Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I've been away for awhile. Here's what I've been working on, called "The Institutional Biases Against Foreign Policy Expertise in Congress." It recommends a great political book; go find it at a library.

The second Iraq war was among the most controversial events in the Bush presidency, and it will remain so. The political dynamics of how the war came to pass are fascinating, and the issue is another colorful chapter in the history of allegedly acrimonious relations between the executive branch and Congress. I say “allegedly” because as we will see, Congress neither as a body nor as individuals has any interest in increasing its power to influence foreign policy decision making. Congressional acquiescence in these matters serves Congress well, as active participation threatens its true goal: the reelection of its members. This assertion is the central thesis of David Mayhew’s work, Congress: The Electoral Connection. It is wise for us to examine some key components of this work to establish the tension between collective action, and individual interest. Since the power to declare war belongs to the Congress, and is of such great import, this dichotomy highlights this unavoidable conclusion: the United States Congress is unwilling or unable to exercise proper authority in this area. The political maneuvering in the aftermath of H. J. Resolution 114 by members showed a distinct inability to distinguish between self-interest and a pressing need for apolitical collective action, which could have disastrous effects.[1] Once we have considered Mayhew, we can apply his theories to the war in Iraq, and the political ramifications. I will then suggest strategies for bringing Congress out of its dangerous insularity on matters of foreign policy.
The most common practice by members in pursuit of reelection which has bearing on foreign policy is position taking, defined by Mayhew as “the public enunciation of a judgmental statement on anything likely to be of interest to political actors” (61). One of the inferences we could make if Mayhew’s thesis were correct is that position taking is far less risky than voting for, or implementing legislation. A litany of strong statements against Saddam Hussein, for example, without a pressing need for action would be the ideal scenario for Mayhew’s typical Congressman. Indeed, he notes, “The congressman as position taker is a speaker rather than a doer.” (62) Unfortunately, position taking Mayhew acknowledges sometimes involves a roll-call vote. (61) If one feels compelled by political expediency to vote in a certain manner on a long-term foreign policy problem, and the issue demands more votes in the future, it’s highly likely that a contradictory vote will be cast. If these votes concerned flag-burning, contradiction would have little cost. In matters of war, however, contradiction is costly on two fronts: it forces a member to have a great deal of political skill explaining the contradiction, and it keeps the Congress from developing a coherent foreign policy in regard to the use of force. The first effect is clear enough, but what about the second? Only a select few have the foresight to disregard the political calculations of the moment to help develop a clear framework for American military intervention. Unless those few are extremely charismatic, or have such great influence that they could protect members from their own constituencies after an unpopular vote, Congress will not develop coherent foreign policy frameworks.
I assert that Congress misjudged the political cost of opposing President Bush on Iraq, greatly overestimating his ability to punish them for doing so. On this particular issue, we would expect to see rhetoric that diminished the roll call vote as a “step in the process” or “I voted to hold Saddam accountable, but I didn’t mean that.” It behooves us to look at H.J. Resolution 114 to see what was specifically authorized by Congress to either validate these kinds of statements, or to indict them. Here is the relevant text:

AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.(a) AUTHORIZATION- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to-- (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.(b) PRESIDENTIAL DETERMINATION- In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that-- (1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq; and(2) acting pursuant to this joint resolution is consistent with the United States and other countries continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorist and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. (H. J. Res. 114, section 3.)

Section 3 (a) is significant because it grants specific statutory authority to wage war. Take note of, “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate…” To make the point abundantly clear, section (b) was added, granting the president personal sole authority to determine the continued efficacy of diplomatic efforts, presumably including any new UN resolutions. Nowhere in this text is Congress inserting itself into the decision making process as to the timing of enforcement, or the means with which it will be accomplished (i.e. to use force or not, when diplomacy has indeed failed, etc.) Therefore, we can infer two possibilities: (1) Congress did not wish to involve itself in the enforcement determinations; or (2) they were entirely unaware that they had given the president such authority. The first is mildly disconcerting, given Congress’ oft-stated claim to want to make such decisions. The second possibility would be horrifying; it would signal that Mayhew’s central thesis was true to an extent as to make Congress useless as a legislative body. This second possibility is highly unlikely, given the Congress’ ready access to a team of lawyers, who advise them on the results of legislation as written. Not to mention that many members are lawyers themselves. Doubtless some members who had voted in favor hoped that the public would view the action as symbolic, in essence, that the public would be as inclined to position taking as they are. Though it should be noted of course that not all votes in favor came from opportunists willing to exploit the public’s ignorance; some clearly favored the bill’s language and intent. But the classes of legislators which belong in the opportunist category underline Mayhew’s point: they believed that the blame for a failed mission would fall at the feet of the chief executive, not on Congress, or on them as individuals. If such a group of legislators exists, and I believe it does, that means foreign policy decisions are made based on electoral concerns, and not according to some set of principles governing the use of force, for example.
Mayhew acknowledges that his argument faces one problem: how does Congress retain its reputation? How does it serve the public interest in light of the obvious tension between electoral needs and collective action? To put it in Mayhew’s words, “American foreign policy can come down to a depressing choice between presidential imperialism and congressional symbolism.” (173) The answer lies in what Mayhew terms the “control committees (all in the House): Rules, Appropriations, and Ways and Means. As he notes, “The inducements to serve on them are the power and prestige within the House that go with membership.” (149) These committees “may deprive congressman of immediate gratification now and then, but its members are exalted for their service.” (156) We must also consider one aspect of Mayhew’s control committees discussion that could be overlooked: these control committees charged with institutional maintenance may be no more immune to serving members’ electoral interests than other parts of Congress. But a delicate balance exists between the rewards, and the institutional needs the committee helps to meet which masks these tradeoffs, even as the committees are the conscience and watchdog for others’ tendency toward particularized benefits. (150) That is, Ways and Means, Rules, and Appropriations still assist congressman and its sitting members in getting reelected, even as its primary function is to rein in the excesses of that single-minded pursuit. Mayhew is quite effective in demonstrating how the control committees especially enforce fiscal discipline, but an unanswered question for our purposes is whether foreign policy can be affected in a similar manner. Could coherent policy be formed under such an arrangement? Furthermore, what might the incentives be? The Senate Foreign Relations committee entitles members to make foreign policy speeches, (in the mind of the public) according to Mayhew, but it’s unclear whether they played any role in limiting presidential power in the run-up to the second Iraq war.
The institutional tensions related to electoral viability emphasize a central assumption: the U.S. Congress should have a trustee function in matters of foreign policy. Matters of war should not be subjected to majoritarian rule. Clearly, no usable foreign policy framework can ever emerge. The American public is like a hyperactive child with a short attention span. This is not to say they should never be consulted; they are, however, consulted too much. What strategies could we use to restore a trustee function in foreign policy? A good start might be the repeal of the seventeenth amendment, which to remind the reader, established the direct election of U.S. Senators. FindLaw notes that popular pressure had made the trustee function almost nonexistent before the amendment passed, but there’s no reason it cannot be recovered. The U.S. Senate is the last stop before wars begin, at least while the United States continues to defend its sovereignty governing the use of force (rather than defer to the U.N.). If inconsistent application of principles is caused by electoral concerns, it follows that this collective action problem could be solved by eliminating the election (at least directly). Would it be somehow less democratic? In the strictest sense, yes. But in the better measure, namely the rule of law and the separation of powers, it would harm these not at all. Indeed, it would strengthen them. Nearly everyone agrees that a Congress which rubber stamps executive initiatives, including wars, is a bad thing. Further, if the president’s office itself is able to compromise legislative independence by way of elections—that is, the executive is able to nationalize legislative races, making them center around the president’s popularity and support for his policies, then the Congress cannot share power in any meaningful way. We need look no further than the 2002 midterm elections to see the president at least attempting that very thing. And would the results not vindicate this approach? One certainly can detect a hint of disingenuousness in congressional protestations about “misusing” the authority granted in H.R. 114, as we have noted, but Congress’ power cannot be merely symbolic; it must be actual. There may be other ways to minimize symbolism on the part of Congress. Create an advisory committee whose only task is to monitor the granting of executive power in specific crisis situations. In the writing of bills granting military authority, Congress should be incredibly detailed. They should determine the mission objective. While the Congress cannot micromanage wars, it behooves them to grant conditional authority, not the wide authority granted in H.R. 114. Another natural question: Why did members not repeal the authorization if a great number feel that too much power was given?
Another possible solution goes hand in hand with repealing the 17th Amendment: term limits. The weakness of this solution is a possible loss of expertise. However, if we further limit the deleterious effects of elections on policymaking, it can be beneficial to long-term foreign policy expertise. The electorate as a whole does not always have a memory of how military interventions either fit into, or flatly contradict, established policy. In light of this, members scarcely are held to account for accommodating and deepening this ignorance with their roll-call voting. Some might be narrowly prevented from assuming the executive, but the voters of Massachusetts don’t seem to mind their dithering, conflicted Senator, John F. Kerry. We cannot expect congressmen to be saints, always acting with the highest principles in mind, but we can eliminate those structures which bear out the worst in them. This is crucial for foreign policy. As Mayhew noted, executives can be held to account at the end of the first term. There must be some instrumental rationality to executive decisions. (169) But the ongoing challenge is imposing in some fashion that rationality on Congress.
To end, it is desirable, ironically enough, to lessen the impact of the democratic process on Congress, especially in foreign policy. Constant pressure for reelection shows itself in sloppy work and position taking, which in and of themselves, increases executive power, rather than restraining it. President Bush was fortunate to be riding unprecedented waves of popularity when Iraq resurfaced as an issue in 2002. Increasing the paranoia of members was the remarkable sustained nature of that popularity. The U.S. Congress, hypersensitive to public opinion, and having vastly overestimated the political costs of opposing the president, gave him blanket authority. That authority was against their institutional interests, and consequently, against the peoples’ interests. Since no analogous control committee exists for foreign policy, it seems wise to eliminate foreign policy from members’ electoral concerns. The only way to do that would be to limit democracy altogether, with the repeal of the 17th Amendment and term limits. This would in turn cause more congressional involvement in actual foreign policy promulgation and implementation, since the electoral incentive invites an imperial executive. A congressman (and specifically a Senator) should not be a delegate, but a trustee, especially in foreign policy. This will indeed be a hard pill for the people to swallow, but their deference in a certain sense will preserve our liberty. Mayhew defends the Rules Committee in its undemocratic function of institutional maintenance. (155) Would it be that someone sees the inherent danger of over-democratization in foreign policy and war-making authority! Our great nation will be the better for quieting the passions of the people in these matters.

[1] I supported the Iraq war, and still do. However, if members cannot be at least somewhat insulated from political considerations when deciding whether to use force, they cannot restrain the executive, should it ever become necessary.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

I respectfully ask anyone reading this blog to keep Travis Tamerius, my pastor at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church, in your prayers. He left on the 14th of September for South Africa and Zimbabwe. I did not know anything about Zimbabwe until about a year ago. I'll sum up: It's not a good place to be right now. That dictator, Robert Mugabe, is not a friend of humanity. Predictably, the 'international community' (Europe and the UN) seem to like the guy. Figures. Anyway, the folks at City Presbyterian in Bulawayo are courageously contending for the faith, and trying to shed the light of Christ on the humanitarian situation there. Please pray for them as well.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Just yesterday before noon, we were experiencing some of the best weather that Columbia, MO has ever seen. It was in the 80s, a touch warmer than it has been in the entire state since summer began. And that occasion is extremely strange in itself, if you know anything about Missouri in the summertime. From mid-April through September, the temperature could be classified as Hot, Hotter, and Less Hot. Usually. Anyway, I was walking around campus, looking at all the freshman moving into the dorms with their parents, those concerned looks on all faces, and I thought, "This is where I need to be. No, this is where I want to be." Maybe I'm scared of what comes after this, I'm not sure. But I do know that I've found a place, where I'm wanted and even needed. Perhaps we're all just being selfish, needing a place in the world, but really needing affirmation from others in some fashion. I'd like to think I don't live for the approval of others, but it's great when you know that somebody else's world is brighter because of you. I know you understand.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Holy Communion is always going to be one of my favorite topics. There are excellent theological treatments on the subject, such as Robert Letham's The Lord's Supper. It has few weaknesses, and I'll probably review it here sometime. But I want to relate what Communion has been experientially, and maybe if I'm truly lucky, my experience will line up with something biblical to let me know I'm not crazy. It seems to me that Communion is a uniting act. I am united with Christ (just as in baptism) in his life and death. I see the scenes in my head, like I was there. I'm also united with all those other people in the room. Have you ever looked over at someone while taking communion? Look into their eyes. There's something about that moment that says, "No matter what else happens, you are family." Because at that moment, they're not the big powerful investment banker, or the preacher with a dozen published books. They're just a little kid, coming to supper hungry. It makes everybody the same. It humbles and lifts up. Have you seen that? I have.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Hey Everybody,
Check this out: A most fascinating treatment of how we arrive at theological conclusions today, elevating our own theological systems as a Judge or a prism through which we read the Word of God, especially in fundamentalism*, though not exclusively. Particularly interesting is a tendency to make core issues out of theological disagreements whose battle lines were drawn by our theological paradigms themselves! John Armstrong says that God quite naturally is above our understanding. Not unknowable, mind you, but that we should take confessional positions with caution and humility, because our understanding is not the benchmark for the truth of the Word of God. We must be willing to accept mystery, he says. (Paging Rev. Tamerius!) A lack of clarity indeed, for the sake of unity. All this bleeds into this week's Weekly Messenger from John, chronicling the interesting debate within the Southern Baptist Convention concerning the use of the ecumenical creeds. As he points out in the above article, the church can never create anything new, she merely testifies to Jesus. Thus, the creeds are a means of unity for the church, so hindered by disunity on matters of lesser importance. As has been noted here before, there's nothing but the basics in both the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. Since our mission as the church is to confess the name of Jesus to a lost world, what better way than this?

*Fundamentalism is a term of relative position, in my view. People use it to describe positions they consider extreme, and in error. I will let Armstrong define it as he wishes, as I have no suitable personal definition of the term.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Previous posts on feminism now lead me here: to say just where feminism has been a credit, and where possibly the body of Christ has allowed its witness to be marred by cultural concerns. I do not do this lightly. I am well aware how fashionable it is to criticize the church. Any time a Christian speaks of the church, he or she should speak with respect and love, as these are the people Jesus loved (and loves) so much that he died for them, and will return for them again. So much hostility toward the church masquerades as a kind of prophetic correction that is nothing more than self-guilt somebody wants to share with the whole body of Christ. That's a post for another day. When I wonder about feminism and how to assess it, I ask one question: "Is there anything true about what is being said?" That question is the essence of seeing Christ in culture, which is not only a point of view or a disposition, but the first part of making all things captive to the Lordship of Christ. My understanding of this is beautifully summed up by St. Patrick when he wrote, "Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger." There is considerable value in shedding light on sexual harrassment in the workplace, violence against women, pornography, (though many feminist groups ally themselves politically with those unwilling to agree that it is degrading to women) and glass ceilings in corporate settings. Our political culture purposely pits feminists against men by excusing the vulgarity of men, lack of respect, inability to communicate, (especially emotionally) and anger as part of being a man. Utter hogwash. Sadder still, men who demonstrate the ability to listen, compassion, etc. are said to have found their "feminine" side. No, what they have found is a Christ-like side. Feminists can no more claim good qualities as part of a woman's nature than men claim bad ones as an excuse. Men unwilling to confront their own weaknesses often complain that women "want it both ways." They are absolutely right. Toughness and sensitivity. Courage and vulnerability. Willingness to fight, and yet die. "Wow. Sounds like the greatest man ever!" Right again. I've just described Jesus. For the church, then, certain feminists who have blamed the Christian church and all of our parents (led by our dads) for 'patriarchy' (all-purpose word that used to benignly denote male leadership that now means "All things men do that feminists hate") have been wasting your time. One can tear down every structure of Western society, domesticate men in every way possible, strip them of all power, dignity and respect, and they'll still be brutish, insensitive pigs. If I am in any way representative, then that is a guarantee. Beware, dear friends, of those who like to pretend that things were perfect here in America before the feminists showed up and started complaining. Those men are just as willing to ignore themselves as anyone. They are no friends of ours, either. As some have asserted, the church is its own body politic. And that is a good thing, because in terms of pursuing equality, peace, and reconciliation, the American body politic is a rotting corpse.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

On June 28, I directed everyone to go to because there was an interesting story there. Might I even say extremely consequential story. It involved Justice Antonin Scalia reminding everyone that American citizens have a right to know with what they are being charged, even if they are suspected terrorists. Compelling for the possible impact on our daily lives, and interesting that Scalia would dissent from the other "conservative" members, the details are worth checking out at the archives of Instapundit, or the Volokh Conspiracy (legal affairs blog).
OK, I'm profoundly annoyed today. John Armstrong's Weekly Messenger is getting too political. Why is it important to find a chuch that is politically balanced? Why assume there's some sort of problem if the congregation votes overwhelmingly for one party/philosophy? That simply is a reflection of our political culture in the last 25 years. Take a solid base subgroup of one political party, then stipulate that such a party has been growing. I wonder then, what will be the results? People need to stop haranguing the churches for things that are not our fault. I will do the best I can to make a person feel at home no matter what they believe politically. Is John Armstrong the type of man who would stay in a church that did not share his poltics, and encourage others to do the same? I hope so, but the last few Weekly Messengers made me wonder.

Monday, June 28, 2004

I was in the University bookstore a few weeks ago when a saw a flyer for "The Vagina Monologues," a play by Eve Ensler. It may or may not have something useful to add; I don't know because I haven't seen it. What struck me was a statement at the bottom saying something like, "Working Together to End Violence Against Women." There's something I can get behind, I reasoned. It might just be a tame hook to get you on the same page with their other issues, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. A couple of weeks later, I saw a commercial for something about the play on the Lifetime network that ended with the same line. The only thing I can say about it is that it's very sad that a commercial like this has to be run. I'm not a feminist. I'll probably never be one. Save your male-bashing, thinly veiled Marxism. Wendy McElroy has had some good columns over at from an "i-feminist" perspective (not anti-male, not liberal), so the movement doesn't have to be the way I described.

But there's something here. These poor feminists are fighting at the margins, trying desperately to hammer into males the basic concept that sexual consent is important, when the core issue goes unresolved, the solution unnoticed.

The problem is an identity crisis for men and women. The reality is that every man and woman was created by God, and as such, He has ascribed value to them. The best that could be said of any person is that they are loved by God. How do we esteem others if we do not esteem ourselves? The foundation of human rights is God's love for those He created. A great many people conduct their sexual lives without this foundational truth.

Sadder still, American culture has for centuries misinterpreted the Scriptural witness in regard to headship, and put forth a mysogynist, twisted vision of reality. And the church let it happen. No wonder that feminism views the church as the problem!

As always, the Gospel of Christ is the solution, not only for personal salvation, but for every part of us and this creation. Later, I'd like to detail exactly what is wrong with American culture's vision of gender roles, and how to apply Scripture rightly, or at least as well as I've been taught. One cannot make bold statements like these and just leave it there.
If you are reading this today, go to right now. One of my instructors used to say that wars put intense strains on the civil liberties of free people, no matter how noble their intents. This war is no exception.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

I've been away for awhile. I guess I should take Jeremy Huggins to heart when he said that all writers will write badly, and just keep writing. But my mind keeps saying, "If I don't have anything to say, why should I write?" Fooey on myself.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I haven't blogged in forever. Nothing worthy to say. I've been absorbed in schoolwork, and political writing. Political writing that has no place on this site. I've showed some colors in a few posts, but this site is about the Kingdom. I'm back.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

I'm quite sorry that I'm swamping you all at once; I got behind, and for that, blame Frederick Wheelock and Richard Lafleur! Look out! Here comes the Word of God:

Why should we love one another?

We know that loving is very far from hating, but how serious is simply not loving?

Why did Cain kill Abel, according to verse 12? (Genesis 4:3-9) What was the emotion behind that motive?

Why do you think hate and murder are treated as the same thing in the Bible? (Matthew 5:21-24)

What is being compared in verse 16?

Along with verses 17-18, can you think of passages elsewhere that show us that love is something you do, as opposed to something you say?

What does it mean to have “our hearts condemn us” (v. 20-21)?

What does it mean that God is greater than our hearts?

If you had to summarize these verses with one principle, what would it be?
Some more postings as we venture through this letter I hope will be enjoyable for you. Here's 1 John 2:28-3:10.

Why should we avoid sin?

What is righteousness, and how do you practice it?

How does our being children of God show the greatness of God’s love? (Ephesians 2:1-7, John 1:12-13)

Should we hope for Christ’s return, according to verses 2-3? What does the Bible say about that hope? (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:2)

Let’s compare different versions of 1 John 3:4. What are your thoughts?

Do we take our sin lightly? Does God take our sin lightly? (v.7-10)

What should be our response? (Romans 6:1-2, 11-14)

Would you be able to look Jesus in the eye if He came back right now?

1 John 2-15-27: “Do not Love the World”

In what sense is John using ‘world’ here?

What should be our attitude toward things we own? How do you tell the difference between enjoying things God has given versus idolizing those things?

What is an antichrist in this passage?

What is happening in v. 19? Why is that happening? (Matthew 13:24-30)

How has a Christian been anointed by God?

Can a true teacher/believer of the gospel deny Christ? Is that the same as having a very troubled time? (doubting, sin, etc.)

What is a Christian, according to the passage? (Feel free to think of others, too)

According to the passage, is it possible to be acceptable to God without Christ?

Is that offensive to you? What are some of the reasons why someone would be upset?

Why is it true that, “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also”? (John 8:30)

What are some of the ways we can let the truth of Christ remain in us?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Well, we're a little behind on posting for the Bible study of 1 John, so here's another for 1 John 2:9-14. You will notice some overlap.

Are there believers with whom you’ve had disagreements? What did you do about it?

What is love in this context? What sort of behaviors show love/not love?

Why do you think love can make up for so many mistakes?

Why does hate block our way to God?

What are some characteristics of little children?

Why might John use the words, “little children” in verse 12?

Why do we need to be reminded that our sins are forgiven?

For what purpose did God forgive our sins?

Why does “fathers” go with knowing him who is from the beginning?

Why do you think “young men” is grouped with overcoming the evil one?

What are some practical ways to apply these truths to our lives?
Alas, the opening of 'The Passion of the Christ' is upon us. This might be the biggest cultural event of my generation. Its possible impact is enormous. I have no idea what the evangelical impact will be. Make no mistake, there will be an effect. Even so, the death of Christ is precious for us who believe. Why? Because His blood saved us from eternal wrath. Others will say, "That poor man suffered so much! How sad!" But Christians will always sing, saying, "Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Well, I knew this would happen. There's gay marriage going on everywhere. It's all over the news today. What is my opinion as to what the position of the United States government should be, you ask? Well, civil unions are inevitable, and if the governments of the several states wish to allow it, or even the Federal government itself, it cannot be stopped. That includes all monetary and tax benefits, as well. That said, "gay marriage" is an oxymoron. It's like "carnal Christian." Forget what the state says, a homosexual couple is no more married than is a brother and a sister. The bottom line is this: Marriage is the binding of one man and one woman, for the purpose of ruling together over the creation, with the hope of being fruitful, with God's blessing. If the Bible is the true revelation of God's will to humanity, (big 'IF' for some of you) he cannot countenance, he cannot bless, that which he hates. I bear no ill will, no irrational anger toward anyone who is gay. But the Word of the Lord speaks for itself. There are those who will go through some pretzel-like exegetical contortions to escape the obvious truth on this point. But to allow this would cast doubt on the very meaning of words themselves, and all other doctrines we hold so dear.
Mel Gibson doesn't strike me as a Christian, (even putting obvious disagreements with Rome aside) based on what he said last night when interviewed by Diane Sawyer. He said even non-Christians could get into the Kingdom. You may want to check the Catechism of the Catholic Church on that one, Mel. He took 1 John 2:2 to say that "Jesus died for all men, regardless of creed." It's hard to square that with John 3:18, wouldn't you say? Acts 4:12 also makes things very clear: If you don't believe Jesus is the Christ who alone saves you from your sins, you will go to Hell. That's really harsh. I probably wouldn't say that to your face unless you asked, but it's high time somebody said it. The New Testament is not a set of values; it's primarily about the person and work of Jesus Christ, and what true disciples should do as a result of who he is, and what he has done. I'm your friend, but what friend would lie to you when the truth is so plain?
1 John 2:1-10: To Know God

Is there a verse in this passage that strikes you in a unique way?

Why does John write this letter?

What is an advocate?

Why is Jesus able to be our advocate?

What is atonement? (my Bible says, “propitiation.” By the way, atonement, propitiation, and satisfaction are all synonymous, according to The American Heritage Dictionary)

What kind of knowing is meant in v. 3? Is it the same as knowing that 2+2=4, for example? How is it different?

What are the two most important commands Jesus gave us? What did He say about them in relation to the rest of the Law? (Matthew 22:37-40)

What does the Bible say of us if we ignore Jesus’ commandments?

What is the word that they have heard?

Can we love God and hate one of our brothers? Are we allowed not to get along?

What do you make of v. 10? (Read 1 Peter 4:8)

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Also, there may have been gaps in the postings for the book of Colossians. Anyone missing some questions can e-mail me and I will re-post them or give them to you personally.
Today, I am posting the questions from our first Bible study this semester. As always, thanks to "The Gentle Dragon" Chris Yee for his assistance. Enjoy 1 John 1.

If you had to summarize this passage with one thought, if someone said, “What is the point of 1 John 1?” what would you say?

Why does John mention all those senses (“we have seen…we have touched…we have heard”)? (v. 1)

What is very clear about the person of Christ from v. 1? (Look at John 1:1; they’re very similar on purpose) Why would John and other disciples share what they’ve seen and heard?

What is the joy John speaks of in v. 4?

What does it mean that God is light, and in him there is no darkness? (v. 5)

Could the same be said of us?

What does “while we walk in darkness” mean in v. 6?

What does fellowship have to do with walking in the light?

How does God deal with those who confess their sins? What does that tell us about God’s character?

Can any of us claim to be without sin? If we did, what are we?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I voted today, in the Democratic Primary. I felt stinkin' patriotic, too. There's something beautiful about people taking the time to grapple with the issues, and do what's best for their country. Even when it's the opposing party, or preferences don't quite square. This blog remains as apolitical as possible, but I want to encourage people to vote whenever possible. It's a wonderful thing.
A Short List of Groundbreaking (music I like) Albums Since 1980:

"Thriller" by Michael Jackson
"Weezer (The Blue Album)" by Weezer
"For the Cool in You" by Babyface
"The Day" by Babyface
"Waking Up the Neighbours" by Bryan Adams
"Blue Clear Sky" by George Strait
"George Strait" by George Strait
"August and Everything After" by the Counting Crows

Honorable Mention:

"Siamese Dream" by Smashing Pumpkins
"II" by Boyz II Men
"Tender Lover" by Babyface

No list is ever complete, and they are always arbitrary. But now you know what I listen to, and you folks older than me can explore stuff you're perhaps not used to.
I know there are tons of kids fighting horrific childhood diseases, but when I saw my friends at a neighboring church praying for a little girl among them, and I saw her father tell the story to the congregation (and exhorting us to keep praying) it just broke my heart. I thought of my sister, and how I'd rather take that myself if I could, than have a little one go through that. I know, I know, be careful what you ask for. But that's how I felt.
I don't want the last post to read as necessarily an indictment of "contemporary worship." It's not at all. What I am saying is that the church's strangeness to the wider culture is not the most pressing problem we face. In many contexts, that is her strength. Only true revival, from God Himself, will make our message fresh and exciting. Most proponents of "contemporary worship" who understand the true place of worship know that what is contemporary today may be old hat in 50 years. If someone ministers to a population wholly unfamiliar with Christian history and hymnody, those kinds of choices make sense. But some do not even think of the church catholic when deciding how to worship. As with many things, they reap what they have sown; namely, notions of growth and piety centered around emotion and the senses, and a lack of appreciation for the saints who have gone before. Therefore, as we write new songs and new liturgies, we must ask, "Will those after me be edified by what I leave them?" Will they look fondly upon our efforts to sing, to pray, and confess Christ? I hope a lot of pastors in the future say, "Man, this is an old melody, but these are great words. Great words from great saints of the past."

Monday, February 02, 2004

Relevance and the Demeaning of Tradition

Beginning in the 1960s and '70s, as Christian leaders witnessed the rather open challenges to authority and doctrine, as well as practice, some said that churches needed to compete with market-driven strategies to keep peoples' attention. Lights, guitars, and PowerPoint sermons popped up. "Relevance" was the buzzword, and it still is. I'm not the first to write about this, but I have a message for all those who advocate that Christ's church needs an update: go away. We evangelicals instinctively know that good Biblical doctrine needs little revision, (if any) but what about our practice, our liturgy? There are segments of evangelicals who believe that liturgy killed the Gospel. To be somewhat crass, we broke away from Rome because it was boring. So you say structure kept the Word of God from saving souls? I beg to differ. I have heard some say we need some sort of revolution in church, and the way we think about worship. I hear them saying folks won't like those dusty old hymns, and creeds, and responsive readings. College students need something to keep their attention, they say. Was Jesus' ministry boring? Was He not able to capture attention? Are you going to say the Resurrection needs a little dressing up? Millions and millions of teenagers and young adults were saved by this Gospel done the "old way" before you came along. Nothing personal, but souls were thrilled by the work of Christ long before Third Day or Twila Paris. Readers out there need to take this as a rebuke if they're afraid of the word "church." If you think you need to get your foot in the door for Christ before anyone will listen, we need to talk. If you walk into a structured service and automatically think, "The Spirit of God is not moving here," then you've fallen prey to this culture of felt needs. Do you only see passion in tilted heads and raised hands? If so, you may have unintentionally called the body of Christ dead where it is (and we are) very much alive. Someone should think maybe the problem is not with the presentation, but with our hearts. Save your revolutions. We had one at the Hill of the Skull so long ago, and we don't need another.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

A public service announcement: For links and commentary on all the day's news, head on over to
Hey, everybody! Did you know that there is exactly one edition of the Vulgate (Latin) Bible in print in these United States of America, and that it will cost me at least 80 bucks if I want one? I'm taking Latin right now. I reasoned, "Hey, I know the Bible in English pretty well; it might help me." And of course, to impress people at dinner parties with how many different Bible translations I own. I can personally attest, by the way, that the Lord's Prayer is beautiful in Latin. St. Jerome would be appalled at the lack of availability of his translation. On another note, I saw a Catechism of the Catholic Church prominently displayed there at our beloved University Bookstore. I've always been curious about it. One day I'll get one. Lest you Reformed folks reading this think you're the center of the theological universe, I didn't see the Westminster Standards anywhere. The rest of the world is missing out on a gem, I say.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I've got two things today. Let's talk about Biology 1 at the University of Missouri. Frankly, I'm thrilled to be in a basic biology course so late in my college career. Being a reasonably intelligent person who likes being able to hold my own on a wide variety of subjects, I have begun to feel my knowledge of basic science has slipped. Now then, it amuses me also to report that my biology instructor (who is a very nice lady) shares a last name with our current President. It's somewhat an educated guess, but I also highly doubt she is either related to, or shares any similarity in political philosophy to "W." Travelling toward the point of this post then, one lecture ago, the good doctor explained why she in fact would be teaching evolution, and not any sort of creation. She was quite respectful, and does not seem to harbor any negative emotions whatever toward anyone who believes the Bible to be true, and the Word of God. And that is a very good thing. Yet her reasons for this decision just don't add up. If we desire to limit our field of inquiry to those things which are testable, pray tell, how would we test for the alleged change from one species to another species? Has anyone ever seen that? If we only concern ourselves with natural phenomena, as opposed to the supernatural, what does supernatural mean? "Natural" seems to connote something like, "We understand this pretty well, and we're comfortable with it." "Comfortable" is not the first thing I think of when I think of knowing God. Scary, that's more like it. No wonder they don't want to study God. My second blathering of the day concerns worthless philosophical quotes that show up on calendars and T-shirts. You think, "Well, it's quoted on a calender, it must be profound." Specifically, a quote from Ursula K. LeGuin that said roughly, "It is important to have an end to a journey, but in the end, the journey itself is what matters." And dozens of other quotes abound about endpoints to journeys of self-discovery and the like are unnecessary. Does anybody really believe that? Isn't the final result (what you learned) what makes the meaning? I can tolerate all sorts of things on a journey, as long as we get where we are going. I guess I've even had fun when we didn't. In the realm of thought journeys, though, the mere act of self-reflection is reaching an endpoint. If you did no reflecting, it truly is a pointless waste of time. When I took Spirituality as a class, my instructor said that reflection was a key part of that journey she called "postmodern deconstruction." But there's nothing postmodern about that. If you "arrive" somewhere, even if you're always travelling and arriving, you're making a value judgement every time you come to some conclusion (which postmodernism doesn't allow). Perhaps I'm being unfair. It would likely be due to the fact that the thesaurus in my mind and heart tells me that postmodernism is synonymous with "vaccuous idiocy." I sound really British today in my post.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

I was perusing (spelling?) my mail the other day, and came across an article by John Armstrong in a recent Viewpoint newsletter from Reformation and Revival ministries. Sadly, you do not often see an article about doctrinal and systematic theological revival as the solution to the problem of applying God's Word to our lives. As John said, we're endlessly trying to move the knowledge of God "from the head to the heart." Yet this is a tragic error. We cannot apply what we do not understand. And most Christians remain ignorant of doctrine that may help them in daily life. There's two main reasons for this: Christians in general do not read the Bible enough to retain what is contained within it, and there is a widespread belief that such knowledge is reserved for pastors and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doctrinal purity and faithful practice absolutely depends on an active, engaged laity with the ability to teach themselves. Having read Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul over the break, then coming across John's article, it seems many leaders sense these problems, and are stepping up.
Well, I haven't blogged in forever. I was once again sick. I'm really not a big fan of that. Anyway, can I talk about my growing emotional attachment to the Green Bay Packers? I watched the December 22 game against the Raiders, the night after legendary Packers quarterback Brett Favre lost his father. They called it the game of his life. No kidding: 22-30, 399 yards, 4 TDs (yes, four) no interceptions. He threw the ball to people that had three defenders on them. They still caught the passes. He tossed them up without looking. Didn't matter. The Raiders were up against a grieving legend, and they knew it was hopeless. Some people say God directed those footballs. On that, I have no opinion. I do know that I've never seen anything so ridiculously great as that game.
That's why it was so sad when Favre threw the interception in overtime against the Eagles in the divisional playoff last Saturday. The "team of destiny" was finished. I've been brooding about this for a week. In some sense it's just a football game. But in another, I understand and sympathize with every man and woman who put their collective sports hearts on the line for the Packers and #4. I hear some people say that they don't like Favre, but that's something you don't admit in polite society. "Are you crazy?" I say.