The Barbarism of Abortion and Its Monetary Valuation: Reflections

I wonder if this uptick in the radical nature of abortion practice, as we are now witnessing in New York, Virginia, and I’m sure in other liberal states, in days to come, is a reaction to Trumpism? I wonder if these states are attempting such radical movements,[1] in this regard, as a political way to work at the subversion process of Trump’s presidency, and those who voted for him? Either way, no matter the motivation, it is of the most heinous sort of dread and evil that it is unconscionable to contemplate as real; but it is real.

We just remembered the Shoa (Ha Shoa), the catastrophe or Holocaust these last days, but here in the United States since Roe v Wade we have witnessed, if we could quantify immorality of this sort (which we can’t), the outright murder of over 60,000,000 human beings; persons at the very most vulnerable stage of their lives. It seems outrageous that the very same people who can decry the evil of Hitler’s Holocaust, can at the same time celebrate America’s Holocaust in the ways they do; but that’s exactly the sort of duplicity we see taking place in our country.

One wonders how people can look at the mutilated limbs and bodies of the most precious among us, and place those up against the mutilated bodies of the shoa victims; and not arrive at the same conclusion about them both. But they don’t! How does this happen; how can we make sense of anything so irrational and reprehensible? How can so called civilized human beings arrive at the conclusion that barrels of mutilated babies’ bodies is in any way a right that any sane person could or should be given?

The biological information is available for all, as is the physiological; in regard to the human status these babies in the womb have. Of course, the distinction the “ethicists” like to use to dehumanize the ‘fetus’, is well the language of fetus, but beyond that, it is to make a distinction between human being and personhood. These “ethicists” want us to think that personhood isn’t arrived at until the fetus is delivered, and gains full self-awareness and faculty in that regard. On this logic, as Peter Singer has been arguing for years, infanticide is actually the logical reduction to the abortionists’ argument. But, really, they have been engaging in infanticide, legally, since the 70s; since personhood is part-and-parcel with conception. We all know, biologically, that a fetus, at conception, has all the chromosomal-component parts that it takes to be a human being; indeed, to be a person.

The concern (and I write this all off the top) is that the inherent logic to all of this presupposes that personhood is in fact a social construct, just like human sexuality or sexual orientation is. Which means that personhood, according to these wits (or maybe we should say, Twits) is not just a social, but is also a political construct; insofar as we have a socio-politico sense of what it means to be a functional member of society at large. This is at least a slippery-slope. We can begin to see how eugenics, infanticide, death-panels, abortion, euthanasia are of a piece in this sense. The logic, which clearly there isn’t any sound logic in any of this, underwriting abortion in general, and these late stage abortions in particular, can be just as easily applied to toddlers to the mentally ill to the aged so on and so forth. If personhood is a socio-politico construct that is determined by the public at large—in regard to who has personhood and who doesn’t—then so help us God; and yes God, help us!

The same proponents of abortion rights, at all stages, based on their own logic, if that logic is carried through, could be inflicted by that logic in the days to come; you know the days when they’re old and dying. Indeed, we already see this logic-of-death creeping into states where euthanasia is legal, and in countries where such practice is amenable to anyone who might be struggling with a deep sense of low-self-esteem or other real, but not life-threatening sufferings. We even see this sort of creep in the way insurance companies pursue certain surgical care for the elderly. We see them taking their time in making decisions on whether to provide certain procedures or not, based upon the age of their insured and the likelihood of their successful recovery.

The metrics being appealed to determine personhood are: Will the aged or mentally ill among us be a fully functional, contributing member of society? Meaning, will such persons be contributing members in regard to the global economy, and its fiscal well being or not. At some levels, not all, we can see how personhood is attributed to various castes of people simply based upon their capacity to be economic producers for the greater worldwide system. Personhood, is largely a predicate of how great of a commodity a “person” is deemed to be or not. Babies in the womb are deemed as a dreg on the economy; they are only potential contributors, who in the meantime, if given a chance to deliver, have no immediate or actual potency when it comes to the economic well-being of society. Indeed, most likely, many of the children aborted are seen as drags because they are typically children of single women with no support system available to them other than the state (just look up the statistics on the largest demographic of peoples having abortions in the United States).

No matter, we have been living in a time, over these last fifty years, that even eclipses the Holocaust; at least as far as sheer numbers of people being barbarically massacred. In the beginning of this post I was wondering about what could lead so called civilized and technologically and scientifically advanced and evolved people to arrive at the conclusion that the practice of abortion is okay. As a Christian I have the explanatory power to diagnose and prescribe the problem and remedy for this blight of the American’s “moral compass.”

God will judge; He is judging; but He will judge with decisiveness and show no partiality. He will come again, and wipe out this sickness in the human heart once and for all. It’s possible to start that transformation process right now, but only the few will find that narrow way.

[1] Although partial-birth-abortion was once legal too.

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Karl Barth’s Reformulated Doctrine of Election, And Its Implications Towards the Way We Speak of Others; Including Donald Trump

I want to share some quotes from Karl Barth and Tom Greggs. All of these quotes either come from the body or footnotes of my personal chapter for our latest Evangelical Calvinism book (2017). I want to share the quotes, comment a little on their material presence, and then offer some sort of reflective application of them for the churches. In other words, the aim of this post is to attempt to take a technical theological locus and show how it has so called ‘practical’ value; say for human relationships, and maybe even political ones.

Karl Barth writes,

This all rests on the fact that from the very first He participates in the divine election; that that election is also His election; that it is He Himself who posits this beginning of all things; that it is He Himself who executes the decision which issues in the establishment of the covenant between God and man; that He too, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is the electing God. If this is not the case, then in respect of the election, in respect of this primal and basic decision of God, we shall have to pass by Jesus Christ, asking of God the Father, or perhaps of the Holy Spirit, how there can be any disclosure of this decision at all. For where can it ever be disclosed to us except where it is executed? The result will be, of course, that we shall be driven to speculating about a decretum absolutum instead of grasping and affirming in God’s electing the manifest grace of God. And that means that we shall not know into whose hands we are committing ourselves when we believe in the divine predestination. So much depends upon our acknowledgement of the Son, of the Son of God, as the Subject of this predestination, because it is only in the Son that it is revealed to us as the predestination of God, and therefore of the Father and the Holy Spirit, because it is only as we believe in the Son that we can also believe in the Father and the Holy Spirit, and therefore in the one divine election.[1]

And Tom Greggs offers commentary on the sort of sentiment we just witnessed in Barth’s reformulation of election, as a Christ concentrated conception:

There is no room for a prior decision of God to create, or elect and condemn before the decision to elect Jesus Christ (no decretum absolutum); instead, Jesus Christ is Himself the ultimate decretum absolutum.[2]

Further:

Election’s nature is . . . Gospel. The dialectic evident in Romans remains and can be seen between electing God and elected human in its most extreme form in terms of election and rejection. Humanity continues to need to be rescued by God in its rejection of Him. What is new is that this dialectic is now considered in a wholly Christological way which brings together the Yes and No of God in the simultaneity of the elected and rejected Christ. It is He who demonstrates salvation as its originator and archetype. It is, therefore, in the humanity of the elected Christ that one needs to consider the destiny of human nature.[3]

Maybe you can infer how I would use these quotes in the chapter I wrote on assurance of salvation. But the most important point I want to highlight, currently, is that in the Barthian reformulation of election the focus is no longer on individual/abstract people scurrying around on the earth, but instead upon the ground of all humanity as that is realized in the archetypal and elect humanity of Jesus Christ. There is a universalizing underneath in the doctrine of election in Barth’s theology, with the result that our focus is not on ourselves, as if we have some sort of inherent value or worth in se; but instead the realization is always present that we find our life and being in extra nos or outside of us, only as that extra enters into us by the gift of God in the grace who is the Christ.

The shift that happens, juxtaposed with a classical double predestinarian view, is that election first and foremost is about a doctrine of God; but a doctrine of God that can never be thought of apart from or abstracted out of His choice to not be God without us. In other words, in this reified doctrine our knowledge of God and selves is contingent always already upon God’s choice to be with us and for us in Christ. This transforms the way we think humanity, for one thing. In other words, we are unable to think about what genuine humanity is without first thinking about humanity in union with God in the Son’s union with us in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

One immediate consequence of this is that the way we think people is no longer from a class structure, or from the psychological vantage point that God loves some and not others (as the classical notion of election/reprobation leaves us with). As such, we are genuinely free to look out at others and recognize a humanity, in full, that God loves; a humanity, no matter how wretched (maybe as we think of ourselves) that is valuable precisely at the point that Jesus is the Yes and not the No for them and us. This is not to suggest that a blind eye is given to the sub-humanity that people continue to live in—because we love the darkness rather than the light—but it is to alert us to the fact, in the Barthian reification, that all people have inherent value, just because God first loved us that we might love Him. It is to recognize that even if people choose to reject the election freely offered to them in Christ, that because that election is not contingent upon their choice, but God’s, they live in suspension from the imago Dei who is the imago Christi (cf. Col. 1.15), and as such continue to have inherent value, and even capacity to say yes to God in correspondence to Jesus’s Yes for them. Here, we can agree with the evangelist that ‘God so loved the world, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.’

The premise is that there is no person outside the reach/grace of God. A contemporary application of this might be directed Donald Trump’s way. Trump, by many sectors of people, and many Christians in fact, has come to be considered the scum of the earth. He is the target of untold ridicule and vitriolic attack. At base though, it ought to be recognized, that even Trump’s life is encompassed by the life of God in Jesus Christ; which is why we should continuously be praying for him. This is not to suggest that we can’t be critical of Trump’s policies, speech, and other negatives; but it is to suggest that in this critique what should be characteristic is one where we keep on recognizing what God does about Trump. That is, that Trump is valuable to God, as a person. Indeed, that God in Christ pledged His life for Trump’s, and at the very least our rhetoric ought to be seasoned with this reality of Grace; even in our critiques.

I think this represents one possible application of the implications of Barth’s doctrine of election. It ought to cause us to pause in our speech, at the very least. We ought to bear witness to Christ in our speech and act, even when we have people like Trump in front of us, or others we think of in ridiculing ways. We can be critical, like I noted, of Trump’s policies or even personality, but at the same time we can bear in mind that Jesus loves Trump, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And I’m only using Trump as a symbolic example for anyone else we could fill in the blank with. What Barth’s doctrine of election does to me, in this sense, is it makes me continually cognizant of the fact that I am no different than Trump; or any of my enemies. Without God’s Grace, who is Christ for us, we would all sink into the sub-humanity we were born into. In other words, as Christ is the One for the many, the many come to have that in common; viz. that we are now all grounded in the One humanity of Jesus Christ. This does not mean we have anonymous brothers and sisters in Christ, at a spiritual level, but it does mean at a ‘carnal’ (de jure) level, that we share a universe with every other person who derives their value and worth from the same reality we do—Jesus Christ! This ought to do something in regard to the way we treat others (I’m preaching to myself).

 

[1] Barth, CD II/2:110.

[2] Greggs, Barth, Origen, and Universal Salvation, 25.

[3] Ibid., 26.

Reflecting on the ‘Past Feeling’ Mode of Pagan Existence

17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; 19 who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.–Ephesians 4.17-19

There are other like passages in the Pauline corpus, but let’s focus on this one. As of late I have been struck, at empirical levels, by this reality. It is easy to get caught up in the theological world of my own studies, and forget just how pagan people are in this world. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case because I work in the ‘world,’ in part of the world that lives in a sort of vulgar state of existence (spiritually). But I’ve been impressed again by just how ‘past feeling’ the ‘Gentiles’ in fact are.

The Reformed et al. often refer to this ‘past feeling’ as total depravity. The idea being that at a spiritual level (which of course is the level of all levels) the person living in that status is not living at all; instead they are existing in a state of death (or separation) vis-à-vis God. And this would make sense, wouldn’t it? If there is only one ontological category for ‘being’ or ‘life,’ wouldn’t it make sense to think that anyone not united to this Life would be dead? I sometimes forget this though. Recently I was talking to someone at work about God, and for them God, and in particular, Jesus, seemed to simply be an abstract idea that could either be cursed or blessed; it simply depended upon what someone chooses to believe or not. At one level, sure, that makes sense. But what struck me was the cold indifference this guy had when referring to all things divine. For him there really wasn’t much difference between Allah and God in Christ; for him (my interlocutor) they could simply be symbolic figures projected out from varied cultural phenomena. Either way, for him, who Jesus turns out to be, at least existentially (in the moment), doesn’t impact him one way or the other. This is the ‘past feeling’ I think the Apostle Paul was referring to; it has moral implications.

Jesus, in John 3, makes clear that to get beyond this ‘past feeling’ status one must be born again; or in the Petrine voice, a person must ‘be born again of an imperishable seed.’ The Apostle Paul makes clear that Jesus swapped His eternal life for our eternal death, and by this movement He won eternal life by being the One for the many. Paul iterates the reality that we’ve been made rich by Jesus’s poverty for us; by Him becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus told Nicodemus that if he wanted to enter eternal life he had to be ‘born from above.’ These are all themes that are musts in order for the pagan to get beyond the ‘past feeling’ state they continuously live in and from.

It is interesting how self-evident things seem to the ‘natural human.’ They seemingly find it hard to imagine a world that gets beyond their immediate sense experience, as if they can’t imagine it, it can’t be real; as if, they can’t see it, it must be the stuff of religion and fairy-tales. The Christian apologist might think they could somehow reason their way past this sort of non-feeling mode ingrained in the pagan esse; but the problem is deeper than that. Reasons can be given, I mean they’re there, but without the Holy Spirit the pagan can’t call Jesus, Lord. It can become frustrating for the Christian to be continuously confronted with the world of unbelief, but it isn’t as if the biblical reality in Christ doesn’t have explanatory for this. If the pagan had spiritual lights in themselves, then the Dominical teaching, and the biblical reality revealed in the cross of Christ would be proven false. This is ironic; the unbelief of the pagan actually proves, or at least, illustrates what they are denying. If they could affirm on their capaciousness what they deem foolish and weak (the cross of Christ), then what need would there have been for the cross of Christ? The via of the pagan is the Gnostic way. The Gnostic way attempts to elide the need for the Gospel by self-asserting its own abilities to generate lights where there seemingly is only darkness. In other words, the pagan way, like the Gnostic way, believes it can generate its own ‘salvation’ by self-assertion of its own intellectual prowess and reason. This takes manifest forms: for the slack, it simply looks like the person who lives in an unexamined garden variegated pagan mode of existence; for the motivated, it looks like the various philosophies and religions of the world. The conclusion is the same; there is overconfidence in what the self-possessed self can accomplish.

Interestingly all of this plays into the macro-narration of Genesis 3, and the Serpent’s lie to Eve about being able to be like God. That’s where this ‘past feeling’ mode that Paul refers to originated. The word of the Serpent has never left his kingdom of darkness, but his word was neither the first nor the last! God’s Word, the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the Word that has invaded our ‘ordinary’ time, and in Jesus’s Yes for us, He has reestablished and elevated the created order to the recreated order that God has always already intended in the Lamb of God even before the foundations of the world. The word of the Serpent has been destroyed by the Word of God, just as the head of the Serpent has been crushed by the heal of the Son of Man.

I continue to pray for people I encounter on a daily basis. I think it is God’s grace that He is allowing me to be surprised—once again—by the ‘past feeling’ mode pagans inhabit. It stirs me up, and motivates me to want to bear witness to the reality of God’s life in Christ that much more. It makes me realize that I might be the only face of Christ these pagans might see, and in that I have a great stewardship; if not a great reward. What I am impressed with more and more in our increasingly pluralist world, inhabited by what Charles Taylor calls ‘buffered selves,’ is that people aren’t progressing or elevating toward a genuinely greater spiritual “consciousness.” Instead, people are digressing further into the abyss of the inner-self that is indeed ‘past feeling.’ I’m afraid people, though, mistake technological and scientific progress with spiritual and moral progress; i.e. that the human species must have an innate evolutionary spirit that is ultimately able to transcend its own present status and reach into the heavenlies through the advancement of material processes (cf. Gen. 11). Ironically, if anything, humanity in the main is worshipping the creation rather than the Creator (cf. Rom. 1); they are worshipping the ratio and creativity that ought to be bearing witness to the imago Dei that Jesus is for them in their stead. They have misplaced their own faces for the Face of Christ, not recognizing that the Christ has already taken their faces as His own, and given them new faces to the point that they could now resemble His. Kyrie eleison.

Feeling the Weight of Secular Emptiness: A Self-Generated ‘Fullness’ Apart from the Pleroma of God in Jesus Christ

I just started Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, which I’ve wanted to read for quite some time. Just as I’m splashing in he, expectedly, offers insight, and provides some grammar I’ve held in unarticulated form—or at least unarticulated relative to the way that Taylor articulates it—in regard to the ‘secular’ or ‘unbelieving’ via. Increasingly (and I’m 44) I have felt the creep of secularization growing in exponential ways over these past two decades. What has disillusioned me most is not that this creep has been happening in the ‘world’—that’s bad enough!—but that the evangelical churches themselves have been participants and even engineers of this sort of so called ‘secular’ creep.

In the following, Taylor describes the way the ‘unbeliever’ or the ‘secular’ attempts to generate meaning. He refers to a ‘fullness,’ which would be in reference to an extra nos or transcendent basis upon which (primarily) the believer finds meaning for life. He also introduces other terms, but I’ll let him do that, and then respond after the fact.

For modern unbelievers, the predicament is quite different. The power to reach fullness is within. There are different variations of this. One is that which centres on our nature as rational beings. The Kantian variant is the most upfront form of this. We have the power as rational agency to make the laws by which we live. This is something so greatly superior to the force of mere nature in us, in the form of desire, that when we contemplate it without distortion, we cannot but feel reverence (Achtung) for this power. The place of fullness is where we manage finally to give this power full reign, and so to live by it. We have a feeling of receptivity, when with our full sense of our own fragility and pathos as desiring beings, we look up to the power of law-giving with admiration and awe. But this doesn’t in the end mean that there is any reception from outside; the power is within; and the more we realize this power, the more we become aware that it is within, that morality must be autonomous and not heteronomous. (Later a Feuerbachian theory of alienation can be added to this: we project God because of our early sense of this awesome power which we mistakenly place outside us; we need to re-appropriate it for human beings. But Kant didn’t take this step.)

Of course, there are also lots of more naturalistic variants of the power of reason, which depart from the dualistic, religious dimensions of Kant’s though, his belief in radical freedom of the moral agent, immortality, God—the three postulates of practical reason. There may be a more rigorous naturalism, which accords little room for manoeuvre for human reason, driven on one side by instinct, and on the other hemmed in by the exigencies of survival. There may be no explanation offered of why we have this power. It may consist largely in instrumental uses of reason, there again unlike Kant. But within this kind of naturalism, we often find an admiration for the power of cool, disengaged reason, capable of contemplating the world and human life without illusion, and of acting lucidly for the best in the interest of human flourishing. A certain awe still surrounds reason as a critical power, capable of liberating us from illusion and blind forces of instinct, as well as the phantasies bred of our fear and narrowness and pusillanimity. The nearest thing to fullness lies in this power of reason, and it is entirely ours, developed if it is through our own, often heroic action. (And here the giants of modern “scientific” reason are often named: Copernicus, Darwin, Freud.)

Indeed, this sense of ourselves as beings both frail and courageous, capable of facing a meaningless, hostile universe without faintness of heart, and of rising to the challenge of devising our own rules of life, can be an inspiring one, as we see in the writings of a Camus for instance. Rising fully to this challenge, empowered by this sense of our own greatness in doing so, this condition we aspire to but only rarely, if ever, achieve, can function as its own place of fullness, in the sense of my discussion here.[1]

I live in such a world; I don’t know about you! I hold my ‘faith’ dear to my heart, and attempt to bear witness to the reality therein; but the world, the big world seems to bustle along, typically unbeknownst to its own intellectual antecedents and informants, in such a way that the scandal of the particular in the cross of Jesus Christ doesn’t even seem foolish anymore—it seemingly seems as if it is just one of many a religious symbols on tap for the taking (or not!)

I think what stands out most to me, in regard to Taylor’s thinking, is the idea of a self-generated fullness; I take this to be the greatest hallmark of secularity. As James Sire noted, as he described existentialism as a philosophy of life, it is the idea of ‘existence preceding essence.’ I think it is important to dwell here; to feel the nihilist weight of it all; to allow the abyss-nature of the secular mind to press in and pierce our ‘holy Christian’ hearts. Often, at least in my experience, it isn’t until I feel the weight and fallout of deep existential angst, that I find myself in a posture of crying out ‘my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,’ in echo of the Savior’s cry. Often it isn’t until the dereliction and emptiness of darkness seems to overcome us, that the desire for God’s Bright Light in Christ to come issues in maximal force.

What Taylor describes describes almost every single person I encounter ‘out there’ in the big world. There is a sense of loss, and yet a determination to construct personal meaning, that dominates the human landscape. I mean, as Christians we know this simply as a heart in bondage to its sinful appetites and affections; a heart dead-set on being like God knowing good and evil. Even though we know this, narrativally-canonically as Christians, the emptiness, and its deleterious outcome is all around us. We should feel its weight; if only so we might have compassion, and then also gratitude for the great gulf that has been recreated by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 8-9.

The No-God of Jordan Peterson: And the Conservative Evangelical’s Love Affair with Power in the Public Square

Credit: ZachDrawThings

Jordan Peterson, that lightning bolt of a character these days, even for many Christians, just recently tweeted the following on his Twitter account:

God is the mode of being you value the most as demonstrated or manifested in your presumption, perception and action. –Jordan Peterson, June 25th 9:13 pm (Twitter)

In some of my reading I’m doing on Barth’s theology (actually some rereading in this case) I came across the following quote from Harvard theologian, Gordon Kaufman:

The concept “God” arises formally as ground and limit of the concept of “world,” and materially it arises out of the richness of human experience: for example, the experience of creativity, but also that of need and desire. God must be the ultimate reference point for human cultural and moral concerns. The two functions of the concept of “God” thus are the relativizing and the humanizing of the world. Since the concept “God” is not a report on information, and since the concepts that theology scrutinizes are employed to help us solve problems of meaningful moral and cultural living, theology is a practical rather than a theoretical discipline.[1]

As McCormack notes “The influence of Immanuel Kant on Kaufman’s perspective should be clear.”[2]

I couldn’t help but see some similarity between what Peterson recently tweeted and the ethos distilled in the Kaufman quote. For both God is a human projection, something immanent within the processes of the world ‘spirit’ and experience. Which makes one wonder, in some ways, why so many conservative evangelical Christians have become fan boys of Peterson; there seems to be dissonance between what conservatives creedally confess, as Christians, and who they pragmatically affirm in the greater struggle of the culture wars. There seems to be this sense that Peterson represents conservative evangelical values, and as such is worthy of carrying the torch that burns all progressive and liberal opponents at the stake of all that is unworthy in the realm of ideas in the public square.

Yet, ironically, it strikes me as odd, at least, that the poster-boy for conservatives is, in regard to his thinking on God, as progressive and ‘turned-to-the-subject’ as the Progressive and Liberal theologians are; as Kaufman helps to illustrate. Sooner or later Peterson’s commitments, on no-God, will come back to bite the very conservatives who are currently giving him platform and voice.

 

[1] Gordon Kaufman, “Essay on Theological Method,” in Hans Frei, “Types of Christian Theology,” cited by Bruce L. McCormack, Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 117.

[2] Ibid., 117.

A Summary of the Issues at the Border by Immigration Lawyer, Scott Hicks: ‘The love of many will grow cold.’

I wanted to share a summary of what is taking place at the southern border. This is the best I have read after reading countless news stories from all the various “sides.” The following is written by an immigration lawyer who is also a Christian pastor, his name is Scott Hicks. He cuts through all the identity politics and identifies what in fact has taken place, and in light of that what indeed is taking place; things have changed. People can continue to dig their heels in, but what Hicks outlines for us, unless you’re an immigration lawyer who can counter, is definitive. He writes:

The Border and the Kids

I wish there was a one or two line explanation of what is going on. But the situation is complex because there are multiple layers and laws involved. Here is my attempt to simplify it enough to be understandable and be accurate.

A number of people are saying, this is an old law. They are correct to a point. Kids simply are not put in jail with their parents when the parent is taken into custody on a criminal charge. The old law point is also correct that crossing the border illegally is a criminal offense and has been on the books for ever. But the history of that law is important for this discussion. For first time offenders, the offense is a misdemeanor. It is only a felony if the person had been caught before or had been deported. Traditionally, the US Attorneys only went after felony charges, and even that was not a large number overall. It made no sense to clog the Federal District Courts with misdemeanors. Everybody understood that was a waste of time and resources.

The current administration though has adopted a zero tolerance policy and the AG has mandated that the US Attorneys prosecute every single misdemeanor case. That IS new. It also means that when these people are placed into custody their children are taken away (see above). The judges see the ridiculousness of this and are sentencing to time served in mass trials. So the criminal aspect is really accomplishing nothing.

Now, it must be pointed out that these people charged with crimes are still allowed to apply for asylum. But they will do so without their children and the children are on a separate track with their own immigration case, even though the case often needs the parent’s information and corroboration, or the parent is the one with the real claim and the child would be a derivative claim.

So, criminal wise, we are just chewing up resources. But that is not the point for the administration. They are using the criminal law to accomplish an immigration purpose. They want to scare people away from even coming. And that is where it truly gets insidious. Because in so doing, we are deliberately trying to scare people away who are trying to flee persecution and seek refuge here. (Of course some are coming just for economic opportunity,) but for many of the Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans, they have been threatened with terrible violence and are fleeing for their lives or the lives of their children. Our laws state that these people have the right to apply for asylum if they are on US soil or if they present themselves at a POE and ask for asylum. But we are routinely turning people away at the border and telling them they can not apply because we are too busy and full. So these desperate people who try to legally present will then often find another way in. There are numerous instances of people crossing over and then looking for a BP agent to turn themselves in to. Before, such people would just apply for asylum. Now they are criminally charged. And the kids taken away.

Not only that, but these people are now being told, if they will just take an order of removal (deportation) they can get their kids back within a day or so, but if they insist on applying for asylum they will be separated from their children for the duration of the proceedings and really, for an unknown time.

All of this is arguably “within the law,” but it clearly is a violation of the spirit if not letter of our asylum laws.

One final note – Obama’s administration also detained asylum seekers, but did so as a family, often for years, in what immigration lawyers referred to as “baby jails.” Also, you may have heard of the Flores Settlement- this applies to unaccompanied minors. So, if a child is without a parent, they can only be detained for a short time. The problem is that the administration is using Flores as a weapon. By criminally charging the parents, they can not keep the child with them. The administration then declares that the child is an unaccompanied minor. It is important to note also that the lawyer who was the lead litigator on the Flores case has come out and said all of this is clearly a violation of the agreement.

Hope this helps.

As always, feel free to share, but do so politely.

I appeal to you conservative Christian and progressive Christian don’t take your eye off of what matters in the midst of this whole scenario. Are there people who have been and are currently abusing the system? Yes. But you don’t punish the masses for the minority (the abusers in this case); more importantly you don’t punish children and their families for seeking a better life for themselves. You say: ‘well, they need to do so through legal means.’ Oh really? You say: ‘if they want asylum they need to do the proper paperwork or come to the border and properly request that.’ Oh really? You don’t think many of these people haven’t attempted to do it ‘legally’; you don’t think many of them don’t even have the proper resources to actually do the paperwork (education, access to transportation, access to communication, access to their local government officials etc.)? Or you don’t think that people haven’t come to the border and requested asylum that way only to be turned away (as Hicks underscores for us)?

Jesus said that in the end ‘the love of many will grow cold.’ He was right.

 

Reflection on the Happenings at the Southern Border

If you aren’t friends with me on Facebook or Twitter then you will have missed all of my posts about the current crisis unfolding at our southern border. It’s not that this is a new crisis; it’s that it is now a crisis that we have all become aware of—the political reasons are non-consequential. I see many ‘conservatives’ taking the position that this is about keeping the law; illustrated by the Attorney General, Jeff Session’s appeal to Romans 13. But there is a greater law; as Christians we are committed to the principled reality of the sanctity of human life. Some people (almost always ‘conservatives’) are attempting to make the erroneous argument that it is the immigrant parents themselves who should be held at fault because they are the ones breaking the law and putting themselves and their children into this scenario. How non-starting can an argument get?! This is circular reasoning of the first order. Or others have been citing statistics making it seem as if the United States has a very liberal immigration policy already. Seriously?! Even if a million Mexican and South/Central Americans are legally admitted into the US each year, on ratio, how does this relate to the multi-millions more that require admittance as well? This isn’t about identity politics, this is about the children who are without a doubt being separated from their parents; it is about children who are being taken from their parents with the potential of never seeing their parents again. People say vote; I say rubbish! Voting and legislation takes years and years; the situation is way more urgent than that! The primary thing is to keep families together. To label these kids’ parents as “criminals” because they are coming to America seeking a better life for their kids and themselves is utterly absurd. This idea that we must wait until immigration law can be modified or changed is utterly absurd! Do you realize how long that takes? Don’t you think that people have been attempting for reforms like this for years? Where has that gotten us?! It has gotten us to where we are currently. Is this just a Trump issue? No. This was going on under Obama as well. So what! Again, this is not about that, this is about the people caught in the middle. Why do you think people feel compelled to leave their countries of origin to begin with? Do you feel compelled to do that as a United States citizen? So there is obviously a reason why people from south of the border are fleeing here by the masses. Maybe it is because they live in the slums and ghettos; maybe it is because they live in the middle of drug cartels and the wars and blood baths they cause innocent people to live in the midst of; maybe it is because these people’s governments are so filthy corrupt that they will not and cannot take care of their own people. In this case why aren’t these people who are indeed fleeing counted immediately as political refugees and granted political asylum the moment they are able to cross into the ‘homeland?’

But we are Christians. We are followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is our Lord; he is the LORD. We are of a people group that transcends national identities, political associations, and whose citizenry is in the heavenlies with Jesus Christ. We are a people group that is for all human beings, and we thus bear witness to them of that invading reality that is grounded in the Kingdom to come and that has come in Jesus Christ. Our principled reality in Jesus Christ, and in his vicarious humanity, does not concern itself with what might happen to us; we commit ourselves into the hands of the Father. But when we have been given much much is required; when we have an abundance out of that abundance we are to share until we are in need ourselves. This is the way of the Christian. So we don’t ultimately fall back on an ethic that requires us to sustain a sense of national self-preservation or security, instead we push into the reality that all of human life is sacrosanct; precisely because God’s life for us in Jesus Christ is sacrosanct. When I see Christians pushing their heals into the idea that we live in a ‘land of law and order,’ and then see how they are callously using that to dehumanize the situation we are currently presented with at the southern border; I wonder who they think is the ultimate source of the very law and order they pretend to be in submission to. It is as if Nebuchadnezzar has constructed a great golden idol and demands that his citizens bow down to it; as if Christians in such a citizenry have failed to recognize that we are citizens of another Kingdom that has already come and is coming like a great Stone crushing not only Nebuchadnezzar’s idol but all such idols in the world. Unless the Christian has forgotten, we aren’t our own, we have been bought with a price; and the price is the blood of Jesus Christ. If nothing else this precise moment in American history has revealed just how complicit and how conflated the ‘conservative’ Christian identity has become with an outright nationalism rather than with the Kingdom of Christ that stands against such heinous evils. Such Christians cannot consistently repudiate the evil of abortion and at the same time, at best, remain indifferent to the plight of these children and families in the name of ‘law and order.’ I’m sorry (but not sorry), the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is always already an apocalyptic reality; one that in-breaks upon our own kingdoms of self-projected feelings of safety and security and contradicts them. Wanting to feel safe and secure is not an evil—that is the very reality these migrant families are seeking—but it is an evil when an ‘elect’ group of people who have a sense of that in their own country will not extend that offering out to others who seemingly are the reprobate of this world. God damn such evil!

Beyond the Culture Wars: Christian Theology and the Hard Sciences in Communicatio

We live in a period of history wherein scientism—the belief that modern scientific progression still has the inchoate capacity to unlock the mysteries of the universe one observation at a time/the belief that science has become the new magisteria, the new authority and foundation upon which human knowledge and progress will flourish—by and large underwrites the confidence of our age; the confidence in the indomitable human spirit to overcome and meta-narrativalize reality (although postmodernity seeks to deconstruct most of that mentality; nevertheless, it is still present, I would contend, in society at large). That said, I wanted to share a word from Thomas F Torrance on how he sees the relationship between the ‘hard’ sciences and Christian theology; it is rather illuminating relative to how the culture wars so often paint things in stark and competitive terms. Torrance writes:

It is towards the encouragement of that kind of dialogue that this book is offered, in the hope that it may help people who are interested in natural science as well as those interested in Christian theology. What is intended here is not that theology should take into its material content ideas that derive from natural scientific knowledge of the universe, any more than natural science should incorporate into its developing stock of ideas distinctly theological conceptions. That would be both unscientific and untheological, and could only bring theology and science into useless conflict with one another. What is envisaged here is an exercise in conjoint thinking where theological science and natural science have common ground with the rationalities and objectivities of the created order but where they each pursue a difference objective. So far as theology is concerned, the claim is advanced that theology cannot be pursued in any proper and rigorous way in detachment from the determinate framework of the spatio-temporal universe with which God addresses his Word to us and calls us to know and love and serve him. It is, I believe, indifference to that framework of objective rationality, or the isolation of theology from natural science, that lies behind the sense of lostness and bewilderment, as well as the sloppiness and ambiguity of thought, so often manifest in contemporary theological literature. On the other hand, it is through that framework seriously that we are enabled to hear the Word of God in such an objective way that we do not confuse it with the creaturely things we tell ourselves about one another and are tempted to project into God. It is through deep-going dialogue with science and submission of our own theological conceptions to the critical questions it addresses to us that we are helped to purge our minds of pseudo-theological as well as pseudo-scientific notions, and so are enabled to build up theological knowledge in a positive way on its own proper ground: God’s self-revelation and self-communication to us in the incarnation of his eternal Word in Jesus Christ.[1]

When you read Torrance, no matter what it is from him, you will always have this underlying sounding of the patristic voice therein. Even here we can get a sense of Torrance’s enjoyment of patristic thought on the logoi derivative of the Logos of God built into the fabric of intelligible reality (intelligible precisely because the order of the universe is contingent upon the living Word of God—creatio ex nihilo). And as is also typical with Torrance, no matter what he writes it will always be conditioned by his concentrated effort to see the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ as regulative of all things; that all reality has it teleology from and in the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ. Beyond that, and this is quite fruitful I think (in regard to opening vistas towards a protagonistic relationship between hard science and Christian theology), Torrance wants science and Christian theology to be framed in a harmonious dialogical combine; one which is not currently present for many a Christian and/or scientist. This book (from whence I take the quote), helps offer a way forward for thinking Christian theology and Science together; while at the same time honoring their proper distinctions relative to disciplinary realities and subject/object material.

[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Christian Theology&Scientific Culture (Belfast: Christian Journals Limited, 1980), 8-9.

What Hath Benedictine Monks to do with the Mammon of Capitalism?

I just started rereading a book we read in undergrad worldview class back in 1998; the book is the late Neil Postman’s Technopoly. He makes an interesting observation about the invention of the clock and capitalism/mammon. He is noting how there are unseen consequences to the development of technology that can be both good and bad; I like the way he interprets how the clock was turned into a bad as it was put into the service of worshiping Mammon rather than the living and Triune God (which was its original intent). He notes:

But such prejudices are not always apparent at the start of a technology’s journey, which is why no one can safely conspire to be a winner in technological change. Who would have imagined, for example, whose interests in and what world-view would be ultimately advanced by the invention of the mechanical clock? The clock had its origin in the Benedictine monasteries of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The impetus behind the invention was to provide a more or less precise regularity to the routines of the monasteries, which required, among other things, seven periods of devotion during the course of the day. The bells of the monastery were to be rung to signal the canonical hours; the mechanical clock was the technology that could provide precision to these rituals of devotion. And indeed it did. But what the monks did not forsee was that the clock is a means not merely of keeping track of the hours but also of synchronizing and controlling the actions of men. And thus, by the middle of the fourth century, the clock had moved outside the walls of the monastery, and brought a new and precise regularity to the life of the workman and the merchant. “The mechanical clock,” as Lewis Mumford wrote, “made possible the idea of regular production, regular working hours and a standardized product.” In short, without the clock, capitalism would have been quite impossible.” The paradox, the surprise, and the wonder are that the clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money. In the eternal struggle between God and Mammon, the clock quite unpredictably favored the latter.[1]

While this is noting a negative in regard to the mechanical clock, it doesn’t emphasize the various positives the clock has also brought. Nevertheless, I thought the juxtaposition was an interesting one, and one that we all live under the weight of in our daily lives for good or ill. It illustrates how a medium can be used for good or for bad; in this case the mechanical (now digital) clock served to help revolutionize society as a whole—in such a way that we couldn’t even imagine living in a world without one that is regulated by the Almighty Clock.

[1] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 14-15.

Chalcedonian Logic and the Diminished Christology of The Nashville Statement

When we separate the work of Jesus Christ from his person, or vice versa we will necessarily end up with not only a deflated expression of the Gospel, but also attendant with that, a weakened sense of ethics and holiness. It is the Chalcedonian logic to keep these two realities inseparably related—the person and work of Jesus Christ—while not failing to continually recognize that there is a distinction between the human and divine natures in the singular person of Jesus Christ. I just conflated two different things, but they too are related; I conflated a discussion about the two-natures/one person reality that Chalcedon sought to provide orthodox grammar for, with the idea that we should never separate the person and work and the work and person of Jesus Christ one from the other. The reason the conflation is present, I think, is by design. It’s the realization by the early church Fathers that any statement about God become man was one with deeply grounded soteriological impact. George Hunsinger, as he develops the Chalcedon logic, interacting with a pithy and elegant statement by George Herbert notes this:

“In Christ two natures met to be thy cure.” When George Herbert wrote these words, he captured the essence of Chalcedonian Christology, with all its strange complexity and simplicity, in a single elegant line. It is sometimes overlooked that the interest behind Chalcedonian Christology has always been largely soteriological. Herbert’s line, however, makes the point very well. It is the saving work of Christ—to be thy cure—which serves as the guiding intention behind the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s person, just as the definition of his person (following Herbert) — in Christ two natures met — serves as the crucial premise of Christ’s saving work. Change the definition of Christ’s person — make him less than fully God and fully human at the same time — and the saving cure Christ offers changes drastically as well. In other words, just as it makes no sense to have a high view of Christ’s person without an equally high view of his work, so a high view of Christ’s work — in particular, his saving death — cannot be sustained without a suitably high view of his person. The work presupposes the person just as the person conditions the work.[1]

Hunsinger in a following footnote comments further on the relationship between the person and work of Christ, and how, if diminished in any way, one from the other or vice versa, that diminishes one side of the equation or the other. Here, in particular, Hunsinger is offering elaboration in the last sentence we just read from him above:

This latter sentence, by the way, states a basic rule of all Christology, although as applied here it sheds light on a particular type, namely, the Chalcedonian. In any Christology, at least when internally coherent (which cannot always be presupposed), the person (p) and the work (w) of Christ mutually imply each other: if w, then p; and if p, then w. Insofar as modern Christology has typically abandoned a high view of Christ’s person, it has also abandoned the correspondingly high conception of Christ’s saving work that Chalcedonian Christology is meant to sustain. Only a high Christology can state without equivocation, for example, that Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). If Christ’s saving work consists in no more than his functioning as a spiritual teacher, a moral example, a symbol of religious experience, or even a unique bearer and transmitter of the Holy Spirit, a high or Chalcedonian view of Christ’s person is logically unnecessary. As modernist Christologies typically evidence (though not always forthrightly), such a saving figure need only be “fully human” without also being “fully God.”[2]

Application

This discussion can be taken in a variety of ways, but I want to take it towards ethics; I actually prefer a discussion on holiness, but ethics is a related loci (at least for the Christian). I simply want to state that: insofar as Christians talk about what it means to be holy before God, and more generally how that works out in a theory of ethics, that this should never be done in abstraction from the person of Jesus Christ. I think this is a symptom of a faulty theological endeavor; i.e. to somehow think the church  could ever talk about holiness without in the same breath tying that concretely into Christology. Without the person of Jesus Christ there is no work of salvation, and without the work of salvation there is no way for Christians to participate in and from the holiness of God; and without that participation there is no way to develop a Christian ethic.

I am really trying to get past the Nashville Statement, but I think this is another reason I really really dislike it so much. It actually reflects a way of thinking that thinks about things in abstraction from Jesus Christ. Thomas Torrance would say that this is because of what he calls the ‘Latin Heresy,’ or a dualistic way of conceiving of God’s person and work in Jesus Christ. I see a lack of the Chalcedonian pattern and logic funding evangelical statements like the Nashville Statement, and maybe this all flows from my years and years long critique of evangelical and classical Reformed theology in general; indeed, I’m sure it does flow from this.

To attempt to speak about being holy before God is not possible without first speaking about the person and work of God in Jesus Christ. The picture is too flat, and Christologically speaking, too adoptionistic when Christians attempt to make statements about being holy (no matter what that entails: i.e. human sexuality, race issues, age issues, socio-economic issues etc.). If we sever, even in our speech, the work of Christ from the person of Christ, on the Chalcedonian logic we inevitably diminish the person of Christ. It’s interesting that many of those, or at least some of the more prominent signers of the Nashville Statement endorse the heretical view of the eternal functional subordination (EFS) of the Son to the Father. I wonder if there is a tacit relationship between that, and the diminished Christology we see functioning in statements like the one from Nashville?

I clearly have more work to do in regard to tying many of the loose ends I’m leaving us with together, but such is a blog post. I am seriously going to make this the last post I write on the Nashville Statement.

 

[1] George Hunsinger,Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2000), 131.

[2] Ibid., 131-2 n.2.

*I stole the picture of the Chinese Jesus from Paul Metzger’s usage of it in his post.