How Understanding Logic Can Lead to More Charitable Discussion

Another terrible mass shooting hit America recently, this time in the small town of Sutherland Springs, TX.  Devin Kelley attacked the town’s First Baptist Church on a Sunday morning and shot and killed 26 people, many of them children.  He was shot by a local man after the carnage and then fled in a truck, and he was pursued before he eventually crashed and killed himself.  The scene at the church was described as horrific, with blood everywhere and dead bodies littered on the floor.  The nation once again reacted in anger, sadness, horror, and confusion.

In that anger and confusion, we once again have seen people targeting their political enemies, something that never seems to fail to happen.  Many people have called for stricter gun laws, and if you disagree with them, they’ll react in disgust and basically accuse you of being an accomplice in such mass murder sprees.  We have to do something, they say, and if you don’t agree with their “something,” you’re automatically a bad person.  Others have championed the fact that Kelley was fought off by a citizen with a gun, possibly preventing further shootings elsewhere.  Such people argue that those who want strict gun laws are naive control-freaks who want to take away basic rights of self-defense and resistance against potential tyranny.

Such “discussion” gets tiresome pretty fast, especially when a tragedy like this weighs so heavily.  While it is understandable that people will get emotional over this (people should get emotional over this), emotion often makes for poor solutions and poor policy.  What is needed is sober-minded reason, and in actuality, if people have a firmer grasp on logic, it helps to have more charitable discussion.

Now what I mean by “charitable” does not mean that you can’t dish out firm or harsh criticism.  After all, I eviscerated Shaun King for his utterly stupid response to the Las Vegas shooting.  Still, I clearly argued why King’s article was built on worthless arguments as opposed to simply attributing all sorts of bad motives to him without evidence.  And that’s what’s needed: An evaluation of evidence and argument, not knee-jerk reactions to satisfy anger.  Thus, I mean “charity” to be the avoidance of attributing the worst motivations to your opponent (unless you have good reason to) but instead trying to understand what his argument is and answer it.  Such evaluation needs some basic understanding of logic.

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The Curious Case of Carl Lentz of Hillsong, NY

I often like listening to podcasts of various sorts when I eat (sports, politics, or theology), so I looked for one while eating lunch today.  I checked on what podcasts were available on the sports/culture website The Ringer because while I care little for their takes on pop culture and politics, they do have some good sports content, especially concerning the NBA.  Surprisingly, the newest podcast for The Ringer NBA Show featured Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong NY, and he talked with the website’s founder Bill Simmons about Lentz’s relationships with NBA players and other celebrities.  Simmons is a unique and entertaining (if often annoying) voice in the sports world, building his average guy brand as “The Sports Guy” first at ESPN, but he is far from a religious person.  In fact, he admitted that Lentz is the first pastor he’s ever had on his podcast.  This seems to be part of Lentz’s media tour for his new book, as he recently showed up on The View.

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The Magnitude of Evil and the Abundance of Grace: Oh God, Whom Will You Hear First?

In Gregory Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil, he relays a story about a small Jewish girl named Zosia.  Zosia had pretty eyes, and some Nazi soldiers noticed.  Simply because they were bored, they decided to remove her eyes on the spot in front of her mother.  The author whom Boyd quotes describes the scene, stating that the cries of the girl, the screams of the mother, and the laughter of the Nazi soldiers mingled together and made their way to heaven.

The author asks poignantly: Oh God, whom will you hear first?

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“Do You Have Good Reason to be Angry?” If Not, Your Emotions Don’t Matter That Much

A while ago, I wrote a blog post giving a nuanced look at an unfortunate decision by some of the professors of our seminary to post an inside joke on Twitter… where, you know, everyone on earth can see it without understanding any context.  I criticized them for that, but at the same time, I also pointed out that ignoring context and loudly screaming “Racist!” was also foolish.  You can do both: Criticize the professors for doing something unwise but also understand the context of their picture and why it’s not racist.

Unsurprisingly, my article got some blow back (it also got a lot of support), though none of this blow back dealt with the main argument.  Instead, what got a lot of attention was a throw-away line in the article (again, in the context of actually criticizing these professors for posting that picture on the internet):

Given our hyper-sensitive culture these days, where even stating bare facts like “There’s a very high rate of single-motherhood in the black community” can draw accusations of racism, it was foolish to post that online.  That’s not to excuse our hyper-sensitive culture, but surely a joke like that is not worth the controversy and potential damage to the witness of the professors as well as that of the seminary.

Many people latched on to this line with great offense (though I’ll repeat, it had little to do with the main argument, and it was a comment about the culture as a whole which honestly shouldn’t be that controversial).  “How dare you call people hyper-sensitive!” “You can’t fault people for how they feel!” “You shouldn’t invalidate people’s emotions!” So on and so forth.  What is interesting is that virtually all of these comments came from Christians.

This honestly squares with my experience both from within and without the church when people’s emotions are criticized.  These days, when someone is told he is being too sensitive, that his anger is unjustified, that his jealousy is irrational, or that his hurt feelings have no bearing on the truth of a matter, the typical response from him and others around him is to have varying levels of anger and shock.  The implicit assumption is that emotions are always uncontrolled responses, always valid, and ultimately unassailable.

The problem with this line of thinking for Christians is rather simple: It is far from a biblical stance (not to mention counter-intuitive if you really think about it).  The fact of the matter is that the Bible implies that we are accountable for how we feel and that our emotions can very well be wrong.  Notice what I did not say; I did not say that how you act due to your emotions can be wrong, though that is of course true.  I said the very emotions you have can be wrong, sinful, selfish, or irrational if they are unreasonable and/or come from a wrong heart.  As unpopular and surprising as this is for many Christians (and especially non-Christians), this is what Scripture teaches.

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Robert Jeffress, Trump, and North Korea: Does Romans 13 Apply?

Back before the nominations, I wrote a post about how I found a lot of Christian support of Donald Trump to be curious, and one name I mentioned was Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas.  I’ve heard him preach a few times and I do not doubt his commitment to the gospel, but he’s also known to create controversy with his comments on politics.  Recently, he made the news again when he stated in an interview with The Washington Post that he supported Trump’s strong remarks against North Korea because God has given Trump the authority to “take out” Kim Jong Un.  He cited Romans 13 as his basis and said that the president, as part of the government, should not seek to follow the Sermon on the Mount in his role.  His comments were met with widespread criticism from the media as well as other Christians who accused of him of warmongering and for using the Bible to justify violence.

I’ll mostly leave aside the question about what to do about North Korea.  As a Korean, I know full well that North Korea has an evil government that might be the most backward on the planet, but what to do with them is not a question I’ll seek to answer here.  Instead, I’ll narrow my focus to Jeffress’ use of Romans 13.  He actually has a point, but the application of Romans 13 to this situation is a bit murky, and he could have worded what he said more carefully.

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Can Christians Who Believe in Libertarian Free Will Consistently Believe in Eternal Security?

A few months ago, I went to a regional meeting for the Evangelical Theological Society at Southwestern Seminary, and while I was only able to attend one day of it, I got to hear some interesting papers.  One presentation was by a Reformed philosopher who advanced an argument against the consistency of believing in eternal security–the belief that once someone is truly saved, he cannot lose his salvation–while also believing in libertarian free will (positions that are arguably held by the majority of conservative Southern Baptists).  It was an interesting paper and he presented it with passion, though I ultimately did not find it very convincing.  I think his mistake is that he presented a false analogy with another argument that he believed people make against Calvinism, which makes his parallel argument against eternal security unsound.  Keep in mind that he believes in eternal security; he only presented the latter argument as a way to show that Christians can’t have both libertarian free will and perseverance.

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Failed Attempts to Rescue Limited Atonement From 1 Timothy 4:10

I noted in a recent post that there is no verse that straightforwardly confirms limited atonement, the belief that Jesus died only for the elect.  On the flip side, there seems to be plenty of verses that flat out contradict it, which Calvinists have to deal with in order to preserve the L in TULIP.  In this post, I want to focus on 1 Timothy 4:10, another problematic text for the Calvinist position.

Here’s the verse: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (NASB).  It is the relative clause that gets the bulk of the attention here, and it is obvious why: On face value, it sounds like God is the Savior of everyone but is the Savior in a special way for believers.  This would flow quite nicely with unlimited atonement: Through Christ’s atoning death for everyone, God is the Savior of all, but this atonement is only applied to those who believe.

Such a reading, however, would contradict limited atonement, so Calvinists have proposed several ways of reading this verse.  I’ll summarize and evaluate the ones that I am familiar with, and it will be shown that these attempts fail to make a convincing exegetical case and often rely on dubious word studies, faulty reasoning, and de-contextualized readings in order to preserve a dogged allegiance to a system.

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Prooftexts for Limited Atonement and the Negative Inference Fallacy

I’ve written several articles critiquing the interpretation and logic of those who advocate limited atonement, the contention that Christ died only for the elect.  I’ll now discuss their use of verses that they think give a positive case for limited atonement.

Intellectually honest Calvinists will admit that no text in Scripture explicitly teaches limited atonement: There is no verse that says that Christ died for the elect only or at least explicitly denies that Christ died for everyone.  However, many Calvinists will argue that this is no big deal.  There is no verse, after all, that explicitly spells out the Trinity or Incarnation, yet those are considered not only clear scriptural teachings but central doctrines of the faith.  The reason that the Incarnation is certain, for example, is that there are texts that teach that Christ was a man and others that teach that he was God.  It takes only a small step of logic to put them together and conclude that Christ was both fully God and fully man.  Likewise, all it takes, according to Calvinists, is a small logical step from certain passages to reach limited atonement.

The texts they typically use are passages that teach that Christ died for a select group of people.  Here are a few examples:

John 10:11: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

Acts 20:28: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”

Other verses can be offered, but these are enough to get the picture.  While none of these verses state that Christ died for the elect only, Calvinists argue that it is nonetheless reasonable to make this conclusion.

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Faith, Works, and an Elusive Quotation in James 2:14-26

One of the major reasons why there was the Protestant split with the Catholic church was over the nature of justification.  Luther and others argued for justification by faith alone, while the Catholic Church reiterated its commitment to justification by faith and works.  I affirm justification by faith alone, though I know that Catholics understand justification a little differently (they do not make a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification), so it is an oversimplification to accuse the Catholic Church of teaching a gross works-righteousness.

Protestants are armed with many texts, such as Eph. 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NASB).  However, while the Reformers harped on passages like this, the Catholic Church had James 2:14-26, which includes the famous phrase, “Faith without works is dead” (2:26b).  Due to this and other issues, Luther had doubts about the book of James and is famous for calling it “an epistle of straw.”  While he seems to have retracted that statement and eventually accepted a harmonization between it and the Pauline epistles, he clearly favored the latter.

Protestants have since readily explained that while salvation is by faith alone, a true faith will always produce good works if given the time.  This is often stated, “Salvation is by faith alone, but faith is never alone.”  This is why Paul states after Eph. 2:8-9 in v. 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  However, while this seems straightforward, it turns out that this is not so easy to see in James 2:14-26 on face value.  James says in 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” which a Catholic might say is about as clear a repudiation of justification by faith alone as you can ask for.  Thus, Protestants should give a careful account of this passage, just as Catholics need to deal carefully with passages like Ephesians 2.  I hope to do so below, though I will neglect giving background information for space considerations.

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Navigating Romans 9 Exegetically and Theologically: Part 2

In part one, I laid out my methodology and analyzed the argument that 9:30-33 is discontinuous with the first 29 verses of chapter 9.  I looked at the usages of the phrase “What shall we say then” and concluded that it does not in fact signal a major shift in perspective but rather a smooth transition that readily connects with what comes before.  I think this preliminary analysis tips the scales towards a non-Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 because 9:30-33 clearly emphasizes faith, so Calvinists like Thomas Schreiner are not justified in trying to make a big point that Paul neglects to mention faith before this.

We now get to the meat of chapter 9.  Again, to prevent this from being even longer than it is, I will not address every single issue in absolute detail, but I do hope to give a textually-driven interpretation of this chapter that shows that a non-Calvinistic view is not only plausible and responsible, such that Christians who hold to some similar interpretation are not obviously flouting good interpretive principles, but may also be superior to the Reformed case.  This is also a good time to reiterate that I respect my Calvinist brothers and have read several of their commentaries and listened to a few of their sermons on this (I’ll repeat that Schreiner’s work is especially very good).  This is just disagreement within the body of Christ.

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