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Donald Trump and an Accurate Interpretation of Romans 13:1-2

 

Recently, I had a friend tell me that not only did God ordain that Donald Trump be elected, but that God always ordains every person in power, no matter who they are. Because of this, all Christians must submit to all governing authorities, no matter who they are.

I asked him the inevitable question: “Do you mean a person in North Korea is to submit to Kim Jong Un?” “Yes, of course” was the answer. “Hitler?” I ventured. My friend hesitated and eventually said, “I am pretty sure. Yes.” “How about Nebuchadnezzar, if he is telling you to bow down to a statue of himself he had made? Do you have to submit to him as well?” My friend, though not a strong Christian, knew the Bible enough to realize he better stop while he was confused. He thanked me for the lunch and left the restaurant looking dazed.

I was not sorry I had done it. I am weary of explaining Romans 13:1-2 to friends, antagonists, and Calvinists. If Romans 13:1-2 does not immediately jump into your mind, here it is in the New International Version:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

I use the NIV here because it is rife with translation ambiguities which encourage people to jump to spurious conclusions. After we examine it closely here, I hope you will agree with me that:

  1. We do not have to agree with or support all governing authorities
  2. There is a legitimate place for public protest
  3. God does not set up most political leaders and endorse them
  4. We do not have to be agreeable and supportive of any political leader. We can disagree with them, stand against them, and even advocate their overthrow.

 

Allow me to use historic bible interpretation techniques to show why I draw these conclusions from Romans 13:1-2

Contextual Background

The practices of good bible interpretation are called Hermeneutics.  In Hermeneutics, the first step in the proper interpretation of a bible passage is to discover the context. Context relates to three things

  1. What cultural ideas would the original readers be aware of?
  2. What do the chapters before and after this one talk about?
  3. What does the rest of the Bible reveal about the subjects covered in these verses?

 

We call these the Cultural Context, the Textual Context, and the Theological Context. These three contexts will provide a better understanding of what the Apostle Paul was emphasizing.

  1. Cultural Context: At the time of the writing of Romans, the Roman government had been in power for over 100 years. They had effectively conquered the Greek, Persian and Egyptian Empires as well as less powerful Median, Ethiopian, Gaulish and Germanic kingdoms. Caesar was the head of the nation and could act with impunity. Though citizens of Rome could vote, the conquered people could not. They had little say over how their lives were lived. The Roman laws were absolute, and they could not violate them without severe penalties.The Roman Empire was autocratic and absolute. Unless you were Caesar or a Senator, you had virtually no power over your own life.This was the political climate Paul was writing into. It resembles modern-day North Korea. The China of Mao’s communists, Stalin’s communists, Castro’s communists, the farcical “democracies” of Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Angola have all shown elements in common with the Roman Empire.But there was a positive side to all this autocracy. The Roman legions kept the peace and prevented warring tribes and nation-states fighting against each other. They quelled local rebellions and kept roads and waterways in good repair. The so-called “Pax Romana” was truly a  time of world-wide prosperity and relative peace.But peace came with a price: Freedom.When Paul is speaking to people about the governing authorities, he is referring to a government under which they had no vote and few choices. In this sense, their situation is very different than ours in the Western democracies. One of my theology professors, Dr. James Cheung, used to tell us that the people of China understand better than Americans what it would mean to live in the world of the Romans. He said Paul wrote this book to people who had no way to change their government other than total rebellion and anarchy. That contextual understanding affects what Paul says in these verses.
  2. Textual Context: In Romans 12 Paul examines the value and beauty of a life in surrender to God. Verses 1 and 2 may be the most sublime expression of what it means to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and to stay away from sin’s grasp.

    From that, Paul logically applies this spirit-led life to a practical application. He advises each person seek to be used by the Spirit in service to others in the body of Christ. The focal point of living in the Spirit is not to meet our own needs or improve our image. It is to serve. We submit to God and He fills us with his Spirit. The Spirit flows out of us to serve others. We might show kindness, hospitality or respect out of this spirit-led love. Or we might exercise a supernatural gift of the Spirit. From this base, Paul then applies this loving attitude toward two other groups of people. First, he addresses how the spirit-led person will act toward those who persecute them. Then, he follows this up with the approach to be taken in conflict. We are to be at peace—as far as it depends on us—with everyone.

    This is the chapter context leading into chapter 13 of Romans. Paul is not thinking particularly about politics. He is not as concerned about world leaders and political ideologies. Rather, Paul wants to apply the basic principle of being “transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2) to every difficult situation in life. Fellow church members, enemies, interpersonal conflicts, and the oppressive governments of that day immediately came to his mind.

    There are some who feel Paul makes an abrupt change of topic in chapter 13. But I disagree. If you read the rest of the chapter after the first seven verses, you see that Paul returns to this topic of walking in the Holy Spirit with an attitude of love. Verse 8 says

    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law“.

    Therefore, good contextual hermeneutics suggests we read Paul’s teaching on our attitude toward government in the light of love and walking in the Spirit. This is not his treatise on government systems, God’s sovereignty, or man’s response to oppression. This is Paul’s way of applying the concept of love to down-to-earth difficult situations.

  3. Theological Context: Since many people approach Romans 13:1-2 as if Paul is addressing the Christian’s viewpoint on government systems, let’s see how the rest of the Bible approaches that issue for comparison. Since these verses seem to suggest we are to believe God establishes every government, and that we are simply to obey the governing powers and not rebel against them, does the rest of the Bible support this?Actually, it doesn’t. Even a cursory glance at the Bible nets a completely different result. Israel did not submit to Pharaoh, but rather fought against his rule. They blatantly disobeyed when he ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill the newborns. They plundered the Egyptian leaders and lied to them when they left captivity. Later in Israel’s history, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They refused to do as the leader of the country ordered. A few years later, Daniel also refused to obey the government and was thrown into the lion’s den as a punishment.David disobeyed Saul, though passively.Most of the prophets disobeyed their kings, especially the evil ones. Nathan the prophet chastised David the King to his face. In Israel’s post-exilic history, the nation fought against every ruling authority which took over their land. The Maccabees were especially rebellious. At no time after the exile did the people of Israel respect or obey those who ruled them.Even when the Herods came to power, the people were constantly rebelling against them. John the Baptist spent much of his ministry rebelling and fomenting rebellion against the Herods. The rulers of Jesus’ Israel, besides the Romans and the Herods, were the Sanhedrin. Jesus constantly confronted them and their interests. He called them a bunch of snakes, flouted their rules, and mocked their disciples.

    Jesus criticized publicly most of their decisions and even went as far as to overthrow the money-changers tables in direct rebellion against temple rules. Few people in this world went out of their way as much as Jesus did to tweak the nose of the ruling establishment.

    What about after Jesus died and rose again? His disciples carried on in his footsteps. After being ordered by the government to stop preaching and to stop teaching about Jesus, they steadfastly refused and rebelled by doing the very thing they were ordered to stop doing. They were not respectful of the government and followed only the laws which suited them. They schemed to hide from the government officials who sought to arrest them. Paul even pitted one government against another when he appealed to Caesar during his second trial. When thrown in the Philippian jail, Paul felt no obligation to stay there even though ordered to jail by an appointed official. He not only escaped jail, but befriended his jailer along the way.

    There is one other theological context to address. How deep does the influence of God go in terms of elections and appointment of rulers? Since the main reason people refer to Romans 13:1-2 is to support the idea that God establishes all human rulers, does this make theological or logical sense? I contend it does not.This teaching is firmly ensconced in the idea of God’s sovereignty and determinism. This is a slippery slope doctrine and most people who believe it will agree.

    It is remarkably easy to take it too far. The problem is, if you are going to believe in the full doctrine of God’s sovereignty then the only way for it to be consistent is to take it too far. Here is what I mean.Logically, if you say God has control over all things, then all things are under God’s control. If all things are under God’s control, then God wills that all things happen as they do. Nothing happens unless God wills it. At this point, the believer in God’s absolute sovereignty wants to hedge their belief. They will say there is a difference between what God allows and what God wills. But logically, that makes no sense. If God allows something, God wills it.

    If I am able to stop my child hitting me, I have control over that. I can no longer blame the child for hitting me if I do nothing to stop it. If you say God is in control of all things, then God wills all things. This is what led a famous modern Calvinist to remark on the death of children in a schoolhouse massacre: “God desired that each of those children be killed, or it would not have happened.” At least this teacher is honest with his belief system.If you say that God’s allowance of an event is different than willing that event, then I have one thing to say. We both believe there are limitations on God being in control of everything. I just have more things I don’t think God is in control of than you.

    If God truly wanted Donald Trump to be President, there is only one way to do it. God had to force every person to vote exactly as they did. And God had to prevent people from voting if their vote would have affected the outcome. Unless God affects them all, the outcome is indeterminate. So, when you say God wanted Donald Trump to be President, you are saying there was no other way it could have happened. This eliminates the choice any person would make in an election.

    This also makes God out to be a monster and a puppet-master. This is not how God has revealed Himself to be. There must be limits on God’s sovereignty or else God is responsible for everything, including sin. Since we believe God is all-powerful—and I do believe that by the definition of God as Creator—then how is God to be limited?

    The Arminian teaching is that God is self-limiting. No person can limit God, but God can limit Himself. God cannot sin for instance; that is a limit God places upon himself. God will not violate human choice unless God wants to accomplish something. That is another limit God places on Himself. This is what is shown in Romans 9 with Pharaoh. God can overrule human choice, but He chooses to do so infrequently.

    For the most part, our sin and violence has mangled the beauty God created. Evil rulers have taken power whom God did not choose or ordain. What then is Romans 13:1-2 talking about if it is not addressing God’s overarching sovereignty? To answer this, we must look more carefully at the text itself.

Examination of the Text Itself

To fully understand what Paul says here, let’s note the key words and phrases in these two verses. Then, when we have finished that, we will put it together into a logical process. I will then note two alternate translations which show the full nature of what we find here.

  1. The first phrase is a command. The command “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” means to recognize there are higher powers and authorities than yourself. The purpose of writing this is to counter the idea that anarchy is God-ordained. There were many in Paul’s day who advocated overthrowing all human authority and simply falling under God’s authority. The best translation of this verse has this idea: Every soul in this world must continually recognize there are higher authorities than themselves. You are not in charge of the world.
  2. Now we come to the crucial misunderstanding and ambiguity of this verse in the original Greek language. The NIV translates it this way: “For there is no authority, except which God establishes“. Going through the Greek words and the simple grammar, it would sound like this: “For there is no authority, except under God.” There are literally three ways this could be legitimately translated:
    1. There is no authority except those God establishes
    2. There is no authority that doesn’t come under God’s authority
    3. There is no authority except God’s authority.
  3. I personally think the second translation is the best one. Every government pales in comparison with God’s government. So even though we recognize that humans can seize control and rule over others, this rule will always be temporary in both time and extent. God’s rule is more powerful. God allows humans to be kings and rulers. God allows us to vote in whomever we want. And even though God doesn’t often interfere with what human rulers do, God is always the ultimate authority.Though the Third Reich killed six million people there were miracles which happened to prevent this holocaust from spreading to the rest of the world. I have no idea why God didn’t intervene earlier or cause Hitler to die earlier, but He didn’t. But there is a reason there is no Third Reich in the world today. God used people to overthrow Hitler and his regime. But if no people had been willing to do so, Hitler would have hurt many more. We humans must come under God’s authority and serve Him for anything to change.
  4. The next phrase “the authorities which exist have all been established by God” has the same translation difficulty as the last phrase. To be consistent then, the best translation is “All existing authorities come under God’s authority ultimately.”
  5. Putting together all these thoughts into one verse would sound like this: “Every soul must recognize there are higher authorities than themselves. For there are no authorities who do not come under God, for all existing authorities ultimately come under God’s authority.”
  6. The next phrase flows logically out of the verse before it. The phrase starts with the word “therefore” which implies what comes after is the application of the truth. The truth is that God is the one who allows humans to govern. If you have trouble with the concept of other people ruling your life, you have a problem with God. All attitudes of anarchy and rebellion are attitudes against God. Therefore, King David did not want to overthrow King Saul but rather to protect him, even when Saul was trying to kill David. David recognized that he didn’t want to come against the King out of his respect for God.Most legitimate rebellion means to stand up against what a ruler does and says, not against their right to be rulers. The concept of authority is something God allows people to have. This is an interesting theological conundrum. When Israel originally approached Samuel the prophet and asked him to question God about this idea of having a king like the other nations around, here is God’s answer to Samuel:10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

    19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
    21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”God warns them if they seek after a human ruler it won’t always go well with them. The ruler will expect tributes and money and power. And when they complain to God, God is going to ignore their complaints. But to rebel against this idea of any ruler and to want anarchy is to rebel against God. This is the point of the first part of verse 2 of Romans 13.

    Therefore, we may do all we can to change our leaders, and even our form of government (a la the American Revolution), but we must not discard the idea of others having some authority over us. That is anarchy and God does not sanction it.

  7. The final part of verse 2 lets us know the consequence of rebelling against all authority. If you fight the concept of authority over your life completely, you will find you keep getting judged over and over. You will find that rulers keep hurting you. The person who sneers at the police wonders why the police pick on them. The sports star who calls the referees names wonder why they get called for so many fouls. The anarchist organization who fights the government at every turn wonders why the government fights back. The person who says “no one is allowed to tell me what to do” will force everyone to tell them what to do.

Application of These Verses

What can we conclude from all this? Paul, writing with the idea of applying the love and power of the Holy Spirit to every part of life, warns us we cannot walk in the Spirit and keep believing no one should tell us what to do. We recognize the right of leaders and governing authorities to exist because God allows them to. This doesn’t mean God set every leader up or endorses all they do. It means that God allows human authorities to call the shots for a while. We do well to honor that.

However, God allows us to disagree with ruling authorities. They have a right to exist, but we have a right to vociferously demand they change their ways if they are evil or misguided. In the culture Paul wrote to, Christians could not make changes in their governments. Paul basically tells them not to waste a lot of time on it. We face much different realities in the Western cultures. We can and do make our voices heard. We can march, write, speak out, defy and even be jailed for our beliefs. These all fall under the aegis of this chapter’s teaching. At the same time, if we act as if we are the final authority in life, we will find that existing authorities want to hurt us. And God will allow that.

The attitude of rebellion is a wasting disease, and God wants the spirit-led Christian to stay away from it.

This implies God did not determine Donald Trump would be the winner of the election. Neither did God want Hilary to be the President. Or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. God allowed us to have whomever we wanted. But we must live with our choice. We may biblically protest, criticize, engage, applaud, impeach, march against, yell at, and satirize our leaders. But let us not invalidate the concept of leadership. That invalidates God and his ordinances.

Here are the other two translations I mentioned so you can compare them to the translation I put together:

The Message:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible.

New Living Translation:

Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.

You Are an Extravert. You are an Introvert.

Posted on March 4, 2016

I’m an extravert. I can’t just sit here and write in a journal for an hour. I have to be meeting people. It’s what I am made for.”

“I’m an introvert. I can’t go to parties without feeling completely demolished. All that sensory input is overwhelming. It’s what I am.”

“I can’t do yoga; I’m an extravert.”

“I can’t talk to people about my faith. My faith is internal and private. That’s the same with all of us introverts”.

People said these things to me in counseling or after I taught them in the classroom. Each of them is a heartfelt struggle and each reflects a basic misunderstanding about this essential element of personality. Many people have wrongly assumed that they are either an introvert or an extravert. A smaller group has come to realize that, for them, it is not that easy to put themselves into either condition. They call themselves “ambiverts” which is a way of saying “I’m a little of both”.

I have news for all the people who identify as introverts, extraverts (yes, that’s how Carl Jung spelled it) and ambiverts: YOU’RE ALL OF THE ABOVE.

Everyone is an introvert and everyone is an extravert. Therefore, we’re all ambiverts.

Let me explain by delving into the curious details of human personality.

Most of what we call modern Personality Theory owes a lot to the work of Carl Gustav Jung and his associates. Later students of Jung such as Isabel Briggs-Myers and her family have refined many of Jung’s concepts and brought them to the wider public outside of stodgy psychiatrist conventions. Modern Personality theorists like David Keirsey and Lenore Thomson have truly expanded our ideas about how to classify and appreciate all the nuances of personality differences.

Yet, with all the advances we have made in this field of study, the essential elements remain the same. It might be helpful if everyone understood the basics of personality type. Here is your primer.

Personality Theory teaches that there are four primary cognitive functions.  This is important. A cognitive function is simply a way of thinking about things. It’s just how your brain works and gets along with the average day. Or an exceptional day…it doesn’t matter. These four cognitive functions fall into two sets, making it really easy to sort through.

The first set of functions relates to how we collect information from the world around us. All of us use both these methods, but not equally. There are two primary ways we do this:

  1. Using our Senses (Sensory Cognitive function)
  2. Using our Intuition (Patterned Cognitive function)

 

Sensory observations use the five senses to observe the world around and to store the sensory information and use it to draw conclusions later. A person who primarily uses their senses to collection information is identified by using the big letter “S”. An “S” person becomes quite good at observing with the eyes, ears and touch.

Intuitive observations look for patterns, meanings and relationships between things to make observations. Though this person uses their physical senses, they are not looking to store the data as sensory observations. Rather, they use that data to spot patterns which have been previously seen. All children start as sensory until around age 4 when some will develop intuitive reliance. We refer to those who use their intuitive data gathering skills with the big letter “N” (not “I” because that would be confused with Introverts).

So, the two information collection functions are called “S” and “N”.

The second set of functions relates to what we will do with the information we gather. This can be applied with decision-making, relationships, actions, beliefs, and conflict. As with the first set, there are two opposite ways we apply the information we gather.

  1. Using Logic to use the information (Thinking cognitive Function)
  2. Using Human Relationships to utilize the information (Feeling cognitive Function)

 

The people who use the thinking cognitive function more readily are not necessarily more logical than those who use the feeling function. The thinking function relates all information into a framework of ideas. Rather than relating those ideas to other people and to how the information will affect those people, the thinking function makes decisions based on the fact and details. To identify this function we use the big letter “T”

People who rely on the Feeling function to make decisions take the data gathered by their information collection and relate that information to their significant relationships. They want to see how the information affects themselves and other people. This is called the Feeling function, but that is confusing. It doesn’t necessarily have any emotion tied to it. Simply put, the ones who use this function immediately relate all data to its connections with others. We use the big letter “F” to identify this function.

So these four letters—S, N, T, F—identify the four cognitive functions. Every person has a data collection function and everyone has a decision-making function. That’s because we all collect data and we all make decisions.

There are four combinations of these letters we can have: ST, SF, NT, and NF. Every person on the planet has a preference for one of these four combinations. These are the four options you have.

But here is the point I want everyone to understand. This is a preference. You still use the other functions, just not as frequently. For instance, a person who collects data using sensory functions can still utilize the pattern spotting function if needed. They just won’t be as good at it.

Let me show you another way to look at this. Write your name down on a piece of paper. I’ll wait while you do it.

Think about this for a second. Without any more instructions, you automatically used the hand you usually write with. Why did you do that? You did it because that is your preferred hand for writing. You have done this for years that way.

Now, take the writing instrument and write your name with the other hand. What do you notice about this? Of course, it is not as easy to do and not as comfortable. Therefore, after this exercise, you will go back to using the hand you have always preferred. However, if something happened to injure your preferred hand, you could use the other hand to write with. But it would take a lot of time and be uncomfortable for awhile.

The same thing is true of cognitive functions. Our brains tend to go with our lifelong preferences; we do what comes most easily and natural for us. We were born with these preferences and can only change them if we have to.

Let’s return to the four combinations of cognitive functions:

ST: Gathers data with senses and uses logic to come to conclusions

SF: Gathers data with senses and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions

NT: Gathers data with intuition and uses logic to come to conclusions.

NF: Gathers data with intuition and uses relationships to people to come to conclusions.

Now, let’s add introversion and extraversion to this mix. This is what makes us more complete in how we live out our lives.

An Introvert (I) lives most of their lives on the inside of their mind. They take the world around them and bring it in to work with it. They live in an internal world and only connect to the world outside of them when they need to.

An Extravert (E) lives most of their lives on the outside of their mind. They take the thoughts of their inner world and they bring it out to interact with others. An extravert doesn’t keep things to themselves unless they have no other choice.

Now, here is where it gets really interesting. Since every person has a preference for one of the four letter combination of cognitive functions mentioned above, those two letters relate to the introversion and extraversion. Let’s say a person is an NF (as I am). Their two cognitive functions are Intuition and Feeling. One of those two functions will be introverted and the other one will be extraverted. If they are an extravert, they might bring out their Intuition for all to see. Or they may bring their Feeling decisions for all to see. If they’re an introvert, they may keep their Intuition inside to ponder. Or they may keep their Feeling decisions inside to meditate upon.

Here is the key: Whichever function you tend to introvert, the other function will be the one you use to relate to the world around you. Whichever function you bring out to relate to the world around you, you use the other one to ponder your inner world.

Every person has both an introverted and extraverted function, even though you have a preference for one over the other.

The key to healthy living is learning to use the non-preferred (secondary) function more often in life.

 

Parental Interlude – Teens and High School Success.

Teenage Girl Sleeps at Her Desk in a Classroom of Secondary School Students

Teenage Girl Sleeps at Her Desk in a Classroom of Secondary School Students

I have a friend who teaches 11th grade at a public high school. Every time they near the end of a semester in his classes, he pontificates to his students on the advantages of studying hard for the upcoming test. He  has told me he sees many of the students with glassy eyes as he tells them how important these last two years of high school can be for their future.

At the end of this standard lecture, he asks the students if they truly see the importance of doing well in their classes. He asks them to write down why they imagine junior and senior years are critical. Then he has one more thing to add:fries

“If you don’t think these final two years of high school are important, then I want you to write down this phrase you will need to learn. Here it is: “Do you want fries with that?

Of course, the students all laugh and he hopes the point strikes them hard. If they punt their final preparatory years of high school, the theory is it will prevent them from getting into a good school, getting a coveted degree, and landing a great job. Though this does not automatically imply that they will be working fast food, he likes the shock value. He hopes the humor gets the point across.

Though my friend is joking, when parents hear this, they get serious about the subject. Parents really do fear their teens will fail at life. It is the most common theme among parents in counseling. This fear has been exacerbated by the economy of the past ten years, where the cost of education has ballooned and the amount of good jobs has diminished. Because of these realities, parents feel they have to continue housing their grown children long after they graduate from high school. Some experts estimate that 60% of adult children are now living with their parents.

This puts even more pressure on parents to push their children to succeed as early as possible in school.

This fear of children failing often leads parents to stop respecting children enough to let them make mistakes. This is also why movements which teach that a parent should control children, manipulate them, focus on rewards and punishments, severely punish them for failing to live up to standards are popular today. Parents fear if they just let teens do whatever they want they will be housing them long after they originally thought they would.

But there are several difficulties with this. First, no one says that it is a parent’s responsibility to house their children forever. You can if you want. You can do anything you want. But if you choose to do so that is your choice. Second, taking a heavy-handed approach toward your teen’s education robs them of their own choices. This approach assumes that most children will not do well unless they are pushed.

But this begs another question: What is going to push them when they are no longer in high school? The answer most parents give me is this: By that time, hopefully they will figure it out. I propose to those parents that kids need to have it figured out long before teen years.

This is why my wife and I told our small children that they will ultimately be the deciding factor in school, career, marriage and finances. Long before they became teens, they were told that they had to learn to be self-motivated. We helped them with their learning disabilities, encouraged them and taught them about working hard, and found resources and influences that would give them tools to succeed.

For instance, until our children were in grade school, we never had cable television. We read to them and with them every day. And when they reached school age, we bought them all the books we could afford. We made weekly trips to the library and made sure they all had library cards. We limited their time on the Internet and made after-school studying a mandatory event.

We did what a lot of parents do. Perhaps what we added that most do not is the continual discussion on their responsibility. They all knew they would be expected to be responsible for effort and success in high school without our pushing. Though there were times we held them accountable for how hard they worked, we never punished or rewarded our teens for their school results. That is not our role. At some point in life they needed to be in charge of their own life and education. If they had wanted to drop out of school, join the circus, get pregnant, be part of a cult or write computer programs–all of that was their choice and we were not going to sweat over it.

It is their life. It is not ours. Though we love our children, we are stable enough in who we are to let them succeed or fail on their own merits. We continue to give support, both emotional and financial, but their achievements are their own. If they failed it was not our failure. If they succeed, it is not our success.

And when we did inevitably house them for part of their adult life, that was our choice and we made it because we felt it was the right thing to do.

Parents must understand that in order to release your teens to take responsibility for themselves you have to build up to it in pre-teen years. Give them more and more responsibility. Talk to them when they don’t live up to their responsibilities instead of always punishing them. Take away distractions and give them every chance to make wise decisions.

And model this for them by making wise decisions yourself. This is the greatest teaching tool. If you don’t want them to do drugs or drink, both show them and tell them by discussing these things intelligently and then refusing to be ruled by those things yourself.

If your goal was to get wasted every weekend, you should not have had kids. If you did, this is one of the sacrifices you have to make. Give up some television. Go to museums as much as the movies. Read with them. Take them with you to church. Show as many documentaries on the television as movies.

Then by teen years, they will have some good examples to follow.

Discipline of Teens – The Basic Offenses

When I wrote a book on parenting a number of years ago, people made two objections to it. First, there were those who attacked the basic premise of the book. I called it “To Be A Father Like The Father” and my central idea is that in order to parent well we must use God the Father to be our example.

A number of people told me that they felt this was a misguided project. “Human parents can’t copy what God does. Our goals must be different. God does not actively involve Himself in the affairs of humans.” These were the frequent comments made.

But I persevered through that misunderstanding. As I explained in that book, it is the attitude of God toward His children I wanted to emulate. And out of that attitude comes a workable model that may have to be adjusted to the realities of home life and each individual generation. Most people were satisfied when I explained that. For those who were not satisfied, I consoled myself that they at least had bought my book.

The second objection to the book was more laughable. I was continually accused of being a “Permissive Parent”. Because I don’t advocate harsh punishment for some of the more sensational crimes a teen may commit, people assumed I was not for punishment at all–after all, if you don’t whip a teen for coming home drunk, why bother saying anything when they dent the car?  They missed my point altogether.

The point of the book was to show that God understands that the heart is deceitfully wicked and no laws are going to change that. The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that the Law was only created to show us the evil in our hearts; it had no power to remove that evil.

No amount of punishments will correct the heart. And the heart is the only part of us that matters. The “heart” equals that aspect of our soul which chooses and decides. While a teen is at home, a parent’s job is to help them learn to control the inclinations of their own heart. When a teen leaves home, they are no longer under the tutelage of a parent. Unless you plan to follow them to college, career or marriage, they had better learn self-control before they leave.

I was not a “permissive parent”. But long before my children became teens, I established three points of contact with them:

First, we talked a lot. We talked about everything. I was just as willing to share my vulnerabilities and failures as I expected them to be.

Second, I never disciplined them without an explanation. I told them why I was disciplining them. I asked them to be more considerate and thoughtful in the future. I also treated them with respect and allowed them to express their anger in appropriate ways…even toward me.

Third, I did require they be part of everything the family did before teen years. We expected them to go to church with us. They went on vacations, outings, visits, etc. And I let them know that no experimentation or potentially dangerous behavior would go unpunished. But once they hit teen years, I slackened off my firm hand of discipline. Why?

Because I  needed them to know they were now immature adults. If you can reproduce, you are an adult. And you should be treated that way. How would your thinking change if your teens were not your teens but a young friend staying with you? Would you handle their stuff differently? Of course you would. Many times, we show more respect for people outside our family than those inside.

There were things I disciplined my teens for and these are exactly the same things I encourage all parents to discipline teens for. They fall into four simple categories:

  1. Disrespect:  I taught my children from the time they were young that every human being is deserving of respect. I treated my children with respect. I expected them to treat me the same way. I asked that they treat each other that way. I explained that respect meant not stealing, not lying, not gossiping etc. My children, to this day, know that nothing makes me more angry than when one of them is disrespectful to another human. Yes, my children saw my anger. I don’t think a parent should hide their anger. But neither should they let anger be their controlling factor.

    I have a friend whose son broke a neighbor’s car window with some neighbor kids as part of a practical joke. When my friend found out the details from an onlooker, he was mortified. He also practices the type of parenting I espouse, so he sat his son down. He asked him to see the situation from the neighbor’s point of view. Of course, the teen made excuses and rationalizations. But my friend interacted with him as he would with another adult. He carefully dissected each rationalization calmly. In the end, he told his son three things: You are wrong because you disrespected our neighbor’s property. You have disappointed me because you tried to cover it up with excuses instead of owning up to it like a man. And you will go over and admit your role and offer to pay back twice the value of the window. The boy never did anything like that again. As an adult, this young man shows respect to people without thinking. That is because he was forced for many years to think about it.

    The major area of respect that children must learn is with other siblings and parents. So for this to work, parents need to teach this daily before children become teens. Starting with this teaching at age 14 is a fruitless endeavor.

  2. Harming Others:  In lock-step with respecting others is the concept of doing no harm to others. This is often the context I explain sexuality to teens. I let them know there are many ways that casual sex can cause harm to yourself and others. I explain STD’s, teen pregnancy, rape, coercion, sexual manipulation, sexual taunting (making fun of another person using sexual language), etc. I also explain how casual sex can cause a spiritual sleepiness to happen when we break relationships off. I told my children that if they experimented with sexuality and the result was someone got hurt, they would be disciplined severely. If they chose to be sexual in a way that was careless, I still counted that as an action worthy of discipline. I never included self-pleasure in that for I taught there was no harm in it and no reason to be ashamed. But, if pornography was involved, then I did discipline. I consider porn to be very harmful to the developing psyche of a teen.
  3. Not Fulfilling Obligations:  There are promises made by teens that they often discard very flippantly simply because they don’t want to go through with it. I never allowed my kids to break their obligations. If they joined a team, they finished the season. If they joined a club, they followed through. If they made a financial commitment, they went through with it. I refused to bail them out or let them off the hook. That applied to pets as well. If they begged for a pet, they  had to live up to their end of the bargain or lose privileges.
  4. Lying: the rule in our house is that it went better for you if you did wrong and told the truth than if  you lied. This is my rule for anyone, not just teens. If friends of mine lie to me, I will have to think about excluding them from my circle of trust for awhile. If they do it again, it will be a long time before I entrust anything to them. My teens all knew this, though they still occasionally lied. I told them clearly that as a teen, I lied all the time, I was, unfortunately, addicted to lying. I believed there was nothing worse than people finding out the truth about me, even in small matters. As God worked in me to change my inner heart, I came to see that the Truth is always the right course, even if people do reject you for it.

 

These are the four areas that I would discipline teens for and they are the areas that I advise parents to discipline their children for.

After I wrote the first article, two different people asked me why I wouldn’t react if kids were using drugs, sleeping around or leaving their room like a disaster area. I never said I wouldn’t react. I did react. One of my kids brought drugs into our house one time and when the smell reached my nostrils, I went running 100 miles per hour downstairs. I demanded the drugs be taken out of my house. I demanded an explanation for the behavior. We spend many hours talking about the implications of drug use, lying and poor decision-making.

In short, we dialogued. We discussed, I lectured, I demanded respect. I set boundaries on what would happen in my  house. But I did not discipline for experimentation. i disciplined for disrespect and lying. I am pretty sure that same child continued to experiment off and on for several years, but it was never a problem for our household.

I remember a day when two parents dragged their 16-year old daughter in to see me. She admitted to her parents she had become sexually active. Their answer was to shame her in front of me and to tell her that they were disgusted with her and that she would never be allowed to date again. I met with her alone after all this and we talked. This was her first sexual encounter and she had  no idea what was happening. Her parents had never explained sex to her. In addition, as she described what happened, it was obvious she had been date-raped. Because I’m a mandated reporter, I enlisted her parents and the pastor of her church to confront the young man and hold him legally accountable. We found out he had done this to several other girls as well.

After all the legalities were settled, I sat the parents down and asked them three questions:

  1. Why had you never taught her about sex?
  2. Why did you feel you had to shame her in front of me?
  3. What are you afraid of with your daughter?

When we worked through all the issues, I realized mom was ashamed of her own teen years and she wanted something different for her daughter. Her rationale for not teaching about sex is that it would just encourage her daughter to act like she did.

That young girl started to talk to another counselor about sexuality and has grown up to be a person who handles her life well. She is a rare success story. There are more failures because parents are not aware of the most important actions to discipline for. Hopefully this article gets you rethinking your own approaches.

In the next article, we will be looking at how to deal with teen crises–drunkenness, teen sex, thievery, etc–in ways that do not primarily focus on discipline, but rather, restoration.

The Logical Impossibility of Proposed Solutions to Violence

gunsAs we ponder where and when the next mass shooting will happen, let’s talk about the logical nature of the most common proposed solutions to the problem of gun violence in our country and this world. There are four common solutions proposed, and each of them falls apart under scrutiny:

  1. Regulation of Guns:  the most widely proposed solution to gun violence in our country is a more comprehensive system of checks and balances related to who can purchase guns, where they can be purchased, what kind of guns can be purchased, and what ammunition can be bought. Here is the problem with this proposal (actually there are many, but let me give the most obvious one): Even the simplest gun can kill a lot of people. So unless you can figure out a way to eliminate all guns, this solution is not logical. Those who propose this solution keep making it more complex, hoping that eventually a tipping point will be reached and the gun violence will fall. We have not yet come close to that tipping point, nor does logic tell us we will ever reach it.
  2. Eliminate all restrictions on guns and arm the populace: Proponents of this solution like to point to places like Switzerland and Israel where most people own a gun and which have a very low rate of gun violence. But setting “neutral” Switzerland aside (and there are many reasons why the Switzerland solution is skewed and untranslatable), let’s look at the logic of the situation. Increasing the amount of guns available will not deter fanatics, extremists and crazy people from killing others. For one simple reason. They’re not afraid of dying. It may cut down on home invasion robberies and side-of-the-road muggings, but it may also increase the deaths associated with domestic assaults, road rage, jealousy, drive-bys and financial disputes. This solution, at best, is a zero-sum game.
  3. Disarm everyone: This is the radical idea being proposed by some Outliers. Just get rid of all guns everywhere and the violence will decrease. If you could do it, it would work. But you can’t do it because criminal enterprises will not give up their guns.  And nor will any government allow it. Society will still want police officers, military and private security to carry weapons. That would make the commensurate power of those authorities even greater and would inevitably–as human history assures us–lead to totalitarianism.
  4. Education Programs: This solution says if we teach people more about guns, encourage them to use their guns in a morally responsible and ethical way, teach them about the dignity of life and the necessity of a respectful society, then people will stop killing each other. There is a huge problem with this. Who would do the teaching? Every interest in this battle over guns has their own slant. Who is the neutral party? Besides pacifists, there aren’t any–and pacifists can’t be bothered or trusted to teach anything about responsible gun use. And the groups most responsible for killing large groups of people–extremists, mentally ill, disgruntled employees, etc–aren’t interested in this kind of teaching. They don’t have respect for the life of others, and therefore, this teaching is casting pearls before swine.

 

So what is the answer to gun violence? There isn’t one that has ever been shown to work.

Sorry you had to get to the bottom of all this to find that out. History shows us that human beings are selfish and will continue to be that way until history ends.

The Bible tells us that the heart of mankind will get increasingly violent and wicked the closer we get to the end.

So come up with all the ideas about how to solve gun violence. Logically, none of them work. But take heart. God has overcome the world. In the midst of this chaos, we do not have to give in to fear, violence, envy, jealousy or bitterness against our enemies. The Spirit of Christ has a solution for all of these. But it only works for individuals, not for society as a whole.

 

Sweeping Sexual Assault Under the Rug

Posted on August 28, 2015

Libby Anne is a blogger who grew up in a Fundamentalist church, who endured a Patriarchal, Quiverfull culture and, more importantly, became an escapee from all of that bondage.

She penned an article today giving a background expose on the church and ministry that Josh Duggar is attending as “rehab” for his sexual addiction.  Here is the article.

Allow me to quote two parts of the article and then interact with what she is saying:

 As others have reported already, Reformers Unanimous does not appear to have any licensed counselors on staff, and its residential program appears to be made up entirely of physical labor and Bible study. This is a path Josh Duggar has been down before, but it is the only path his parents seem able to envision. Questioning the beliefs and dynamics that lead to abuse is difficult; solving problems with a larger dose of Bible reading is the familiar default.

As of this week, Josh is at Reformers Unanimous, whose chairman and cofounder, Paul Kingsbury, had a long term working relationship with convicted sexual predator Jack Schaap, is allegedly protecting an accused sex offender from justice, and allegedly has a habit of failing to notify people when a known sexual predator is in their midst. How an individual alleged to have such a troubled relationship with both legal accountability for sex offenses and established best practices for handling cases of sexual abuse can be expected to run an effective and above-board rehab program for individuals who come to him seeking help for addictions to porn or sex is perhaps question of the week.

Libby Anne is questioning the validity and legitimacy of the “treatment” Josh Duggar is receiving at Reformer’s Unanimous. This organization is a Patriarchal group consistent with all the Duggar family believes and practices. Josh Duggar will not get any better there; he will simply learn to submerge and cover it up better.

I began working in counseling with sex offenders for the Province of British Columbia starting in 1982. Very few counselors were willing to do that because they were mortified when they had to listen to the details of sexual assault. I freely admit that for several years I would be sick to my stomach as I listened to the stories as I helped these men work through their sin and bondage. Eventually I stopped feeling that way as I regained some compassion for their own personal degradation. However, not once was I excusing any of their behavior.

I have now worked with almost 100 men who have either been caught or self-reported sexual assault or abuse. Some of these men have been pastors and missionaries. I have three rules when I begin working with them:

1. What they are doing is completely their fault and I will not allow them to blame others.
2. If there is any crime they have not admitted publicly to, and they admit it to me, either they will report it to the police or I will.
3. I advise families that even if an offender repents, they are never to trust them again. They should never be allowed near the people they have offended and should never be allowed near children if that is the object of their offense.

Do these principles seem harsh? I hope so. This is the only way for a sex offender to be rehabilitated. They have put their victims through hell and have taken away their victims’ rights to have control over their own bodies. Those have permanent effects.

The statistics vary, but it is commonly held that once a person starts sexually abusing children or people under their authority, they will not stop doing it until they are forced to stop. I counseled one man who admitted to molesting 62 children before he was sent to jail. He kept a journal of all he had done to them. The rule of thumb among counselors is that you must stop them at any cost or they will do it again.

Some Christians will ask, “But don’t we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives? So how then can we say there are some people beyond help?” I didn’t say these men were beyond help. I said that we cannot allow them unencumbered access to potential victims. As  you read Libby Anne’s accounting of the group Josh Duggar is getting “help” from,  you will realize they are simply perpetuating the cycle of abuse by not treating it as seriously as it needs to be treated.

I speak of this from first-hand experience. Years ago, I was contacted by a woman who admitted she had been molested by a traveling evangelist. When she told me his name, I was blown away. In my undergraduate days, I had lived in a dormitory named after this guy. This woman, after getting the help she needed for recovery, pointed several other women my way for counseling. They told a similar story; that they too had been accosted by the youth evangelist. I did some investigating and found that the rumors of his crime had spread to other churches in the state. The denomination at one point heard about all of these rumors and they approached him. He denied doing anything, but agreed to some counseling.

I talked to the man who counseled him. He assured me the evangelist had repented of his sin before he passed away. I asked him if the evangelist had admitted doing any molestation and sexual assault. The counselor said he had and that they had walked through several sessions of repentance. I asked him why he had not turned him  into the police. Here was his answer:

“That’s not how God wants us to handle things in the Body of Christ.”

That evangelist had already passed away by the time I was investigating. At last count, he had sexually assaulted almost 20 girls during his years in that state. And that’s the ones we know about.

This has gone on long enough. No more hiding sexual assault. No more hiding molestations. This is not how we handle it as followers of Christ.

I feel sorry for Josh Duggar, after all I have said. He is not going to get  help at this place. He is going to get worse. I feel for his future victims. I feel for his wife. I feel for the Body of Jesus that must bear the ignominy of all of this.

Christians and Poor Debates – Part 2

Posted on August 20, 2015

debateDo you want to engender immediate dislike and strong reactions from people? Simply imply that their favorite politicians, preachers or writers are doing it all wrong. That’s what I did in my last article on this subject and I am jumping in to do it again. I never learn.

As People of Faith, we are among those who hold tenaciously to what we believe. And, because we hang around with people who share our belief system, we reinforce those beliefs regularly. Therefore, you would think we would get really good at articulating those beliefs to others. Regrettably, we are not that good.

After the last article, a few of you wrote and asked if I was implying that all of us should argue, debate and reason with those who don’t believe. Actually, I think there are many among us who should not debate or enter into rational discussions on topical issues. Sometimes it is better to live a life of spiritual power, integrity and consistency and just let people learn from your example. Sometimes.

But there are legitimate human debates in which Christians have something to say. But when we do say it, we need to be careful we don’t muddy the waters with poor rhetorical skills. In Part 1, I mentioned four mistakes commonly used by everyone in debating a point of view:

1. Ad Hominem Attacks:

2. The Polemic Approach

3. Appeals to Faith

4. False Dichotomies

As you read through those, undoubtedly you will recall when you have heard these mistakes made. Even though they are often catalogued in college textbooks on Rhetoric, they are all common. Just as common are the next four mistakes. But I have lumped these together because they are mistakes made not just in debate but also in casual conversation.

Rather than trying to recall when you have heard others make these rhetorical errors, see if you can spot when you have made them yourself.

1. Willed Ignorance:  This is defined as a stubborn refusal to change one’s beliefs even if the evidence and the arguments are overwhelming. I am ashamed to admit I have done this on several occasions and even as I write this article, I mentally try to justify having done so in the past.

We engage in this most often when we are caught off-guard by the debating skills of another person. We may have a friend who wants to talk about the proof for the existence of God. This is always a difficult debate and it almost never ends well for either party. But suppose a Christian is debating the existence of God and the other person is better prepared and gives reasonable proofs for why God does not exist.

Does that mean God doesn’t exist? Hardly. The existence or non-existence of God does not depend upon the skills of debaters. However, a person makes the “Willed Ignorance” mistake when they feel overwhelmed by the argument. A “Willed Ignorance” statement would sound like this:

“I don’t care what arguments you make, I am going to believe God exists anyway. I don’t need evidence. I just believe”.

If you recall, this is also an Appeal to Faith mistake. But at the core, the person making this statement doesn’t want to wrestle with the argument. They simply want to bury their head in the sand and make it go away. This is willful ignorance.

This is also the idea behind statements like “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”  “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.” “This is the work of the Devil to confuse me; I’m just going to ignore everything you said.”

In my first year of pre-med, I took several biology courses. In those classes, the concept of Evolution was presented clearly and as fully as a Freshman class can present the subject. The evidence for an Old Earth was staggering and overwhelming. But, I also believed in the literal account of Genesis. As a result, I would tell people “I know what the evidence suggests, but it must be wrong because the Bible is always right.” At church, when I told my friends this answer, they all applauded me–and as a result reinforced this belief.

However, over the decades since, I have done more research into this topic. I found out there are many Christians who took the evidence for Evolution seriously. And from that honest inquiry, they have developed models for Creation which accept certain elements of evolution while still holding to a high opinion of the Genesis account. As I mentioned in the last article, there are now 24 plausible alternative interpretations to the literal Genesis story of Creation.

In a discussion, if the other person is making a point you can’t counter, it is best to listen carefully, ask questions and say “I will think about this later. Thank you.” And, then go and think about it. Ask other people what they think about it. God wants our faith to be well-established, not stubbornly clung to.

2. Strawman Fallacy:  This is not a mistake Christians make: it’s a mistake EVERYONE makes. It is so prevalent and subtle it is almost taken for granted. But we offer a huge disservice when we use this in discussions on beliefs and practices.

A “strawman” is presenting a false version of another side’s argument and then debating that. Let me give some examples.

A pro-choice supporter says “Pro-lifers want to tell women what they can do with their bodies. Pro-lifers love a couple of differentiated cells more than the woman who has them in her body. Pro-lifers want to force everyone to believe what they believe.”  None of those statements is a true representation of the majority of pro-lifers.

A pro-life supporter says “Pro-choice people are murderers. They are just in it for the money. They want to use unborn babies as science experiments, harvesting their organs and selling their stem cells. Pro-choice people are heartless, cruel and couldn’t give a crap about the poor mothers who are fed false information leading up to their abortions.”  None of those statements are true representations about the majority of pro-choicers.

A Republican might say “President Obama wants to tell you who your doctor must be. He wants to tell a 65-year old he can’t have dialysis”

A Democrat might say, “Republicans want every poor family to starve, every wealthy person to pay no taxes and the elimination of all government. And they want every person to own a gun and walk down the street with it on their hip like cowboys of old.”

You see what happens with the Strawman arguments. You make a caricature of another person’s argument, then you tear that argument down. The problem is the argument you are tearing down is not really their argument.

I heard this being used when Rob Bell published his book questioning some beliefs on Hell. I then read another book that sought to refute him. In that book, the author essentially said that Rob Bell was trying to eliminate Hell so that we never have to talk about sin or judgment in church any more. Nothing could be further from what Bell was saying. Bell actually says three times in his book he believes in Hell. He talks more about judgment than most books. But once the author painted Bell with his Strawman argument, he spent the rest of the book showing how judgment and sin are things we should talk about.

I don’t think Rob Bell would have disagreed with him. But it wasn’t a fair approach to a very worthy debate. Even though my personal position was closer to the second man’s book, I felt myself taking Bell more seriously because of how poorly the other guy treated his argument.

3. Failure to Clarify:  It’s actually called “Failure to Elucidate”, but since so few people know what “elucidate” means, I thought I would clarify…with the word “clarify”.

This failure happens when you are asked to give a definition of a word or concept and the definition is more confusing and complicated than the word itself. An atheist friend of mine tells me with regularity this is the error Christians make more than any other. Though I think we are much more creative in our mistakes than he gives us credit for, he is right: We do this a lot.

But we’re in good company. Politicians have made this into an art form. Political chiefs of staff actually tell their candidates when they are asked a potentially catastrophic question to make the answer as confusing as possible. If they are asked to clarify, make the clarification confusing as well. We can see how this would benefit a politician who has just stepped in the political equivalent of dog manure.

But for people who want to make their beliefs known and accepted, our definitions need to be clear. Jesus certainly did that. People may have disagreed with him, but they always knew what he was saying.

Textbooks can be guilty of this. Here is an actual definition of a thermometer from a Biology text“”A thermometer is a device that measures the average kinetic energy of the ambient medium, usually indicating the reading by means of the height of liquid in a narrow vitreous tube.” What and what?

Here are a few Christian examples of this mistake:

“There are spirits all over this world.”  “What’s a spirit?”  “A non-corporeal substance.”

“You need Salvation through Jesus”. “What do you mean salvation through Jesus?” “You need to have your sins washed in the blood of the Lamb.”

I think you get the picture. Any time we try and define something for another person, we should be careful to use words they can understand better than the original word. There are exceptions to this of course. When we are trying to define the indefinable, sometimes all we can give is an analogy. Jesus does this a number of times in the Gospels when he compares the Kingdom of God to varied things, such as a Mustard Plant, a man looking for precious pearls and a lost coin.

The best thing to do is, if you can define something more clearly than the original word, do so.

4. Causal Reduction:  I remember sitting in a high school history class and the teacher said “What caused World War 2?” One of the students put up his hand and proudly announced “Germans had hated Jews for hundreds of years. That’s why the war started.”  My teacher had a sly look on his face and then proceeded to explain how over-simplified this student’s answer was.

In a little less than an hour, he explained over 50 significant causes for World War 2. Fifty!! I have never forgotten that class because it showed me that things are often more complex than we admit to. It is much easier in life to reduce all problems down to one or two causes. The problem of course is that if you reduce a problem too much you are inaccurate and often unhelpful.

This is the error of Causal Reduction. In trying to show the importance of a certain cause, we often over-inflate that one cause and reduce problems down to simple solutions. Christians, Muslims, Politicians, parents, teachers, bosses, economists and Sesame Street are all guilty of making this mistake.

Let’s give several examples from politics, religion and daily life:

“If we just close our borders, our economy would improve.” (Really, it’s that simple?)

Officer, the sun was shining too brightly and my sunglasses were broken. That’s why I rear-ended the guy in front of me.” (Really, you weren’t driving too fast, you weren’t texting, you weren’t pre-occupied some other way?)

“If you would just pray together as a couple, your marriage would be saved?” (Really, that’s all we need to do? Should we both stop hitting each other and cheating on each other…or just pray?)

“If you start giving 10% of your money to the Lord, all your financial problems will be solved.”  (And maybe stop gambling, buying stuff you can’t afford, drinking too much, investing foolishly as well).

I could go on and on. This is a debating mistake we often make with other Christians. We see something they’re doing in life we don’t agree with and we want to make that mistake responsible for all their problems. Life is extremely complex and interwoven. There are few situations that can be explained with one simple cause. The only way you can do that is by making the cause so large and vague that it could apply to everything.

That’s why the Beatles could sing “All you need is love” and we agree. It’s true because it encompasses a thousand ways of acting in love.

Preachers are guilty of this, and many times with good intentions. They want to emphasize the importance of certain errors so they aggrandize their importance. Recently, I heard a famous preacher say “If every married couple in this church would agree to  have sex every night for 30 straight days, I believe it would solve almost every marriage problem in this room.” I was flabbergasted at his audacity. And then I thought about the truth-claim he was making. All I had to do was open my mind up to the possible exceptions to his formula and they began pouring into my mind.

Will 30 days of sex solve the following marital problems?

  • Spousal unfaithfulness
  • Dealing with cancer
  • Loss of income
  • Disobedient children
  • Crushing debt
  • Physical violence
  • Child molestation
  • IRS audit
  • Missing child
  • Migraine headaches
  • Constant putdowns by one spouse

I know a couple who are friends of ours who took the 30 day challenge. At the end, they reported there were some really good moments. But they both admitted they had a lot of resentment at the end of that month. Why? Because the resentment was there at the beginning and the idea that 2 fortnights of sex could cure that was unrealistic.

I believe a sane approach involves saying “Here is a problem I have seen” and not make it bigger or more extensive than it is.

Why is Judgment Delayed?

Posted on August 4, 2015

My friend asked if he could meet with me to do a Bible study. He had been a leader in our church community for several years. I wanted to honor him even though I struggled with the way he was living his life at that moment. He had become violent with his wife and had gone back to some old ways; drinking and smoking pot among them.

That day, he wanted to study Psalm 73 together with me. At the time, I had only a passing acquaintance with that particular psalm, so I quickly read it through before he came to see me.  The first verses started out well and were very encouraging:

Surely God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.

But then the meditations of the psalmist get worse from there. In verses 2-12 the psalm takes a dark turn.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
    I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
    their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
    they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
    their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
    with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
    and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
    and drink up waters in abundance.
11 They say, “How would God know?
    Does the Most High know anything?”

12 This is what the wicked are like—
    always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

My friend pointed out verse 11 to me. “God doesn’t punish sin apparently. I know some pretty raunchy people who are never judged, who never have to face the consequences of what they’ve done. I spent years trying to live right and my life has gone down the toilet over and over again. I finally decided to change my tune.” I looked at him curiously. His facial expression told me he really meant these words.

Together, we read verses 13 and 14.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
    and have washed my hands in innocence.
14 All day long I have been afflicted,
    and every morning brings new punishments.

He continued to tell me that this is the reality of those who serve God. If God isn’t going to judge sins immediately, then there is no point being righteous. He then spent several minutes explaining how he would do things if he was God. He likened it to his own children. “The longer I wait to discipline my children when they make a mistake, the less effective my punishment is” he claimed. At this point in our bible study, he informed me he was planning on living any way he wanted to and asked me not to be concerned for him. He no longer believed in God’s judgment for sin. He believed that God was the equivalent of a tottering old man who can’t accomplish anything of purpose in life.

I didn’t talk to my friend for 8 years. The next time I spoke to him, he had a totally different interpretation of Psalm 73. But we’ll get to that at the end of the article.

The writer of Psalm 73 is certainly correct. It does seem that God is slow in enacting judgment. This has been the experience of so many people, starting with Adam and Eve and continuing to the present day. Not only that, but the Bible tells us in many places that God is deliberate in sparing humans from immediate judgment for transgressions.

In hundreds of places in the Bible, we see a variation on this theme. In the Old Testament especially, we are told that God is “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness”. The words “loving kindness” can also be translated “mercy” or “covenant love”. They are the translation of the Hebrew word “chesed” which speaks of the obligation someone has when they enter into a covenant with another person.

Chesed is the love that a father has for a child, a wife has for a husband, Christ has for his church, and the Creator has for His creation. It is not based primarily on reactionary emotion. Chesed is a decision to do the gracious and compassionate thing for the object of our chesed.

God’s nature is a compassionate nature. God is not eager to judge and punish. We are told that Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form. When Jesus says “Father, forgive them” this was the heart of the Father as well. But why is this the case? Since God is a righteous judge, why does he wait so long to punish and bring judgment?

I think the Bible provides us with three clear answers for why God delays judgment, sometimes for generations.

1.  God Desires Full Repentance:  In 2 Peter 3:9 we read

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 

This was what my friend struggled with. He couldn’t see how a God of justice would wait to reward or punish based on a person’s actions. Why wait? That just confuses the issue.

But Peter tells us that God is not really slow at all. God always has the long view of everything. God is like a good coach of a sporting team. Even if things are not going well at the beginning, He does not panic and go outside of his plan. This is often why we see disasters, wars, famine, earthquakes and we see God allowing them. All of these things can happen and yet have nothing to do with judgment.

God’s purpose in delaying is that it gives people a chance to change their minds. The word “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means to change one’s mind. Human beings need time to change the mind. We are stubborn, pig-headed and opinionated. We do what we want, when we want. And God allows this. If God were to bring immediate judgment for sin, there would be no repentance. All we would know is the fear of judgment. We would never change our minds. Rather, we would be looking over our shoulder for God in the same manner as we look for police officers on the freeway when we want to speed.

I remember the story of the little girl in the classroom. She had the wiggles and didn’t want to sit down. The teacher got more and more upset that she wouldn’t take her seat. Finally, she threatened her with a detention if she didn’t take her seat. So the girl sat down. 30 seconds later she raised her hand. The teacher gave her permission to speak. “Teacher, I may be sitting down on the outside, but inside me I’m standing straight up.”

God could exert his power and force us to do what is right. But our hearts would not be changed. And God values the change of heart before he values the change in behavior. We need to change our minds in order for the fullness of repentance to take place. This means God has to hold back his full judgment so we can see how foolish our actions are. God still allows consequences of our actions, but he delays his punishment.

2. God’s Character Demands Patience in Judgment:  The elements of God’s character do not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  As God reveals aspects of his character, it is not possible for God to lay them aside. They must be integrated with every other aspect of his character.

In Joel 2:13, we read:

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel is a book all about God’s judgment through a natural disaster. Swarms of locusts have ravaged the land of Israel and left no crops and no food anywhere. Joel pictures the locusts as the army of God swooping down to devour and judge. That is why it is curious that we read verse 13. God is not sometimes gracious and compassionate. He always is. God never takes delight in punishing and bringing judgment. He never does. He will do so reluctantly, but he delays it as long as possible. This underscores the big difference between judgment and consequences. If a person gets drunk continually, they will have problems with their liver and may die because of it. Those are not actions of judgment. They are simply what we have coming to us for our actions. But God’s judgment is a punishment that goes beyond the consequences. As we saw in the last article, this is the drought brought about by Saul killing some Gibeonites. Judgment is the death of all the first-born in Egypt. Judgment is Jehioachin being taken into captivity by Babylon even though his father and grandfather were much more evil.

However, Joel shows us the true nature of God: “He relents from sending calamity”. Even while the judgment is happening, God’s heart is not in it. He would rather not bring punishment. The second a person repents, God will work on their behalf.

Later in chapter two of Joel, it states:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

There are many who assume that Judgment is the highest priority on God’s heart. But this is not the biblical record. God will judge because He cannot overlook anything. But he would rather forgive. It is his nature to do so.

3. God’s Judgment Requires Warnings:  There is a third reason God delays his judgment. He wants to make room for his servants to announce that people need to change their ways. Sometimes, this takes a number of generations before this can take place. And it isn’t always prophets that do the preaching. The ending of slavery meant a brave president had to be used by God. In England, William Wilberforce was God’s mouthpiece. Mother Teresa got more changed in Mumbai than most preachers have ever accomplished.

Samuel Rutherford preached one time in Edinburgh and was escorted out of the city by the order of the Catholic Cardinal. As he was leaving, he warned them: “This action to remove me will only serve to bring disaster on this city. When this happens, invite me back to preach and all will be well.” When Rutherford left the city, the Bubonic Plague, which had not been seen for a hundred years in Scotland, struck the city. Within weeks, they invited Rutherford back to preach.

I think of the reluctant prophet Jonah. God wanted him to go and preach in the city of Nineveh, the home of one of history’s most notorious and evil armies. They did unspeakable things to their victims, including Jonah’s people. Jonah didn’t want to preach in Nineveh. Why?

Because he knew God was gracious and compassionate and would forgive the people of Nineveh if he preached. Which is exactly why Jonah was being sent. Which is why Jonah ran the other direction and had to be brought back by a fishy water taxi. When Jonah announced that God would judge the city of Nineveh in 40 days, all the people changed their minds and changed their ways. They even put sackcloth and ashes on the cattle.

And Jonah was angry about this. In Jonah 4, the prophet accuses God:

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah wanted God to judge the people of Nineveh. He didn’t care if innocent children and the mentally handicapped faced the same retribution. He wanted them wiped off the face of the earth. And God didn’t do it immediately. He sent Jonah to preach so they could change their ways; and they did.

God left you and I on this earth to warn people about the coming judgment, not to tell them it is happening now. If we’re being sent to preach, it is likely that judgment hasn’t happened yet. At least not the kind of judgment that God is part of.

8 years later, my friend returned to me. He had just got out of jail and asked if he could meet with me. In the first half hour we met, he explained how his life had deteriorated. He explained why alcoholism and violence had brought about. It was a sad story and I wept in hearing it. He had been my friend. But at the end of his story of decay, he told me God had him read Psalm 73 again. He told me he wished he had read further in the text. Here’s what he pointed out:

When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
17 till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground;
    you cast them down to ruin.
19 How suddenly are they destroyed,
    completely swept away by terrors!
20 They are like a dream when one awakes;
    when you arise, Lord,
    you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

The psalmist realized the only way to understand the righteous and the wicked is to take the long view. God will never forget good works or bad works. And God is slow to anger because this is his purpose and his nature. The key is to do what is right and to come into relationship with God continually. That day, my friend came back to the Lord and left behind his sin. He has never been sorry he did.

So, when you consider that God doesn’t judge right away, thank Him that judgment is not his highest priority.

But sometimes, judgment is right around the corner; when we least expect it. The next article, I will lay out God’s plan for us when judgment does come down.

Beginner and Intermediate Lists of Theological Books

Posted on July 6, 2015

theologyI did a teaching recently on the value of reading theological books and knowing the importance of learning to think theologically. Following up on that teaching I felt I should strengthen my position on this with some suggested book lists. I have two lists, so look carefully at these descriptions:

Basic Theology Reading List:  This list is designed for people who have either never read books that deal with theological topics, or have been turned off by theological books.

Intermediate Theology Reading List: This is for those who have already waded into the waters of theological reflection and now want to get a really good foundation on theological books that challenge the mind more thoroughly.

I have not included any books on systematic theology. That is, none of these titles covers all the subjects in theology. There indeed are books that do this, and I may do an article later this month giving my viewpoints on which of those comprehensive volumes is best.

Without further explanation, here are my recommended beginning and intermediate theology reading lists.

Beginner’s List for the Appreciation of Theology:

1. Know Why You Believe  by Paul Little. This gem of a book may seem small and simple, but it will challenge you to think all things through theologically.

2. The Case for Christ  by Lee Strobel.  Strobel takes you back to the beginning of your faith and asks all the questions that would have been good to ask then. By doing so, he makes it possible for us to understand our salvation in a reasonable format.

3. The Pursuit of God  by A. W. Tozer.  This classic never goes out of style.  Tozer, in a series of essays, makes it clear that we can find God when we understand who we are looking for. Since theology is the study of God, this book is a great beginning place.

4. Knowing God   by J. I. Packer. Dr. Packer takes the simplicity of Tozer’s subject and shows how deep the well can go if you think about our amazing God.

5. The God Who is There/He is Not Silent  by Francis Schaeffer.  These two volumes are really parts 1 and 2 of the same book. Schaeffer gives a philosopher’s take on why the church gave in to the Enlightenment and how we can recover from it both theologically and practically.

6. Wholly Sanctified   by Dr. A. B. Simpson.  Simpson wrote in the 19th century, but he shows us how theology can be a language not just of the mind but also of the heart.

7. Exegetical Fallacies  by D. A. Carson.  Dr. Carson shows us how easy it is to make mistakes in interpreting Scripture. And of course, he outlines both how to avoid those mistakes and how to spot them when preachers/teachers are using them.

8. Four Views on Hell  by several authors including William Crockett.  Actually any of the “Four Views” books would work here. This is a format of theological book which collects major views on a topic and lays out the different views one by one. The reason I think this is invaluable for a beginning reader of theology is that it shows how to consider more than one view on a major doctrine.

9. Heaven by Randy Alcorn.  This is a wonderful example of how an author explores every scripture on a particular subject (in this case, heaven) and how he lays out that scriptural underpinning into a workable theory. All budding theologians need to know how to do this. A very helpful AND entertaining book

10. Orthdoxy  by G. K. Chesterton.   This is a classic work of theology by one of the world’s greatest minds. It is not a long book, but it cannot be read fast. I think this may be the best example of a theologian who keeps all viewpoints in mind when he writes.

11. The Cost of Discipleship  by Dietrich Boenhoeffer. Boenhoeffer is a practical theologian. He is one of the very few pastors who stood up publicly against Adolph Hitler in Nazi Germany. This book is the theological underpinning for how he lived his life. This is where theology meets action.

12. Mere Christianity  by C. S. Lewis.  I could have chosen a half dozen different Lewis books to show his ability to take a difficult theological concept and present it logically and fairly. In this case, he shows how he came to believe in Christ and why the simple Gospel is so profound. I recommend also, “The Great Divorce”, the “Problem of Pain” and a “Severe Mercy” as other examples.

 

Intermediate Reading List for Learning to be Theologically Reflective

1. Confessions  by Augustine.  One of the oldest theological works known to the church. You can’t call yourself a theologian without wrestling with Augustine, considered the greatest post-biblical theologian.

2. The New Testament Documents: Are they Reliable?  by F. F. Bruce.  Don’t just accept the Bible as God’s Word. Find out why we accept the New Testament as readily as we do.

3. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind  by Mark Noll.  We have often settled for much less than good reflective thinking as evangelicals. This book will greatly challenge you.

4. The Blessed Hope  by George Ladd. There are many sensationalistic books on the End Times. Here is one written by a scholar who knows how to get to the point. Not a long book but a great example of saying more with less on a touchy issue.

5. The Next Christendom  by Philip Jenkins.  What will Christianity look like as other cultures are more dominant in the church than North America. How will that affect our doctrines and practices?

6. Benefit of a Doubt  by Greg Boyd. Do we always have to believe everything with 100% certainty to be a good follower of God. Boyd says that this can make dangerous disciples. He proposes another way of Faith.

7. The Divine Conspiracy  by Dallas Willard. One of the great classics of Christianity and a difficult book to read without thinking deeply. I challenge every person who wants to be a good theologian to wrestle with this one.

8. For Calvinism (Michael Horton), Against Calvinism (Roger Olson):  Here are two books that were created as interactive discussions on a touchy theological subject: Namely, Calvinism. These are two of the most articulate writers on this subject and they are also friends. They show a considerable amount of knowledge on the subject, but they also show how one can be gentle, considerate and humble in presentation of theological viewpoints.

9. Power Evangelism  by John Wimber.  Wimber was a seminary professor and a theologian when God began to use him in healing power. That Holy Spirit power had to be incorporated with good theology. Notice in this book how Wimber attempts to do this, though not always successfully.

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