Friday, February 7, 2020

Why do we see everything as restricted to two options?

I recently heard a Christian brother commenting on the current political situation. He said:

You know, when we elect a president we don’t elect a pastor. So, we’re going to have an unregenerate person. ... You know, you can have a good character president, and a failed policy, or you can have a president who has a character that raises questions and still have policies that promote well-being in the citizenry.

I don’t think it was this brother’s intention to do so, but he presented a false dichotomy. It’s not that we can only have good character plus bad policies on the one hand, or bad character plus good policies on the other. There are also two feet involved: bad character plus bad policies (which I firmly believe is what we would have had under Hillary Clinton), and good character plus good policies, which I believe is what most of us actually want. The fact that we were faced in the 2016 election with the two "hands" doesn’t mean that we should just settle for that and not strive for the right "foot."

I was a math nerd in high school, so pardon the follow Cartesian graph:

The statement quoted above presents only quadrants 2 and 4.

We should strive to avoid quadrant 3 at all costs. Negative policies combined with negative character is a recipe for guaranteed disaster.

With a person in quadrant 4, we'll see some forward movement on certain issues on which the person agrees with us. But, as we have seen in our current political environment, if we voice any critique of the negative character (or certain policy decisions we don't agree with), the negative character of the person causes him or her to lash out and treat us as enemies. Many people, faced with this outlook, refuse to present any criticism for fear of being demeaned or losing access.

Many people will disagree with me, but I think in most cases someone in quadrant 2 is a better choice than someone in quadrant 4, as long as part of their positive character is a teachable spirit and willingness to listen to input from others. A teachable person can be swayed on policy matters: even if they don't come around completely to our point of view and implement a policy 100% to our liking, they can be convinced to move toward our position. Often, persuasion isn't so much about moving someone from one extreme to the other, as it is moving them two steps out of their current box. I think this is appreciated by the massive "swayable middle" in our country who frequently vote more against the extremes of people on the opposite side than they do for the people who are more to the extreme on their own side (when looking at things from the classical left/right spectrum).

Of course, in an ideal world we would always have candidates in quadrant 1 as options. But when when we don't, that doesn't mean we shouldn't push the quadrant 2 and 4 people toward quadrant 1.

We can appreciate President Trump’s policies that favor religious freedom, the sanctity of life, judges who support original intent with regard to the Constitution, etc., while still calling him to a higher standard of personal behavior, to reconsider his reduction of refugee visas (which have adversely affected Christians fleeing persecution in the Middle East), and to raise the level of discourse by being the “bigger person” even when the other side chooses to be petty and childish. We must not allow ourselves to be roped into an "all-or-nothing" mindset out of fear of losing the president's ear or becoming the target of a Twitter tirade.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Book Review -- Gospel Allegiance: What Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ

In his latest book, Gospel Allegiance, Matthew W. Bates, associate professor of theology at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois, takes the foundation laid in his previous book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone, and builds the superstructure of how these ideas can be worked out in the life of the church and Christian witness. Whereas Salvation was directed a little more toward academic students of theology (while still being accessible to informed laypersons), Gospel Allegiance brings the discussion to the local pastor and small group leader, who may or may not have advanced formal theological training. In this latest volume, Bates expands and expounds on the ideas first proffered in Salvation, adding two points to his detailed definition of the gospel message, as well as getting more into a boots-on-the-ground application of what understanding pistis (the Koine Greek word usually translated “faith”) as allegiance entails in the process of Christian discipleship.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Accuracy and Credibility as a Teacher

I’m currently reading the introduction to David A. deSilva’s volume on Galatians in the New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Eerdmans, 2018). In an excursus on rhetoric and letter-writing in antiquity, he writes, “Speakers must have our trust and confidence if they are to persuade us to do anything; conversely, doubts about credibility prove the quickest and most effective means to undermining a particular speaker’s message” (p. 68).

I have often noted in the past that if a teacher or preacher can’t get the raw facts (characters, locations, basic order of events) of a biblical story correct, then it becomes much more difficult for those hearing the message to accept the speaker’s interpretation and application of that text.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Looking at a broader context when studying Scripture

This post continues our focus on the importance of reading Scripture in its context.

I was recently reading a book by a popular Christian author (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty).The writer cites Deuteronomy 1:1-8, which reads:

1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.
5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:
6  The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

The writer says that Moses pointed out to the Israelites that what should have been an eleven-day journey had taken them forty years (v. 2), and goes on to say that in verse 6  Moses tells them they have stayed at this mountain long enough. The author then directs a question to the reader: Have you stayed long enough at the same mountain? Has it taken you forty years to make an eleven-day journey?