On the Trigger-Happy Use of the “Heretic” Label

Though I’ve written several articles criticizing Calvinism, one may notice that there is one thing I have not done: I have never called Calvinism a heresy or any particular Calvinist a heretic.  In fact, I’ve made clear that even if I disagree with Calvinists, I still respect many of them as preachers of the Gospel and consider them brothers in Christ.  The use of the word “heresy” is very serious, and because of that, I tend to have little patience for those who use it quickly and carelessly.

Uncharitable Immaturity

For example, several years ago I was listening to a Mark Driscoll podcast as a passenger in a car (back in his heyday of popularity), and he mentioned the story of Noah.  Unfortunately, the clip is no longer up on Youtube, though you can still find many references to his message online.  You can also still download the original sermon (date: April 5, 2009), though the relevant quote is this:

What do we do with Noah? Hi Noah! Genesis 6. Let me tell you the story of Noah. Here’s the deal. If you grew up in church you probably don’t know the story because it gets butchered! It freaks me out; there is this long of things that freak me out and this is way up on the list. Every children’s Bible I get, I get white-out and I fix this part and I get a sharpy, and my kids all know that dad freaks out on the Noah story. Dad does freak out on the Noah story, because every kids Bible I’ve ever seen preaches a false gospel in the story of Noah. I don’t want my kids to be heretics, so I white it out and fix it. (emphasis added)

And the story in every kids Bible is told like this: Noah was a righteous man, he was a good guy. Everybody else was bad, Noah was good, Noah got a boat, everybody else swam for a little while. Moral of the story is be a good guy, you get a boat named Jesus, don’t be a bad guy, you’re going to have to swim for it. It’s ridiculous! Alright Genesis 6, Noah, verse 5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We call that total depravity. Who was bad?  Everyone. How bad? Totally. When? All the time. That’s pretty all inclusive. Now this is a heart-breaking statement, “And the Lord was sorry that he made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man from the face of the land. Man and animals and creeping things and birds of heaven for I’m sorry that I made them.’ But, here’s the big idea. Noah found what? Favor; it’s the Hebrew word for grace. Noah found grace or favor in the eyes of the Lord. God looked at the earth, everyone’s only bad all the time, including Noah. And God looked a Noah and said, “I’m going to love that guy.”

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The Distinction Between Government Compulsion and Christian Duty

Recently, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the Christian florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay wedding.  I skimmed over their decision, and it contained many of the same tired assertions that have yet to receive any sort of extended logical argument: The conflation of desire and behavior, of race and sexual orientation, and of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and now.  These are all dubious presumptions and there are good arguments against them, but I won’t rehash them here.  Instead, I will address a common argument which states that Christians who are fighting for religious liberty in these cases are being hypocritical because they should be nice, “nondiscriminatory,” “loving,” “like Jesus,” or whatever.  This same argument is used when Christians oppose the expansion of government programs or actions such as welfare, the minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, amnesty for illegal immigrants, etc.  Both so-called “progressive” Christians and non-Christians (amusingly enough) often yell that such Christians are disobeying the Bible’s teachings about taking care of the poor.

While common, these arguments are very confused, and unsurprisingly, their proponents betray their extreme lack of knowledge of Scripture when they presume to cite it.  They also betray an inability to make clear distinctions and argue logically and instead rely on emotional rhetoric and catchphrases that ultimately argue nothing.  In reality, there is a distinction between believing that a Christian has a duty through Scripture and that a Christian (or anyone) should be compelled to do that same thing by the government.

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Reviewing Donald Trump’s First Month and How Christians Can Respond

I was busy in January and didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s first couple of weeks, but I’m getting slightly caught up (only slightly), and boy, isn’t this a circus.  It seems like if he were to cough in a certain way, people would freak out and call him an evil man while his defenders would come out and say that this cough is a tough cough that will be good for America.  It is a fascinating, if not disheartening, environment.

So how has Trump done so far?  On the one hand, he’s only been in office for less than a month, and I’m sure he’s doing a lot of learning on the job that everyone goes through when they tackle a new occupation (most of which aren’t nearly as difficult as the presidency).  On the other hand, he’s actually already done quite a few things, and it is absolutely fair to critique his actions and words.  The early returns here are not terribly encouraging, as Trump and his team are acting in the sort of ham-handed, egotistical, and abrasive way that I worried they might if he won.  I’ve said time and again that he’s not a true conservative, but unfortunately, he is the public representative of conservatives, and at this rate he is going to do some long-term damage that will be difficult to rectify.  I’m not a big fan of protests that consists of mindless chanting and shouting down people from talking, so I feel no need to defend the maturity of the recent protests at various town hall meetings; at the same time, it’s not like I feel that sorry for the politicians either, and these protests are an indication that many people, some of who were Trump voters, are already pretty ticked off at Trump and the Republican Party.

Trump supporters may object that he has a lot of haters who never intended to give him a chance: Fake-outrage liberals, the mainstream media, bandwagonning celebrities, etc.  They will say these groups have often exaggerated, mischaracterized, and even lied about Trump’s words and actions.  I will grant that much of this is true; such people clearly have an ax to grind and rarely scrutinized Obama in the same manner, and their commitment to thought-policing is hitting new levels of immaturity and stupidity.  However, even so, that doesn’t mean everything that they have said isn’t true.  It can still be true that Trump is making mistakes that can really submarine the effectiveness of his presidency (and make it likely that there will be a massive backlash against the Republican Party) if he doesn’t get certain things under control.

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“That’s not biblical.” What does that even mean?

One common response you may hear in theological discussions, either among professional theologians or laypeople, is, “That’s not biblical” or something similar.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve never said that before either.  This is often used to dismiss or refute positions quickly, and it also often paints the other side as not caring about what the Bible says.  At face value, it seems like the easiest test to administer: If a belief or action doesn’t square with the Bible, then it should be abandoned.  Any faithful Christian will agree with that, right?

Unfortunately, the phrase and others like it are often used very ambiguously and even in a self-serving and inconsistent manner.  One example of this is how some Christians have objected to the use of written covenants for church membership or leadership as “not biblical.”  When pressed what that means, they’ll often say that there is no explicit mention of written covenants in the New Testament.  It can be somewhat amusing to see their reaction when you ask them things like, “Having background checks for potential children’s ministry workers is required at many churches but isn’t explicitly in the Bible.  Are you okay with that?”  Clearly, there needs to be less ambiguous usage of what it means to be “not biblical,” or at least its varying usages need to be clarified in each context so Christians aren’t guilty of inconsistency or equivocation.

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“Alternative Facts,” “Fake News,” and the Rhetoric of the Emotional and Close-minded

I expected Donald Trump’s presidency to be… eventful, and in his short time in office, this has proven true.  I was pretty swamped with things the past couple of weeks, but it was impossible not to notice the social media meltdowns over Trump’s executive orders and policy decisions concerning the wall, the refugee crisis, and global warming.  My Facebook feed exploded this past week with all sorts of hashtags, drawings, pictures, and articles which shouted particular positions especially on the so called “Muslim ban.”  Trying to find nuanced and sober analysis within that sea of nonsense was close to impossible.

In this jolly environment, accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are getting thrown around to go along with personal attacks that the opposing side is full of idiots and/or immoral monsters.  Basically, if someone cites or links an article that disputes one’s position, a quick way to dismiss that article or point is to mock it as “fake news” or an “alternative fact.”  It is this rhetoric that I want to address right now more than specific issues because such memes threaten to make an already toxic political environment even worse.  Essentially, while we should of course not want news out there that says straight up falsehoods, this kind of rhetoric fails to realize that evidence selection is a very important part of any discussion, and it is the foolish, the immature, and the close-minded who refuse to consider facts that may not fit their preferred narrative.

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Review of Sherlock S4: Interesting Characters Surrounded by Plot Holes

SPOILERS AHEAD

The fourth season of Sherlock ended this past Sunday, marking the 10th and potentially last episode of the series if they so choose not to make more (three seasons, three episodes each, plus one special).  It was good to see Sherlock, Watson, and Mycroft again after a couple of years, and this season introduced a pretty interesting character.  Still, the show continued to struggle to write sensible material that was actually smart and reasonable and instead gave plotlines that were borderline ridiculous and full of holes.

In many ways, this is an understandable struggle because the writers and creators have to try to portray super-geniuses with outlandish and unrealistic intellectual powers solving incredible problems and living life, while they are… well, not super-geniuses like that (who is?).  Because of this, some amount of leeway should be given for “deductions” that really cannot be made.  After all, we have to believe the premise that Sherlock, Mycroft, and maybe some others possess fantastic deductive abilities by observing things no other human can.  However, there is a limit to this; when they start solving and predicting things that are positively absurd (while at the same time missing obvious things that they should easily see), it comes off as a lazy writing.  Throw in massive plot holes and storylines that seemingly have nothing to do with solving cases, and you have some legitimate gripes that the show has lost its way a bit.  Yes, I know Moffat and Gattis have repeatedly tried to say that it’s not a detective show but a drama about a detective, but that still kinda makes it a detective show, and it doesn’t excuse plot contrivances.

A good example of this failure is from last season.  Charles Augustus Magnussen was far from a good villain; we were supposed to believe that he was just as smart as Sherlock and outwitted him at the end before Sherlock blew his brains out.  However, he ended up giving the game away by telling Watson and Sherlock he had no hard proof for his blackmails (even bragging that he can just print stuff anyway in the news) but relied on his “mind palace” to recall incriminating facts, a concession that made his whole enterprise a joke and Sherlock’s struggle nonsensical.  All Sherlock had to do was tell Mycroft or Magnussen’s enemies and someone else would have shot him.  Not to mention the fact that it is somewhat deceptive to show Magnussen actually walking down to the Appledore vaults that turned out to not exist.

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Common Pro-Choice Arguments That Wildly Miss the Point

The Republicans in Congress are seemingly trying to remove federal funds from Planned Parenthood, which is reigniting arguing and anger over the abortion issue.  Once again, we’re hearing the nonsense 3% statistic being thrown around to go along with a host of other common arguments to defend abortion and Planned Parenthood.  Much of these arguments miss the central point of this debate, being red herrings that distract from the key issue: Do we have good reason to believe that the baby is or is not a human life?  Does the mother have the “right” to end that life for any reason of her choosing?  Even if we aren’t sure, is the chance that the baby is human great enough to make elective abortion morally wrong?  It is frankly frustrating how many people, unfortunately including many confused Christians, use the following arguments when they are all simply irrelevant.

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Russell Moore, the SBC, and Donald Trump: A Nuanced Look

Like many, I did not take Donald Trump’s candidacy all that seriously in the beginning, and I was never a fan.  I’ve been forthright with my criticism of Trump and have long said that I don’t believe he’s a constitutional conservative or a conservative Christian and that he will not conduct his presidency like one.  Due to that, I never really cared that Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist organization The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), criticized Donald Trump or Trump supporters.  I also never paid attention to it; I would glance at headlines but never bothered to really read what he said.  However, in the last couple of months since Trump won, I’ve learned that people have been irked at Moore by his comments, with many leaders and churches in the SBC calling for him to be removed from his position or else they will stop financially supporting the ERLC.

Younger evangelicals (Moore is only 45) are rushing to his defense and decrying that the old geezers of the SBC are mistreating him for being bold enough to speak unpopular truth and calling them out on their support of a bad candidate (I’m paraphrasing slightly 😉 ).  Perhaps this may be correct regarding some people, but I think this controversy highlights other issues too, issues that actually might be legitimate to question.

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Refuting Popular Atheist Arguments #7: Christians Just Borrowed Christmas from Pagans

‘Tis the season, and that means it is the season of memes and pseudo-intellectual YouTube clips that shout from the rooftops that Christmas is just a pagan holiday.  I may do more posts later on the larger issue of people throwing out memes and arguments that try to make it seem like Christians simply plagiarized from earlier pagan stories, but for now let’s just stick to the date of December 25th.

Before really getting into the claim, we should ask ourselves this: What exactly would this argument prove if it were true?  Would it make the biblical account false?  Well, no, it wouldn’t.  The Bible gives no date of Jesus’ birth, and most Christians are pretty comfortable with saying that we do not know exactly when Jesus was born.  This happens to be true for many historical figures, so it’s no big deal.  In other words, even if this argument were correct, a Christian could shrug his shoulders and say, “So what?  Christians modified existing pagan holidays to try to share their message instead.  Who cares?”  With this in mind, it is a bit amusing how some people find this argument to be some great problem for Christianity.

However, it is still worth looking into the claim because it shows an underlying problem with so many similar arguments, and that is a transparent desperation to look for the vaguest similarities with pagan religions, to assume pagan priority, to swallow memes wholesale, and then to strut around feeling smug and enlightened.  I hate to break it to some people on social media, but memes rarely, if ever, constitute much of an argument, however entertaining they may sometimes be.

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Evangelicalism, Conservatism, and the Alt-Right

Great… going to write about politics again.

So the alt-right has been in the news a lot more recently after Donald Trump’s victory, particularly due to certain white supremacist events.  Trump himself has been accused of being alt-right (not true), his chief strategist Steve Bannon is accused of being alt-right (technically not true, though he had no problem giving them a platform at Breitbart), and all of the alt-right is accused of being racist.  This has led to more accusations that anyone who voted for Trump shares this white supremacist attitude, including Christians.

This leads to the question: What on earth is the alt-right?  Is it okay for Christians to identify as alt-right?

Well, the second question is rather easy to answer: Um, no, though the reason why it’s a “no” may differ depending upon how “alt-right” is defined, which can be admittedly bewildering because of its various usages.  But it’s still a no, and it would be wise for Christians to know what this movement seems to be and see that it is no friend of traditional political conservatism and especially not of Christianity.

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