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Last week I caught a snippet of a Ben Stein interview on R.C. Sproul’s radio program. Audio is up at Ligonier.org, but it turns out that video is available as well. Ben and R.C. cover a lot of ground fairly rapidly, and I don’t think anyone would be worse off for having listened. Here’s part one, with part 2 and part 3 also available.

It appears that the argument in Expelled falls more along theist/atheist lines generally and deals with academia specifically, but it’s not hard to see how understanding the particulars of that debate can be useful in our presentations of the Gospel of Christ. I really couldn’t tell you how long its been since I was in a movie theater, but Lord willing, I’ll spend the time an money to see this documentary.

***

Another video supportive of Expelled emerged on the internet this week as well, and it was really quite humorous to see the internet’s atheist crowd embrace it as supportive of their “side.” “BEST THING SINCE LIFE OF BRIAN!!!” exclaimed one, and “All the best teachers get this sort of treatment form each new generation of students” another confidently asserted.

But doubt slowly crept in, “Hmm, that Expelled logo does seem very prominent, and I think the lyrics go on too much about how clever he [Dawkins] is…What’s throwing me is how well made it is.” (Remember, they think that we creationists are “IDiots.”)

Eventually, a consensus decision was reached. Atheist were in fact the butt of this joke (something everyone else saw straight away). With pride damaged and vanity stained, all that was left to do was snap back with: “If your humor has to be explained to pretty bright people, you have failed. You have missed the target.”

From the Ministry of Science Propaganda (which is only the first clue):

“He’s smarter than you, he’s got a science degree!”

I once heard a sermon recording from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in which he chided the “intellectual atheist” who said that he could not believe that God exists “because he had this enormous brain.” Lloyd-Jones said that such a one might have a point, if it could be demonstrated that no one of equal or greater intelligence had ever accepted the proposition that God exists as true.

As I watched the banter about the above video unfold, a corrective saying from an old Drill Instructor kept jumping to the front of my mind; “Way to go Brainchild.”

History buffs – with cable/satellite – might like to know about a 7 part mini series on the life of John Adams currently showing on HBO. It’s based on David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning book John Adams, and produced by Tom Hanks who has filled a producer role on other compelling projects like “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Band of Brothers.”

It apparently started a week or two ago and the parts will air on Sunday evenings with re-runs during the week. I caught part one tonight and found it to be very much worth the hour and fifteen minutes spent staring at the “stupid-tube.” It centered around Adams’ role as defense attorney for the soldiers of the Boston Massacre and ended with him leaving for Philadelphia on a “plain horse.” It also left me eager to see the rest of the series, just as I was with “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Band of Brothers.”

The series is from HBO Films, so don’t expect a 1776 type song and dance. What you can expect is a well told story with periodic doses of harsh reality served up fairly raw. A scene from part one depicting a man tarred, feathered, and run out on a rail, while overdone, vividly displays the heart and mentality of the mob who would engage in such a practice. It might also bump up the viewing age threshold to somewhere north of 15 depending on the viewing youth in question. In any event, it’s reasonable to assume that more unsettling scenes will come in the series and to act accordingly.

That scene is not necessarily out of place or gratuitous as the practice, along with a few lynchings and general property destruction, were not uncommon for pre-Revolution mobs. It also serves as an exclamation point for the larger philosophical thrust of part one in this series, which is a juxtaposition of mob rule, the rule of man (personified in King George III), and the rule of law (where Adams stands).

A quick internet search turned up at least one review critical of Paul Giamatti’s performance as John Adams but I think he plays the role quite well. Adams was not dashing and charismatic like George Washington, nor amiable and witty like Benjamin Franklin. If Giamatti is over shadowed by other actors in a story that focuses on the character he plays, then the series will only reflect the reality that Adams was overshadowed by others during his life. He was short, fat, opinionated, stubborn and if you will, “obnoxious and disliked.” But he was highly regarded for his integrity. And it’s conceivable that without an Adams in the Continental Congress, there may have been no Declaration of Independence. It’s also conceivable that without an Adams as president, a young United States may have fallen apart due to engaging in an ill advised war with France. All of which makes John Adams a Founding Father worth knowing better.

The scheduled show times can be found at HBOFilms’ John Adams page.

Things that make me go “hmm”:

This post gives a good segue into a question that I’ve often wanted to ask: The Continental Congress orchestrated, and the Continental Army and militias engaged in armed, violent and bloody rebellion against their legitimate government. What should a Christian think of the American Revolution in light of Romans 13:1-7?

Lawful Pleasing of the Senses

In sum, all pleasing of the senses or flesh, which is lawful, must have these qualifications:

1. God’s glory must be the ultimate end.

2. The matter must be lawful and not forbidden.

3. Therefore, it must not be to the hindrance of duty.

4. Nor to the drawing of us to sin.

5. Nor to the hurt of our health.

6. Nor too highly valued, nor too dearly bought.

7. The measure must be moderate rate. Where any of these are wanting, it is sin: and where flesh-pleasing is habitually in the bent of heart and life preferred before the pleasing of God, it proves the soul in captivity to the flesh, and in a damnable condition.

Ten Marks of a Flesh-Pleaser

The signs of a flesh-pleaser or sensualist are these:

1. When a man in desire to please his appetite, referreth it not (actually or habitually) to a higher end, viz. the fitting himself to the service of God; but sticketh only in the delight.

2. When he looks more desirously and industriously after the prosperity of his body than of his soul.

3. When he will not part with or forbear his pleasures, when God forbiddeth them, or when they hurt his soul, or when the necessities of his soul do call him more loudly another way, but he must have his delight whatever it cost him, and is so set upon it, that he cannot deny it to himself.

4. When the pleasures of his flesh exceed his delights in God, and his holy word and ways, and the forethoughts of endless pleasure; and this not only in the passion, but in the estimation, choice, and prosecution. When he had rather be at play, or feast, or gaming, or getting good bargains or profits in the world, than to live in the life of faith, and love, a holy and heavenly conversation.

5. When men set their minds to contrive and study to make provision for the pleasures of the flesh; and this is first and sweetest in their thoughts.

6. When they had rather talk, or hear, or read of fleshly pleasures, than of spiritual and heavenly delights.

7. When they love the company of merry sensualists, better than the communion of saints, in which they may be exercised in the praises of their Maker.

8. When they account that the best calling, and condition and place for them to live in, where they have the pleasure of the flesh, where they have ease, and fare well, and want nothing for the body, rather than that where they have far better help and provision for the soul, though the flesh be pinched for it.

9. When he will be at more cost to please his flesh than to please God.

10. When he will believe or like no doctrine but libertinism, and hateth mortification as too strict preciseness. By these, and such other signs, sensuality may easily be known; yea, by the main bent of the life.

More from Baxter’s The Sinfulness of Flesh-Pleasing here.

Waxing Political

Thursday night I did something that I haven’t done in about four years, I paid attention to politics. Specifically, the Republican portion of the Hawkeye Cauci. I haven’t seen a breakdown of the results the way I would prefer (a distribution that shows relative strength throughout the state), so I offer one below which can be verified here.
Statewide:
  1. Huckabee – 40,246 – 34.46%
  2. Romney – 29,674 – 25.41%
  3. Thompson – 15,726 – 13.46%
  4. McCain – 15,383 – 13.17%
  5. Paul – 11,726 – 10.04%
  6. Giuliani – 4,039 – 3.46%
Number of first place county finishes per candidate (99 counties in Iowa):
  1. Huckabee – 74
  2. Romney – 24
  3. Paul – 1
Number of second place county finishes per candidate:
  1. Romney – 54
  2. Huckabee – 25
  3. Thompson – 10
  4. McCain – 6
  5. Paul – 4
Number of Third place county finishes per candidate:
  1. Thompson – 49
  2. Romney – 19
  3. McCain – 19
  4. Paul – 11
  5. Huckabee – 1

While I happen to believe that the eventual Democrat Nominee will win the general election, I have no interest in following (news wise), or supporting any Democrat for president. In addition to their general support for government intervention into and control over nearly every sphere of life, and a general call to “Give Class Warfare a Chance“, the Democrat party is first and foremost the pro-infanticide party. So I’m not a Democrat. Now, not all Democrats are pro-abortion, and not all Republicans are anti-abortion, but no Democrat can win that party’s presidential nomination without being pro-abortion. If you haven’t heard it come up among Democrats on the campaign trail, that’s because the vocabulary has changed. It’s no longer “I will protect a woman’s right to choose“, it’s “I will protect privacy.” Privacy is the penumbra from which the Supreme Cort pulled it’s decision in Roe vs Wade. Listen to Democrat usage of the word and see if I’m not correct.

But I’m no Republican either, though I once was. I’m a political libertarian (note the small “l”), and if you know what that means then you probably have a good idea why a daily dose of politics doesn’t interest me, and also why the current Republican primaries do. Now, there’s a lot of weirdness in the Libertarian movement and I’m not going to pretend otherwise (I would count the predominance of open theism among Christian libertarians here), but it’s not all tomfoolery. While some may disagree with me, I would say that libertarianism is nothing more than classical liberalism. The type of liberalism espoused by men like Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, and Ludwig von Mises. And if those names don’t ring a bell, then I would name men like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

The move over to the libertarian portion of the political spectrum was a slow one for me. I was a hard core “conservative” which, like many who would describe themselves as such, means that I rooted for and defended the guy or gal with the big “R” after their name no mater what. But in doing so, I began to see that my principles were being bent, broken or abandoned in order to continue routing for the big “R”. I also began to see that both liberals and conservatives had a common fear, that one side would gain power and enact laws and policies the other side considered a violation of freedom. And both sides had a common goal, which was to do precisely that! So the question of the proper scope of government power under our Constitution became an important question to me. I was won over to the Austrian School of economic thought about the same time I reached the conclusion that much of what the Federal government does today lacks Constitutional authority, and that much political bickering could be avoided all the way around if our government would simply abide by the limits set out in its Constitution. And so I found myself out of step with the conservative movement and walking into the libertarian camp.

There are many dead advocates of liberty that one could read to get a grasp of libertarian thought (I’ve mentioned some already), but I would like to point out three living advocates that had a great deal of influence on me. Two are economists, which shouldn’t surprise any one, especially if you can agree with the following:

The idea that political freedom can be preserved in the absence of economic freedom, and vice versa, is an illusion. Political freedom is the corollary of economic freedom.
~ Ludwig von Mises, Planing for Freedom

Dr. Thomas Sowell

I believe in libertarian principles but not libertarian fetishes. In any context, the difference between principles and fetishes can be the difference between night and day.

Now that Congress has violated the First Amendment by restricting free speech with “campaign finance reform” laws, in the name of getting the influence of money out of politics, have you noticed any less influence of money in politics?

Before we panic about “global warming,” we should take a look at six-day weather forecasts and see how much they change during those six days — quite aside from how much they differ from what the weather actually turns out to be.

Dr. Sowell can either be considered ultra conservative or libertarian light, depending on your point of view. He is an economics professor, author, columnist, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, and fellow Marine (Semper Fi). His columns are available at Townhall.com, and I particularly enjoy his “Random Thoughts.”

Dr. Walter Williams

My personal preference is a constitutional amendment limiting federal spending to a fixed percentage, say 10 percent of the GDP. You say, “Williams, why 10 percent?” My answer is that if 10 percent is good enough for the Baptist Church, it ought to be good enough for the U.S. Congress.

“I don’t fell no ways tired. I come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy. I don’t believe He brought me this far,” drawled presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton, mimicking black voice to a black audience, at the the First Baptist Church of Selma, Alabama. I’m wondering if Mrs. Clinton visits an Indian reservation she might cozy up to them saying, “How! Me not tired. Me come heap long way. Road mighty rough. Sky Spirit no bring me this far.” Or, seeking the Asian vote she might say, “I no wry tired. Come too far I started flum. Road berry clooked. Number one Dragon King take me far.”

The first thing that struck me about Dr. Williams was his sense of humor. He has a way of using it to confront foolishness that typically throws the foolish off balance. Think of it as shock and aah! Stun the target, then gently walk them through a thought process until they say “Aah! I get it!” Examples of the shock part would include his Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent, or the time a feminist colleague referred to him as “chairperson,” to which he responded that it was perfectly acceptable address him as chairman. And if there were any doubt, he could provide “unambiguous evidence” that he was, in fact, a man.

Not everyone can pull off such stunts, and I recommend that most refrain from trying, but it’s the “aah” part where Dr. Williams acquits himself. I know of no other commentator who is able to say so much, with such sound logic, in so short a space. You can find his web page at George Mason University and his column archive is available at Townhall.

Congressman Ron Paul (so that’s where this was going…)

The neo-cons claim surrender should not be an option. In the same breath they claim we were attacked because of of or freedoms. Why then, are thy so anxious to surrender our freedoms with legislation like the Patriot Act, a repeal of our 4th amendment rights, executive orders, and presidential signing statements? With politicians like these, who needs terrorists? Do they think if we destroy our freedoms for the terrorists they will no longer have a reason to attack us?

[The] money we owe to our seniors is not even included in official budget deficit figures. In fiscal year 2006 alone, $185 billion was borrowed from Social Security. The official deficit was reported to be $248 billion. The actual deficit for 2006 would be $433 billion when combining the two. This sort of accounting would land private sector executives in prison for fraud.

Let’s be perfectly clear: the federal government has no business regulating speech in any way. Furthermore, government as an institution is particularly ill suited to combating bigotry in our society. Bigotry at its essence is a sin of the heart, and we can’t change people’s hearts by passing more laws and regulations.

The right of an innocent, unborn child to life is at the heart of the American ideals of liberty. My professional and legislative record demonstrates my strong commitment to this pro-life principle.

Today we are the strongest economy in the world, and have much to be proud of, but Congress doesn’t seem to understand that we did not tax our way here.

I’ve been reading Ron Paul for years, going back to my time as a conservative, so you now understand my interest in the current Republican primaries. I’m under no delusions about Paul’s chances of winning either the Republican nomination or the general election. I realize that his (and my) concept of political and economic liberty is a foreign concept the average modern American, whither liberal or conservative. And I realize that, after 9/11, the average conservative would rather gnaw their right arm off than adopt a foreign policy that resembled that of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. But Ron Paul is the only candidate with a consistent record of defending life and liberty, and the only candidate from the two major parties that I can support. So I would encourage all interested parties to consider his positions on the issues, and perhaps peruse his speeches and Texas Straight Talk and consider if he 1) makes sense, and 2) reflects your beliefs and your concerns. He’s about the only politician who makes sense to me, and defiantly reflects my beliefs and concerns.

Building Bridges Conference

My reading appetite has gone woefully underfed this semester. I haven’t had time for much of anything that isn’t labeled multivariable calculus, physics, or engineering statics. But a steady stream of thought provoking and edifying audio has helped offset the lack of reading. This weekend, as I try to overcome a small mountain of homework, I’m enjoying the audio from the Building Bridges conference put on by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries.

I’ve only heard about 40% of the audio thus far, and with one exception, I’ve found it both challenging and edifying. And from the brief blog reviews that I’ve skimmed over, the rest of the conference looks like it will follow suit.

About that one exception. I have a few bones to pick with Malcolm Yarnell’s presentation. But let me preface them by stating the obvious. Dr. Yarnell is an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Assistant Dean for Theology Studies, Director of the Oxford Study Program, and Director of the Center for Theological Research. I’m a tall, skinny nobody. Dr. Yarnell is my elder brother in the Faith. I’m just a babe in Christ. Dr. Yarnell stood before an audience that, I assume, was largely comprised of individuals who would have substantial theological differences with him and delivered a passionate message. I’m sitting on my duff in front of a computer. Believe me, the magnitude of the differences here are not lost on me. And it’s entirely possible that my beefs with Dr. Yarnell’s presentation are simply due to the fact that he had a lot to say and a limited amount of time to say it. Clarity is often lost in such situations. Nevertheless, a few shortcomings in his presentation need to be pointed out.

The first is the use of the stick labeled “Calvin Burned Servetus”. It’s the same stick that atheists use against Protestants when they tire of swinging the stick labeled “Spanish Inquisition” against Catholics. The historical record is clear enough for those who can approach it without looking for a club to swing. Calvin warned Servetus through an intermediary that he could not guarantee Servetus’ safety if he came to Geneva. Yet, Servetus came anyway. Calvin sought advice from several churches throughout Europe after Servetus’ imprisonment. All responded alike – let Servetus burn; and he had already been condemned to death by the Catholics. Calvin pleaded with the city counsel that Servetus’ death be by some other means than burning. But proving that Calvin was not “Geneva’s Dictator”, the counsel did not listen to him.

Calvin was only granted bourgeois status at Geneva in his old age; he never became a citizen of the city. He could not stand for office and, until Dec. 1559, could not even vote in the city elections; nor did he have privileged access to, or direct influence over, the city council at any point during his career.

Calvin could and did urge, cajole and plead; he could not, however, command.

~ Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (p.109, 125)

Now that Dr. Yarnell has used the “Calvin Burned Servetus” stick, atheists will forever be able to point to a conservative Southern Baptist’s use of it to justify their own (trust me, it won’t matter to these people that Dr. Yarnell didn’t say the words “Calvin Burned Servetus”). And even more lamentable is the “guilt by association” implicit in Dr. Yarnell’s usage. The tactic is as identifiable as it is reprehensible. Sully a view of soteriology that, by convention, bears the name of an ancillary character to a horrific historical event by pointing out the proximity of said character to said event. All this when the event in question sheds no light on the soteriological view in question whatsoever.

My second beef is more of a lead in to the third, but common in the Calvinist/Non-Calvinist SBC debate. I agree that it is helpful to define terms in a debate. But I found Dr. Yarnell’s definitions to be very unhelpful. The gist of his definition of Classical (sometimes Dortian) Calvinism seemed to be — a five pointer + something else. But what that something else was I cannot say as Dr. Yarnell wasn’t very clear. Is it holding to one degree or other the Regulative Principal of Worship? Holding a particular view of eschatology? Or do we have to jump all the way to paedobaptism to define the Dread Classical (or Dortian) Calvinist? This becomes important later.

Regarding Dr. Yarnell’s definition of a Calvinist Baptist, it seemed that he defined it as — a four (or less) pointer. He didn’t say that, but that’s what I took from this section of his message. This also becomes important later.

Dr. Yarnell did very little as far as defining Hyper-Calvinism, but a litmus test was offered. If you have theological problems with the “Sacrament of the Invitation” (my term), according to Dr. Yarnell, your a Hyper-Calvinist. It’s too bad, because a workable definition that anyone can understand isn’t really hard to come up with. Namely, Hyper-Calvinism is rooted in the belief that man’s inability negates man’s responsibility. It’s a 180 degree turn from the Arminian belief that man’s responsibility negates God’s Sovereignty. And both Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism are 90 degrees out of phase with the truth that man is responsible and God is Sovereign.

Finally, the third bone of contention. Based on the definitions given by Dr. Yarnell, when he says that Classical (or Dortian) Calvinist are unwelcome in the SBC, I hear “5-pointers are unwelcome in the SBC.” And I have a feeling that I’m not the only one. I may well be wrong, but cannot conclude that I am wrong based on anything Dr. Yarnell said. And here’s what I’m getting at; if it’s true that Calvinism is indeed on the rise in the SBC, and that near 30% of recent graduates from Southern Baptist Seminaries identify themselves as Calvinist, then putting out a sign reading “5-pointers are not welcome” is the functional equivalent of leaving unwanted children out to exposure. Some may well stay and endure the hostility but many may well be taken in joyfully by other denominations. It’s unreasonable to expect these graduates to stay where they are not wanted and then stand by and say that we are shocked – Shocked! – when these men, reared in Southern Baptist Churches and Seminaries, seek a home elsewhere. The same can be said about those of us sitting in Southern Baptist pews.

In closing I have to say that I’m glad Dr. Yarnell spoke at the conference. He could have very easily blown off the opportunity. But if bridges between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists are to be built within the SBC, then men like Dr. Yarnell are needed on the bridge building teams. Else, we’ll be building bridges to nowhere.

Speechless…

Being at a loss for words is more or less my standard state, but every now and then I’m left truly speechless. Consider this story about a woman who thinks having children is bad for the environment. On the one hand she can say:

Having children is selfish. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet.

And on the other she can say:

I’ve never doubted that I made the right decision. Ed and I married in September 2002, and have a much nicer lifestyle as a result of not having children.

We love walking and hiking, and we often go away for weekends.

Every year, we also take a nice holiday – we’ve just come back from South Africa.

But it’s all coming from a woman who can say this:

I didn’t like having a termination, but it would have been immoral to give birth to a child that I felt strongly would only be a burden to the world.

I’ve never felt a twinge of guilt about what I did, and have honestly never wondered what might have been.

Happy Birthday Marines

Resolved, That two battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors, and other officers as usual in other regiments; and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or inlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required; that they be inlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.
~ Journal of the Continental Congress, 10 November 1775

Semper Fi