Southern Seminary. No longer can a green card be obtained by marrying a U.S. citizen, so Pablo’s marriage to Hannah is irrelevant to his immigration status. According to current law, if Pablo turns himself in, or is caught, he will face immediate deportation to El Salvador, along with a penalty making him ineligible to apply to entrance to the United States for no less than ten years.

Moreover, returning to El Salvador and applying for immigration is a process that takes, in the best of scenarios, ten years from start to finish. An admission of illegal status, plus a return to El Salvador, would mean crushing poverty, possible starvation, and almost certain bodily harm in dangerous working conditions. It would also mean being separated from Hannah for ten to twenty years.

Pablo and Hannah have three children: an eleven year-old girl, a six year-old boy, and a two year-old girl. Hannah is also pregnant with their fourth child, due next Spring.

Pablo has, since arriving in the United States, been sending a portion of his paycheck back to El Salvador, to his elderly mother who is caring for Pablo’s nieces and nephews since Pablo’s brother was killed due to the unsafe working conditions in the factory and his brother’s wife abandoned the children. Without this money, Pablo fears the children, two of whom are babies, and his mother would starve to death.

Pablo wants to do what Jesus would have him to do, to be a godly man. What do you advise him to do? If you advise him to turn himself in or to return to El Salvador, how do you square that with the biblical mandate that one who “does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8)? Can you really, from that point forward, consider yourself “pro-family” or “pro-orphan” or even “pro-life”?

If you advise him to stay with his family, how is he keeping the biblical mandate to “obey the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1)? How also is he avoiding the sin of bearing false witness, about himself and his legal status? Can you baptize Pablo? After all, is he really showing repentance from sin?

What do you do or say, if anything, about Tyler and his employment practices? If nothing, then why not?

How do you equip the congregation to understand how to deal with this situation, and what implications does it have for how you respond to the mission field where God has placed you, with a large and growing community of undocumented Latin American workers, many of whom need to hear and believe the gospel, and are watching how you respond to this family.

Walk through each step of ethical reflection, showing why you reject some options and why you embrace others. Ground your answer in Scripture, the gospel, the Christian tradition, natural law, and common grace. Think through the implications of your answer in each situation for unintended consequences, and show how those can be ethically resolved.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Song of the Week

Saving Abel, "Miss America"

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Natural Law: Fact of Theologians Fiction?

A couple of weeks ago I casually mentioned in the Poiema ACG that the Ten Commandments are a basic summary of natural law - the moral law written in nature and on the human conscience. It certainly wasn't a big point of conversation, but I was surprised to when my Scottish interlocutor (I mean, my friend Doug) said he thought the idea of natural law was nonsense made up by theologians. What surprised me is that the only group I knew of that denies natural law is certain segments of the Reformed community, particularly those from the Dutch Calvinist tradition influenced by Bavinck and Kuyper.

We didn't take the time to hash out our difference of opinion that morning, but took up the discussion over lunch (Ancient Chinese Secret: bitter disagreements are easier to swallow at a Chinese Buffet). Interestingly, once we discussed it and defined terms carefully, there was little disagreement, though some still lingered on the use of natural law. This discussion reminded me that it isn't a given we use terms in the same way (I should have known this after reading/teaching on Wright in Galatians!). So, here I want to take a few minutes to clarify what I mean by natural law and why I think it's important.

First, by natural law I don't mean laws of nature, as in gravity, etc. Obviously I believe in those too - last time I checked gravity still worked. But by natural law I have in mind the moral laws bound up in nature, especially human nature.

Second, by natural law I don't mean laws that are bound up in nature apart from God. Not at all!!! By using the term natural law, I don't mean to identify the source of the law, only it's mode of communication. It's natural in that God reveals his moral law to through nature as opposed to special revelation (the Bible). It is still God's law and God is still the one who reveals it. Moreover, natural revelation is accessible to all universally whereas special revelation is not. All have been exposed to natural law, and all stand condemned by it. Not all have been exposed to God's special revelation.

Third, by saying that natural law exists, I don't mean to communicate we have perfect understanding or sense of it. Our intellects are fallen; our hearts are deceptive. Our sense of God's law written in nature and the human conscience is warped and twisted as the image of God in us is warped and twisted. Therefore, questions can certainly be raised about the value of natural law for guiding us in morality. On the other hand, while our sense of natural law may be sckeewed, that doesn't affect the objective presence of a natural law. If I'm not aware there's a law prohibiting public nudity, that doesn't mean there isn't one, or that I won't be arrested for breaking it (thank you lucky stars I know there are such laws and wouldn't dream of breaking them in a million bajillion years).

With those clarifications in mind, we can ask, "Is the idea of natural law biblical?" I think a strong case can be built for it, though I'll be the first to admit you'll look long and hard through your Strong's Exhaustive Concordance to find the phrase 'natural law'. The best place to begin building a case for natural law is probably in the book of Genesis. Why Genesis? Because Genesis is before Exodus, and it's not until Exodus that we get a detailed revelation of God's moral law in the Mosaic Code (this isn't the post to enter into discussions regarding the validity of parsing the law into civil, ceremonial and moral components; nor will I take up the question of the application of the Mosaic Law to culture today - the theonomic question). From the time of Adam to the time of Moses, mankind lived without an express moral command from God. But what we see in Genesis and early on in Exodus is that even apart from an express moral code, there is a law to which people are accountable.

For example, consider Cain. Cain's murder of his brother Abel was a shameful thing - hence he evaded God's questions regarding the whereabouts of his brother. In addition, it was a sinful thing - hence, God punishes Cain for crime. But what law did Can break if there was no law written in nature and on the human conscience?

Move ahead, in the days of Noah God sends judgment upon the earth for it's utter wickedness and evil. The specific charge is that men were corrupt and violent. Oh, and then there's the story of how Ham disrespected his father Noah and was cursed for it - and this prior to the command to Moses to 'honor your father and mother'.

And don't forget Sodom and Gomorrah, judged for their sexual immorality.

In these stories, God isn't holding people accountable to a standard they knew nothing about. No, through nature and conscience their actions are revealed as violations of their Creator's goodness and the laws he embedded within his creation. If they did not know these laws, it is a culpable ignorance (like choosing not to see the NO PARKING sign in front of your favorite coffee shop).

We could go pericope by pericope, but you get the idea. What is interesting, as Paul Helm has pointed out, is that even those outside the covenant community have some understanding of right and wrong. He writes,

"Some of these values [which exist without specific commands] were common between those who were members of the covenant, as Abraham, and - what is pf particular interest in this paper – some stretched across the covenant boundaries, such as those held in common between Abraham and Ahimelech, or (later) Noah [sic. Moses] and his father in law Jethro. We see that these laws have to do with property, with fair dealing, with sexuality, with parents, with life and death. And as we proceed to make the list of these norms, it suddenly dawns on us that they are the very norms that are expressed in the Second Table of the Moral Law as Moses received it"

Consider briefly the story of Abraham and Abimilech in Genesis 20. Abraham, fearing for his life, passes Sarah off as his sister. Abimelch takes her into his house. Before the king of Gerar approaches Sarah, God warns him. Here's the exchange:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” (Gen 20:3-5).

Notice Abimelech's defense isn't "what's wrong with taking another man's wife?" Instead, he pleads ignorance because he was unaware she was Abraham's wife, acknowledging that taking a man's wife is evil, but he's innocent. Moreover, when the king of Gerar confronts Abraham, he says, "You have done to me things that ought not to be done" (v. 9). By what standard was lying to Abimelech wrong? No specific, verbalized commands had come from God regarding lying yet.

Again, you could see this many times over in the Genesis and Exodus accounts prior to the giving of the law to Moses. The apostle Paul reflects on this period in human history in the book of Romans.

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come." (Ro 5:12–14)

As you can see, Paul treats the giving of the law as a kind of pivot point in human history. Adam broke the law by transgressing a specific command and through this lawbreaking/sin death entered the world because all sinned. Certainly it is true that all sinned in Adam's sin, for he served as our covenant representative. From the time of Adam to Moses, death continued to reign over men - "even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam". Again, Paul Helm comments on these verses:

"So – my first question is – what is sin that is not transgression-like, the sin that reigned before the law was given through Moses? What form does it have? And I think that it is not hard to answer that question. If it does not lie in a flouting of explicitly enunciated commands, then it must lie in the spurning or flouting of widely if not universally recognised norms, or values that do not have the form of explicit commands."

That makes sense of what Paul has been arguing throughout the opening chapters of Romans. In these early chapters, Paul is seeking to firmly establish that none are righteous and all stand condemned in the court of the Ultimate Judge. Both Jews who had the law but didn't observe it and Gentiles who didn't have the Mosaic law but still had the light of nature and conscience stand condemned as sinners. Consider Romans 1:18ff:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error...

Notice a couple of things. First, this passage has to do both with the first table and the second table of the Moral Law - with our vertical duties to God and our horizontal relationships with other people. Paul teaches that mankind should have known, based on nature, that there was one true God and offered thanks and worship to him (first table). That they don't do so is because they suppress such knowledge. Moreover, men and women should have known, based on nature and human conscience, that some sexual relations (second table) were right and others wrong. Second, notice Paul's use of 'natural relations' and 'unnatural relations' - the wickedness of unnatural relations isn't just that it violates a verbalized command of God, but that it violates the laws God embedded in nature and conscience. Third, mankind, even those who don't have the Mosaic Law, receive the due penalty for the errors.

Consider one more passage from Romans:
"For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:12-16)

The idea of natural law is one that I find compelling, biblical, and useful. Believing God has revealed something of his nature and his moral demands through nature and in human consciences has some pretty big implications. I won't take the time to develop them now, but in a later post. Let me just mention three implications:
1. A belief in Natural Law has implications for God's justice in judging unreached peoples.
2. A belief in Natural Law has implications for how we approach people from other religions.
3. A belief in Natural Law has implications for how we, as believers, engage in dialogue in the public sector.
4. A belief in Natural Law has implications for our understanding of justification by faith apart from works of the law (and hence our interpretation of passages in Galatians - which is how this whole discussion opened up to begin with)

I will try to unpack these implications later in the week. In the meantime, I welcome push-backs or requests for clarity. I am not a moral philosopher, nor the son of a moral philosopher.

For more on this, check out:
- Paul Helm, Natural Law and Biblical Law
- Paul Helm, Natural Law and Common Grace
- David VanDrunen, Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (short and nontechnical)
- David VanDrunen, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Emory University Studies in Law and Religion (long and technical)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Song of the Week

I forgot how much I like this song till I listened to it again on the drive to Brownsburg with Caleb.

Queen (with David Bowie), "Under Pressure"

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Whitfield, Wesley, Wilberforce...and Waugh?

The title of this post could be taken to mean that I put myself in their company. Certainly not! But I'm trying to think here about lessons I can learn from them. Last weekend (10/22 & 23) Dr. Honeycutt brought some dead men to life for us at ECC in the seminar on Evangelicalism (audio will be posted soon). The focus of the weekend was how evangelicals have united together through the centuries for the purpose of mission and ministry; proclamation of the gospel and living out the gospel in all its fullness for the good of their respective cultures. Here's a few things that I'm speaking with God about now as a result of the weekend (including Dr. Honeycutt's Sunday morning sermon).

1. I need tougher skin, and a more tender heart

All the men listed above, and Lord Shaftesbury (pictured left, also highlighted during the seminar, but his name didn't begin with 'W', so I left him out of the blog title) had thick, thick skin. They had too as they were each the objects of scorn. Wesley and Whitefield were criticized for breaking with Anglican tradition and becoming 'vile' by preaching out doors and sharing ministry with non-Anglicans, even Baptists! Here's that famous section from Wesley's Journal:

"May 5th: A.M.: Preached in St. Ann's; was asked not to come back. P.M: preached at St. John's; deacons said, 'Get out and stay out.'
May 12th A.M.: preached at St. Andrew's; elders called a special meeting and said not to return. P.M.: preached on the street and was run off.
May 26th A.M.: preached in a field; got chased by a bull that was set loose.
June 2nd A.M: preached at the edge of town; police moved me. P.M: preached in a pasture and 10,000 people came!"

Shaftesbury and Wilberforce were attacked, verbally and physically for proposing legislation that would benefit the oppressed (slaves and the urban poor). Yet, none of these men allowed the criticism to dissuade them, showing remarkable perseverance and tenacity.

I need to learn that. I invite criticism, especially from friends. I think I take that kind of criticism well. But the kind that comes unsolicited, the kind that has a mean-spirited edge to it - that kind of criticism sends me reeling. Or, it causes me to dig my heels in and spit meanness back. Either is unacceptable.

Coupled with this toughness was an inner tenderness towards those who were disenfranchised and overlooked by polite society. Wesley and Whitefield preached out of door because the poor weren't coming to the churches. They preached to slaves, they started orphanages, etc. Wilberforce and Shaftesbury were broken by what they saw in their nation and loved those they championed.

I'll admit it, I need to learn from that too. Their tenderness wasn't a sappy sentimentalism that did little but moisten dry eyes. No, it brought action too. Its easy to be overwhelmed by problems in our society, and allow that sense of being overwhelmed to prevent us from acting. The problems are big - they're global. But, there also local, in our neighborhoods. We may not fix the system (though maybe some should be trying), but we can put food on the table of some underprivileged people in our town.

2. I need to respect that not everyone in the body is gifted in the same way or wired with the same passions. God wired and place Shaftesbury and Wilberforce in different ways and in different places that Wesley and Whitefield. He does the same today, and I honestly forget that sometimes. I think we all do. There are some who are great evangelists - they have the heart and the ability and share the gospel with people in check out lines and gas stations. They ought to be commended for this. We need these bold ambassadors in the church. If you're one of them, keep on keepin on. However, there are dangers you need to be aware of. As Dr. Honeycutt made so clear, Jesus calls us to deeds of mercy and love as well as to preaching the good news of Jesus. First, don't look down upon those who may be more timid in their verbal witness but are lions when it comes to helping those in need. It's easy to forget that some will be Wilberforces and Shaftesburys. That's good too. Second, don't, in your passion to share the good news, forget to show the good news. Don't forget that its not just the church that is called to deeds of mercy and proclamation of the gospel, but individual Christians too.

The same principle applies to those who have a bent towards mercy ministry - respect those who have a bent towards evangelism. I hear a lot, especially from the younger generation, that the church has been all about 'saving souls' and neglected mercy. A few things. First, don't say 'saving souls' in a condescending way - it's and incredibly important part of the church's commission. In fact, it's the only part that Christians alone can do! Second, vague generalizations are rarely true. I've met few people who are passionate about evangelism that don't also care for the real physical needs of people. They may focus and talk more about souls, but most who are genuine in their love for people care about their bodies too. Even the Fundies started and ran inner city missions! Third, don't allow your passion for mercy ministry, which is incredibly important too, to totally eclipse your responsibility to share the good news of Jesus verbally with others. The call to share proclaim the good news of Jesus isn't just for the church, it's for you too.

Just a few thoughts, I've been kicking around.