Surprised by John Calvin

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I picked up John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion some years back. Dipping into it, I anticipated a dry, grim, and doctrinaire treatise. Perhaps because I came to it with such low expectations, the books surprised me. I found the Institutes surprisingly accessible, written by a lively, engaged mind. I anticipated the argument of the books to be tightly wound around the theme of God’s sovereignty—with the focus on God’s glory coming at the expense of humanity’s abasement. Instead, as in Martin Luther’s treatment of predestination, I found that God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination played a manifestly pastoral role in Calvin’s theology. The focus was not on obliterating the human, but rather underscoring God’s great love for his people in rescuing humanity from death, darkness, and despair. The upshot of the doctrine as I read Calvin was “This is a God you can trust.”

READ THE REST Credit the Calvinists | First Things.

Since the FV disinformation campaign hasn’t stopped yet

super-calvinSimilarly, although the PCA issued a fevered condemnation of Federal-Vision theology at the national level, she hasn’t been able to find any local individual who holds to what she condemned. Men tried for Federal-Vision leanings are always exonerated.

via Christian Medical and Dental Association doesn’t want abortion to divide Christians… | BaylyBlog.

In this post, on a different topic, a denomination (The Presbyterian Church in America) that makes a general statement about an alleged movement is compared to WalMart having a national return policy that individual stores won’t uphold.

The analogy is breathtaking. Rather than criticize it, I will simply point out a couple of other analogies that are more apt.

One is the child-abuse hysteria of the nineties where we would see huge media stories about satanic covens, ritual abuse, and all sort of other even weirder allegations. Then when it came time to prosecute in a court of law, it was all revealed to be a tissue of insane falsehoods. Naturally, the prosecutors never backed down even after being humiliated, and kept braying about he guilt of the people whose lives had been ruined by their own gossip production.

But there is another element. It is really like a law that bans violence against homosexuals where the law is vague enough that, if they can get the jury to cooperate, it will actually be possible to prosecute people not for real violence, but rather for Christian ministers preaching against homosexuality from their pulpits on the basis of the Bible. Then, when the juries refuse to convict these ministers, the prosecutors loudly complain about lawless judges and/or juries who refuse to uphold the law.

The fact is the PCA acknowledges on Bible and one group of doctrinal standards (Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms). When a man is tried by a presbytery it is according to Scripture and the secondary standards. There is a process for reforming those standards, but it can’t be done by one General Assembly voting to approve one study committee (even if that study committee hadn’t been stacked to get the “right verdict” beforehand). So when it comes to trial, you actually have to prove a case. The GA can’t send out a drone to assassinate your target for you.

Evangelicals: Pro-GOP and Neutral on the International Extermination of Christians

mccain Syrian terrorists

Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.

READ THE REST: A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent – The Daily Beast.

And why that silence among conservative Evangelicals? Easy. Conservative Evangelicals supported Bush, then McCain, then Romney. Bush started the “Sunni turn” in 2007 (assuming it wasn’t the plan all along and he just took a brief break), McCain… I don’t have to say anything more…, and Romney was openly in favor of the same intervention in Syria (and elsewhere). Unless we get a Rand Paul miracle the next GOP president will pursue the same policy. Obama is simply following the same playbook as any other president of the “two parties.”

American Christians would rather just keep quiet while American policy promotes the mass slaughter of Christians rather than give up their warmonger Republicans or their Zionism.

What do you suspect God thinks of that choice?

What is more maddening is that the same Christian groups will speak about the importance of the Gospel “for all of life” and say that Christians should work for public justice are the same populations that are doing virtually nothing on this issue.

Decisions have consequences. When Christians decided to care little and do less about Christians in Iraq, we did something to our consciences that is growing and spreading among us. We committed ourselves to a path that can only lead to a worse place.

God really can bless us with freedom: Time can go back

freedom exitThe Department of Transportation came to us one day and said they needed to increase the fees for driver’s licenses. When we asked why, they said that the cost of relicensing wasn’t being fully recovered at the current fee levels. Then we asked why we should be doing this sort of thing at all. The transportation people clearly thought that was a very stupid question: Everybody needs a driver’s license, they said. I then pointed out that I received mine when I was fifteen and asked them: “What is it about relicensing that in any way tests driver competency?” We gave them ten days to think this over. At one point they suggested to us that the police need driver’s licenses for identification purposes. We responded that this was the purpose of an identity card, not a driver’s license. Finally they admitted that they could think of no good reason for what they were doing – so we abolished the whole process! Now a driver’s license is good until a person is 74 years old, after which he must get an annual medical test to ensure he is still competent to drive. So not only did we not need new fees, we abolished a whole department. That’s what I mean by thinking differently.

via Rolling Back Government: Lessons from New Zealand

How American Christians Get Fooled Into Being Pro-War: A Few Ways

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  1. God is a warrior; therefore war is good. But warriors don’t think all war is good. When Joab was ordered to get Uriah the Hittite killed in war, he followed orders but he didn’t like it. When Saul tried to get Jonathan executed for violating orders in a war their fellow warriors got in the way and told Saul to back off and back down. The fact that God is a warrior no more makes him pro-war than the fact that God commands capital punishment makes him approve of Charles Manson. The question is always: Which war are you talking about? In the US other than a rare Teddy Roosevelt or a veteran, many wars are promoted by people who have not only never seen military action, but who were careful to avoid it.
  2. War is good because we have to defend America. When? Mostly that has been done adequately by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. One noticeable exception was Pearl Harbor. But in response to a few thousand people in a military target, we laid waste to all of Japan, indiscriminately killing both civilians and soldiers together, bombing major cities. (This is all in addition to the nukes we used when they were asking for surrender terms.) The fact is Japan had no resources to seriously invade us. War as a reprisal and demand for satisfaction was amply justified. War as a crusade refusing to give terms of surrender was not defense. The War wasn’t in self-defense; it was the excuse everyone acknowledges that FDR was looking for in order to re-make the world. One other time we got attacked from overseas, on 9/11/2001, we decided to invade and occupy a country that had nothing to do with it, and left it much worse off than it was before (Really. Just do some basic research). So, in theory, a war could be justified on the grounds of defense, but when has that ever actually happened to us?
  3. War is right because pacifism is wrong. Other than to recruit enough weirdos to continue the movement, pacifism exists to legitimize imperialism and murder in warfare. Think about it. If all war is equally and always immoral, then killing civilians, murdering children in mass numbers with fire from the sky, etc is the same as killing soldiers (thus, again, our response to Pearl Harbor, as one example). By being pulled into this stupid dichotomy Christians end up supporting all sorts of homicidal atrocities because they are not pacifism and we all know pacifism is wrong.
  4. Without war there would be no civilization. Civilization merely survives war; it is war that depends on civilization. It is production and trade that provides the food and tools and men that war requires. War relies on civilization; civilization never relies on war. Yes, specific groups need defense from other specific groups. But that doesn’t mean that war gets the credit. When someone uses this argument they are typically doing so because they want to justify aggression and conquest. For an argument the supports national self-defense, it is overkill.
  5. War is right because God wants the government to defend the people. Sure, but God also specifically prohibited any king from building up a standing army or assembling a war machine (remember horses are tanks and F-16s). Yes, the people were supposed to defend themselves, and the government could lead and help in that process, but the people themselves were supposed to fight. No one was supposed to rely on a standing army and a peacetime arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Nor were they supposed to be transported to the other side of the planet in the name of an infinitely elastic definition of “the national interest.”
  6. I should defend my neighbor when he is attacked; so our country should go to war to right wrongs. First of all, if your neighbor is being attacked by an enemy you can do something about, then yes, you should help. But I don’t think you are obligated to go on a suicide mission that will only get your whole family killed. Secondly, the whole point of modern war is that it is far away from any personal knowledge or influence. You are told that they were killing preemie babies by taking away their life support units to leave them gasping and dying. You are told they have weapons of mass destruction they can bring to our Eastern seaboard by unmanned aircraft. When you can’t see for yourself what is going on the people who want your money and your blood are able to lie to you and make you think the country is facing a simple situation akin to seeing a neighbor attacked. Don’t let your real duty to love your neighbor be baited and switched into support mass slaughter overseas.
  7. We must go to war to prevent the use of WMD. Say citizens of the only country on earth to use the worst of them. (Perhaps I’ll make this its own post some time soon. Obviously, there is more that could be said).

 This is only the beginning. What would you add to the list?

What we might learn about education and opportunity from Joe Wright

JosephWright Humphrey Carpenter describes Joseph Wright (October 31, 1855-February 27, 1930), J. R. R. Tolkien’s most influential college professor:

Joe Wright was a Yorkshireman, a truly self-made man who had worked his way up from the humblest origins to become Professor of Comparative Philology. He had been employed in a woollen-mill from the age of six, and at first this gave him no chance to learn to read and write. But by the time he was fifteen he was jealous of his workmates who could understand the newspapers, so he taught himself his letters. This did not take very long and only increased his desire to learn, so he went to night-school and studied French and German. He also taught himself Latin and mathematics, sitting over his books until two in the morning and wirsing again at five to set out for work. By the time he was eighteen he felt that it was his duty to pass on his knowledge to others, so he began a night-school in the bedroom of his widowed mother’s cottage, charging his workmates twopence a week for tuition. When he was twenty-one he decided to use his savings to finance a term’s study at a German university, so he took a boat to Antwerp and walked stage by stage to Heidelberg, where he became interested in philology. So this former mill-hand studied Saskrit, Gothic, Old Bulgarian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old English, eventually taking a doctorate. Returning to England he established himself in Oxford where he was soon appointed Deputy Professor of Comparative Philology. He could afford the lease of a small house in Norham Road, where he engaged a housekeeper. He lived with the native economy of a true Yorkshireman: he used to drink beer which he bought in a small barrel, but he thought that it went too quickly, so he arranged with Sarah the housedeeper that she should buy it and he should pay for each glass as he consumed it. He continued to work without ceasing, beginning to write a series of language primers, among which was the Gothic book that proved such a revelation to Tolkien…

Obviously, Wright was a genius (though it is not clear that anyone would have known that before he started teaching himself to read a newspaper at the age of fifteen). It is not possible to use Wright as an example of the success that everyone can have. I have no intention of doing so.

But what about an illiterate learning to read his native language as a teenager if he wants to? I don’t see why that shouldn’t be possible for a normal or even a slightly below-average individual.

Whenever I hear people talking about the importance of “education” (i.e. childhood and teen schooling) I think about Joe Wright. What are we telling people when we pump out government messages about staying in school? Are we pushing success? In some cases undoubtedly we are. But we are also saying something else: If you can’t make it in school or if you graduate without acquiring basic skills you are done for. You have no chance.

I think this is a self-fulfilling deception. The majority of forces that keep a person from succeeding are 1) his belief that what he is told is right, that he has no chance, and 2) the fact that a diploma (at whatever level) functions as a license to get a job. I don’t want to fix #2 by outlawing it. But I don’t want my tax dollars used to perpetuate the idea either. If we would get rid of minimum wage laws and other barbaric regulations that punish people for paying other people to do work, then alternative paths to productivity would not be barred. People without the piece of paper could prove themselves in other way to employers.

The entire idea of schooling and education needs to be rethought. In the nineteenth-century education was valued and people would go to school when they could… and they would stop and work to help support their families as well. Under that regime of freedom, the US as an economy and culture did not stagnate but grew tremendously.

We act like this bureaucratic, tax-fed, legally-constructed road we have created is some kind of universal path to prosperity. It isn’t. We need to kick over the fences.

Applying this idea to just one problem, I constantly hear that some zip codes are ruled by horrifying public schools where graduates are not even literate. I hear from the same sources in the same context that the drop-out rate is a scandal.

No. Willingly attending a useless dead-end skinner box ruled by bell signals for moving into the next room is the scandal. No one should put up with it.

Preaching to those “drop-outs” that their lives are now doomed is crocodile tears. Their lives don’t have to be doomed. Stop trying to doom them. Point out the value of education and encourage them to find both jobs and means of learning to better themselves.

I do worry about one potential pitfall in what I am saying. Telling a person that they can still succeed in the future can lead a people to think they don’t need to work hard “yet.” Obviously, that is a foolish attitude. That kind of attitude is addictive with the “success” always staying in the future. I don’t mean to encourage such sloth in any way.

(Cross-posted)

Dr. Robert L. Reymond, R. I. P.

robertreymondMy first seminary course was at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I got to participate with Dr. Reymond in a radio program he hosted in which he taught Habakkuk and promoted the seminary (I had a very small role in the program but I got to listen to him). However, my main memory of Dr. Reymond was the first sermon he preached at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church where I was a member.

Jennifer and I were not dating yet, but I seem to remember sitting near her that Sunday. Maybe that’s an impression left over from us discussing it at work (she was my immediate supervisor at Coral Ridge Ministries; let the wisecracks begin). Whatever: I remember we both really were transfixed and enthusiastic about his preaching.

I found another version of the sermon on Sermon Audio: “Our Man On Top of the Hill.”
He preached this version when he was 43, which I think means it was done earlier than the version I heard at Coral Ridge.

I listened to it and really appreciated his words. I don’t remember some of the things he mentioned, either because this version is different or because remembering a sermon from 1991 is probably above my pay grade. But it was good and edifying.

I don’t know if I ever told him how much I appreciated the sermon. But that doesn’t matter now. He’s hearing about what a great job he did from someone a lot more important than me.

Rest in peace, Dr. Reymond.

 

No, if the government was the “single payer” for food, the price wouldn’t go down

printing-moneyJohn Green posted an educational “rant” about health care costs in the US:

He says some interesting and true things in pointing out the difference in price between what Americans pay for healthcare and what people in other countries pay. He also did a gratifying job of knocking down some simplistic explanations for that discrepancy.

In my opinion, he does not satisfactorily address the possibility of differences in quality. If I have to wait two years for a hip replacement in one country, and can get it in a week in another country, that datum must be accounted for. But I am not arguing for that explanation for the difference in price. I’m just mentioning that I wish he had addressed it more thoroughly.

Green’s real problem is six minute in. Supposedly, other countries keep health costs down by taking bids from manufacturers and only giving the contract to the lowest bidder. According to Green, the government has more negotiating power than individual consumers and only the government can get corporations to really offer low prices because they want the government contract to provide a good or service to the everyone in the entire nation that needs that service.

But why shouldn’t the government take national supply bids on everything and thus provide consumers with goods and services at a lower price then they can ever get for themselves? (Side note: don’t people hate Walmart for allegedly doing something like this? Does the government sanctify the action?) According to Green, the alleged inability of consumers to get a lower price is due to “inelastic demand.” Because the person needing the hip replacement really needs it and cannot live without it, the corporation can charge him more.

John Green’s reasoning cannot be right.

Go to any grocery store. Food is necessary. It is more continually necessary than medicine. As Megan McArdle writes:

Food and water are far more vital than health care, let alone higher education, which the human race managed to do without for a few hundred thousands of years. You can go quite a while without blood pressure medication or even insulin — much longer than most people could go without fuel for heating or cooking. Clothing and some sort of shelter would also rank higher on the list of imminent necessities than health care and education. Yet none of these goods displays health care and education’s pattern of above-inflation cost increases. It’s true that demand for education and health care is what economists call inelastic — meaning that the demand doesn’t decrease very much even when the price rises — but that doesn’t explain why the prices of these two inelastic services, and no others, has risen faster than inflation for decades.

You will notice that McArdle is responding to someone who is attempting to explain both why health care costs in the US and also why education costs so much. I’d be interested in what John Green thinks of this argument since Green gets so eloquent about how badly health care is needed. He certainly can’t claim that education rises to that level.

But that’s the point: treating the cost of health care as a single problem in the American economy is a fundamental error. Historically, we have more than one industry that is or was characterized by prices rising faster than inflation. Housing was one until the country could no longer take it. Education is another one. Perhaps energy/utility costs are another one.

The problem is not in the health care industry. The problem is the Federal Reserve and corrupt monetary policy (to be redundant). The American financial “system” produces booms and busts. Some, like housing, expanded and then contracted relatively recently. Others might have started earlier and yet not collapsed yet.

If you run ten times the allowable amount of water pressure to run through a hose, the hose will spring leaks. Each one of those leaks might be explained as a weakness in the hose, something that allowed water to flow at that point. But the weaknesses in the hose are not really an explanation of why the hose leaked. It leaked because there was too much water going through it.

Likewise, there are reasons why price inflation is hitting the health care industry and not groceries, but those reasons are not “why” we pay more. We pay more because of the Federal Reserve’s manipulations. We have a bubblicious economy. That is where people should focus their attention if they want to see prices get reasonable.