Smartphones … It all began with the BlackBerry phone in 2003. Or perhaps with PDA devices earlier. But it with was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 (was it really only seven years ago?) that the smartphone began to evolve into what it has become today—mini computer powerhouses with hi-res screens and an explosion of features and capabilities.
Today, BlackBerry is all but extinct, and there are three major players on the smartphone scene: Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone, with the latter being a distant third in terms of popularity. iOS and Android systems have a very similar look and feel. Windows Phone, on the other hand, is something different. All these systems have many, many capabilities in common, so what do I think makes Windows Phone special?
Live Tiles and the Start Screen
Here are screen shots of the the iPhone 5 home screen, the Android Samsung Galaxy 4S home screen, and a screen shot of my very own Windows Phone’s start screen. The iPhone and the Android basically present you with static icons with which to launch you into various apps. It works fine, but the screen itself is rather uninteresting. Windows Phone, uses tiles instead of icons. These tiles are “live” with activity, receiving updated information and presenting that information before you ever have to open the app. The calender, weather, and to-do list apps are great examples of the usefulness of this function. It makes the start screen itself useful, in addition to being a launching point to get to the other useful stuff. It’s dynamic and beautiful. And in fact, the screen shot does not wholly communicate what sets the Start screen apart from the other two home screens because the Start screen is busy with motion–tiles changing, animating, or flipping around with relevant bits of data for you to see at a glance.
The second thing that’s special about Windows Phone is the ability to “pin” almost anything to the start screen. Obviously, you can “pin” or position app tiles on the start screen. But different apps will allow you to pin other things so you can get at them quickly and directly. It’s hard to describe this without showing it, but for example, OneDrive lets me pin a particular folder to my start screen. Spotify lets me pin a favorite playlist to the start screen. Maps lets me pin a particular destination, which is really nice. Facebook lets me pin a Facebook group. Several sports apps let me pin favorite teams to the start screen. My timer app lets me pin a particular preset timer. The weather app, cities. My YouTube app, videos. I could go and on. Basically, any app can allow you to pin elements within the app directly to start screen so you don’t have to dig for them in the app any more. You can go straight to them. It’s really cool.
Windows Phone still only represents a small percentage of all smartphone usage, and it has done better outside the U.S. than in its own home country. But that’s too bad, because Microsoft has built something unique here, with a fantastic user interface that is quick and dynamic and easy to navigate.
Apparently, some people think it’s improper for the government to impose moral standards on citizens. After all, whose moral standards would be imposed? Who would get to decide which standards everyone else should live by? And would this be fair? Because not everyone individually adheres to or believes in the same set of ethical rights and wrongs, how can the government of a society that is supposed to respect individual rights and liberty choose a particular set of moral standards and demand that everyone live by them?
Well, I’ve got news for you: almost all legislation legislates morality … and we’re all okay with that.
This tweet from @ImusZero was a reaction to a headline in Reason Magazine (a libertarian political journal) that Pat Robertson had changed his mind about legalizing marijuana. He had supported it, but recently came out against it, saying that “little kids are getting high.” ImusZero says we should stop legislating morality and let God be our judge.
God is our judge, which is no light matter. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we have human judges too. And these human judges are appointed by God for the time being to carry out his work of promoting justice. But what about this stuff about not legislating morality? I responded that almost all legislation legislates morality. She later “liked” my tweet, making me think she misunderstood me as agreeing with her and saying that almost all legislation should be done away with.
What I really meant is that she had no clue what she was saying. Laws against rape, embezzlement, kidnapping, dog fighting, dumping toxic chemicals in the river, and drunk driving all legislate morality. They impose certain moral standards on everyone. But these are obvious laws to have, you might say. Clearly, these things cannot be allowed, and they’re not like a personal choice to smoke a joint. They may not be like the choice to smoke a joint*, but they are all matters of morality. Whether rape or polluting the river are wrong are moral questions. Even whether they are “bad for society” is a moral question, for what is “bad” is a moral question. Is the spread of disease bad? Why? On what grounds do you say so? Are peace and order good? That’s self-evident to most, but it is also a moral question, and ultimately, one must ask whether one’s foundational beliefs can provide the scaffolding for such assertions. They may be called goods because they promote happiness, but why is happiness good? And if happiness is the basis for morality, that leads to conflicts, as someone may derive happiness from doing that which hurts someone else.
In the end, some general moral principles must be reached, moral judgments must be made, and those, through the law, must be imposed upon everyone. We can argue legitimately about what should and what should not be enforced. But to make the general claim that we should stop legislating morality is utter nonsense.
* There is a difference between “mutual acts” in which everyone involved is involved voluntarily, and acts in which there are willing and unwilling parties involved. ImusZero may believe everything in the first category should be allowed, though not all those things are necessarily good. My saying that they’re not all good is itself a moral judgement that she may not agree with, depending on her definition of good.
If you think of theological “doctrine” as irrelevant, you aren’t thinking of the right doctrine. Or maybe you’ve heard the right doctrine served up in dull and uninspiring ways. If so, I’m sorry this has been your experience, because doctrine is the very thing that ties you to the story of God’s saving power. Looking for something that makes the Bible relevant to your life? If that’s your primary goal, you may actually have a hard time finding it. But if you simply study its teaching, then it’s importance to you personally will not fail to jump out.
The Bible records a lot of history. It tells us story after story about things that have happened. Those things are interesting. They are often fascinating. But so is a history of World War II. So is the Lord of the Rings, for that matter. The stories in the Bible are not just true stories, however. They are a purposeful weaving together of the acts of God on behalf of his people, in anticipation of the coming Messiah, of the coming Messiah himself, or of the acts of the apostles after the Messiah had come. But what of it? What does that mean for me?
Well, these are stories of God acting to save his people from their sins. Are you one of God’s people? How do you know? That’s a doctrinal question, and the answer is not in the story, but in its explanation. Doctrine explains the meaning of the story and our part in it. For example, here’s story: The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Okay, great. Now here’s doctrine: So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith …. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
The doctrine takes the historical fact and applies it to YOU. The doctrine tells us what the story means to us personally. Let’s take another example. We know Jesus was delivered up to Roman crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. We know that he was subsequently raised from the dead. That’s interesting—especially that last part. And it’s a great story. But without the doctrine it remains mostly disconnected from us in time and space. So now, let’s allow the apostle Paul to apply the doctrine. Jesus, he says, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The doctrine, which gives us the meaning of the story and reveals where we come into play and how it affects us, is what draws us in and makes the ancient history our story too. Jesus was raised, yes … but he was raised for OUR justification. Ah, now that’s doctrine!
The following video posted by Alpha and Omega ministries is a ten-minute discussion of John MacArthur’s answer to the question, “What do you do if your adult child comes out as a homosexual?” As we would expect, both John MacArthur and James White understand and articulate the appropriate response to such an event. As we would also expect, MacArthur has been getting criticized on the Gay Voices page of the Huffington Post website. The kind of hatred, ignorance, and incivility sure to be represented in that forum are so predictable that I’ll kindly save myself the ulcer and forego visiting the page for myself. Besides posting Dr. White’s video, I wanted to make a comment. Dr. MacArthur is receiving criticism from many angles for his biblical answer, to be sure. One of the things that many people will hate about his stance is precisely what I admire: MacArthur’s refusal to idolize his own children.
I have heard stories of people, including one Republican politician as well as others, who believed in natural marriage until their own children professed to be gay. The “change of mind” caused by such a revelation is difficult for me to understand. I would ask, “Before your child was homosexual, you were aware that other people’s children were homosexuals, right? So how could your own child’s sexual orientation possibly affect your belief on the subject? What new light could it throw on the foundational premises that upheld your original conclusion?” The answer? The “foundational premises” were actually missing, and these people had not really “concluded” that the natural view of marriage was the correct one—they simply believed it by default, by tradition, by inheritance, or because it was expedient. But expediencies change, and empty tradition* can be challenged by any change. If your belief about marriage and sexuality is ungrounded in facts and argument, then it can be easily toppled without facts or argument—but simply by a new situational pressure or an emotional reaction. Such as your own child’s sexual orientation. But of course, someone, your child or someone else, being gay is not an argument. It’s just a fact. The fact needs to find its place in the arguments.
John MacArthur is right. He refuses to seat his own son or daughter on the throne of God by favoring his affection for them over God’s instructions. In an environment where “love” is misunderstood, MacArthur’s obedience to God and love for his hypothetical gay child will also be misunderstood. But don’t be surprised if the world hates you … just keep loving them back.
*Empty tradition may even include traditions that are true and have plenty of factual basis for practice, but whose bases have been forgotten or neglected and are now running on sheer momentum, either for the community or the individual.
I was pointed to an article last week with the intentionally surprising title “10 Reasons Why Reading the Bible Makes Us More Progressive.” By “progressive,” the author, Benjamin Corey, means “liberal” or left-of-center in the modern American political sense. His thesis is that taking the Bible more seriously will actually tend to move you in a leftward direction politically.
If this is true, it is something many evangelicals need to consider. For those of us for whom the Bible is the lodestar of our worldview, the implications of such a question are important. Unfortunately, Corey’s ten points did not seem as thoughtful as they should have been. In my view his conclusion about the correlation between reading the Bible and progressivism is unwarranted. So, in the spirit of critical thought and friendly engagement, let’s look at the 10 Reasons.
1, 2, and 7). Let’s lump these together. His premise here is that reading the Bible makes you realize your shortcomings and develop a humble heart. The Bible shows us that we are full of flaws and the Holy Spirit convicts of us of our sin. It teaches us to be humble, quick to hear, slow to speak, and nonjudgmental. It preaches mercy and that justice and mercy are the more important parts of God’s law. Indeed, humility, gentleness, and mercy are important. Very important. They are characteristics that should be evident in every follower of Jesus Christ. We ought to be slow to anger, tenderhearted, patient, and forgiving. I absolutely agree with these things.
But what is the connection between these attributes and progressive politics? Corey states that, “the more I see others as being just like me, the more progressive I become because I move in a trajectory of love, tolerance, and am way less likely to pronounce judgment on someone else than I was before.” A trajectory of love, tolerance, and forbearance is admirable. How it makes you more progressive, though, Corey does not explain. We are left struggling to find the connection. He simply assumes a connection that he must also assume his readers see. I don’t. The implication here is that tolerance, mercy, and humility are found in greater degrees among liberals. This assumption I cannot allow him to get away with. It is simply false. Counter examples abound. And not only is this untrue, it is frankly small-minded and insulting. Is Corey close friends with many or any Republican voters? I don’t know. In any case, insisting on a link between humility and mercy and voting Democrat is a non-sequitor, if not a shameful argument to make.
3) In his third point, Corey says that the more you read the Bible, the more concern for the poor you develop. This also I hope is true for everyone who reads the Bible seriously. The problem I see here, though, is the false assumption that if you care about something, you must support a government agenda to deal with it rather than some other method. It is interesting that studies have shown conservatives probably to be more charitable than liberals in general. I will not argue that it’s because conservatives care more about the poor; conservatives and progressives both care about the poor but have different ideas about how to help them. Concern for the poor is important, and Corey is correct that it is preached all over the Old Testament. But, again, it has little to do with making someone progressive. It would only do so if you believed government was the best way to aid the poor—in which case you were progressive already.
4 and 5) “The more I read the Bible,” says Corey, “the more I realize ‘redistribution of wealth’ wasn’t Obama’s idea—it was God’s” and “the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.” These points and their explanations have holes, to say the least. Corey points out the Jubilee year and restrictions on gleaning your garden more than once, and the command from God that there should be “no poor among you.” He then points out the practice of the early church in the book of Acts of giving one’s wealth to the church leadership to distribute according to need.
The concern for the poor encoded in Old Testament law does serve as an example of sorts that laws against injustice and exploitation are warranted. The poor should not be taken advantage of. If Corey is a progressive, however, it follows that he would not want to implement the Old Testament law today. How far would he use it as a model for modern civil polity? For any progressive or conservative with an agenda, I foresee a lot of cherry picking when pointing to Mosaic law as a basis for modern policies. In the Reformed Christian tradition, there are those called theonomists that would see the Mosaic Law as the civil law that God desires us to put into practice today. This view is by far a minority view. The majority Reformed tradition sees the judicial (governmental) laws of Moses as expiring when the theocratic state of Israel expired, and not obligatory now. However, they are still seen as morally useful as regards their “general equity,” or overall moral compass. This latter use Corey must have in mind. Here, though, Republicans are plenty “progressive” enough. Only the strictest libertarians call for abolishing all government assistance programs in all cases. But even whether the Old Testament Law necessarily points to government assistance programs would be subject to interpretation. A direct link to progressivism? It isn’t there.
What about the practice of the church in Acts 4:34-35. The first point I must make is critical, but may actually surprise many evangelicals: the Book of Acts does not serve as a blueprint for how the church should be run. The epistles do. The books of Acts is a historical record of the church in a unique time in its history—the apostolic age between the Day of Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem. About this passage though, it should be pointed out that the communal giving is merely described, not commanded (is = ought fallacy?) , and that it is only mentioned here in two verses and nowhere else. A prescription for the church would be brought up again in more detail. Furthermore, even in this instance the giving was not mandatory. In the comments (some of which were to my encouragement very astute), someone pointed to Ananias and Sapphira to show that the giving was required. I will point to them to show that it was voluntary. From what Peter says in Acts 5:4a, it is crystal clear that Ananias retained his individual property rights, that the donation of proceeds was voluntary, and that the sin of his and his wife’s wasn’t holding back money, but lying about holding back money. Finally, this was a program of the church, not the state. The church today still has a ministry to needy church members which is administered by deacons. But many a staunch Republican gives gladly to the church and even serves as a deacon with joy. Now, church giving is mandatory, but this giving is to support the operation of the church, including its mercy ministries, and is not supposed to be a giving of all you have (in fact, in the New Testament no amount is specified beyond what we have decided in our hearts to give willingly and gladly); nor are Christians commanded to be dependent on the alleged redistributionary function of the church for their livelihood, which they would need to be if the Acts 4 pattern were practiced as described. Contrariwise, per 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 Christians are supposed to be self-sufficient if able, so as not to use up the church’s resources. The connection to progressive politics once again dissolves.
Further, he says “There weren’t any mandatory drug testing programs, just assistance according to need.” Well, I’ll simply point to 1 Timothy 5:3-16, since Corey did not mention it, and observe that while there was no drug testing, there were some sensible prerequisites for receiving aid from the church funds.
6) Corey says that Jesus taught that we should pay our taxes. Well, sort of, though he moved on with the question quickly to get to talking about his mission. But still, Romans 13 and other places teach us to submit to the governmental authority and paying taxes is part of that. Since all Scripture encompass the mind of Christ, it’s fair to say this is a teaching of Jesus. Does this realization make one more progressive? As with all the other points, it’s very hard to see how. Taxes are used to pay the cost of government. Even the most right-wing libertarian believes in paying taxes. Among all but anarchists the debate has always been how much and what are they should be used for, not whether they’re necessary. Sorry, but this point of Corey’s is just much to shallow.
8 and 9) Points eight and nine in Corey’s article address the Bible’s attitude toward immigrants and the environment. Here is where I think he makes his best observations, but still makes a logical jump. The treatment of immigrants is a recurring subject in the Old Testament, and always, as far as I know, in favor of the immigrant, the alien resident, the traveler. Foreigners in Israel were to be treated with kindness, not contempt. And I would affirm that despite the change in contexts, Christians must act this way toward sojourners today. That this principle will make you more progressive is a bit of a leap, however. Personally, I believe in a pretty open and welcoming immigration policy. But that would be the libertarian in me—not exactly a “progressive” influence. Moreover, it goes without saying that the situation of ancient Israel was much different from that of the U.S. or any other country today, where the advances in weaponry and transportation and the complexity of the world make the dangers associated with porous borders unfortunately very real. I am not advocating a closed-border policy. I am simply pointing out that the issues are not so simple anymore, and that therefore, Corey’s basic equation that compassion and magnanimity towards the foreigner must coincide with a particular immigration theory is not sufficient. Many with stricter theories of immigration are not uncaring of the predicament of those seeking to relocate, but instead sensitive to the impact and risks connected with unchecked borders. The answers are not so easy and are not directly correlated with how compassionate someone is.
On the environment, though, let me give Corey the win. Conservative Christians have in the past decade or two begun to talk about environmental stewardship and care for God’s creation more frequently and more mainstream. This is a very good development. But it did take the left-leaning environmentalist movement of the prior decades to jolt Christians from complacency, and many evangelicals are still snoozing. That is not to say the issue was never seriously addressed by religiously conservative Christians before. Exhibit A: the book that helped me reevaluate my own approach toward the environment was “Pollution and the Death of Man” by Francis Schaefer. This gem was published in 1970. Still, it was the exception, not the norm.
On the other hand, it is only fair to note that conservatives considered collectively certainly do not have a monolithic view on how the government should or shouldn’t interfere to protect the planet. I, for instance, believe in protecting the planet but am no friend of the Executive cudgel known as the EPA, an agency most progressives not only support but would employ even more aggressively. But, to concede, reading the Bible should lead us to understand our dominion role as one of caretaker and steward of the beauty, diversity, and delicacy of God’s good earth—and progressives discovered this first.
10) Benjamin Corey’s final point is his worst. He says that as he reads the Bible, he realizes that “God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right—he’s judging us by whether or not we get the ‘love one another’ part right.” Actually, reading the Bible leads to no such conclusion. The oddity here is that if reading the Bible drove you to that realization, then it is itself a doctrinal realization. It is true that God is not judging us on whether we get *all* our doctrine right, in the sense that neither our salvation nor God’s acceptance of us is based upon passing a theology test. We are not saved by our knowledge per se, and our knowledge should grow as believers, which means it was smaller when we were first born again. But deemphasizing doctrine is always troublesome. The reason is because apart from an accurate understanding of who Jesus is, the predicament of the human race, Jesus’s atoning work, and faith, we actually cannot truly come to Christ and become one of God’s children. Corey says God is “less concerned with us all sharing the same doctrine but is heavily concerned with whether or not we love each other.” God is certainly concerned with whether we love each other. But is he nonchalant regarding us all “sharing the same doctrine”? Consider 1 Corinthians 1:10, which says, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Paul tells Timothy to watch his doctrine closely and to shun anything contradicting sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10, 4:16). He likewise tells Titus he *must* teach what coincides with sound doctrine and to hold firmly to what he had been taught already, so that he could encourage others with sound doctrine and refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1). In Philippians 2:2, Paul emphasizes both that we love each other and that we share the same doctrines. They’re both very important to God. In fact, Paul in Romans 10:2 laments the condition of his fellow Jews, because they had a fervor for God—but it wasn’t based on an accurate understanding! Romans 10:2 should be taken to heart. It does not mean are saved by our knowledge, nor must we memorize Charles Hodge to know God as father; but it does mean there is some baseline of correct knowledge about the gospel we must have in order to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
“Doctrine” is not an academic theory. Doctrine is simply, “What does the Bible teach about this?” Even if the explicit verses about the importance of doctrine I gave were not there, we would still have to believe that doctrine is paramount for the obvious reason that if God communicates to something to us, it must be important to understand what he means. That is, we know doctrine must be very important from the very fact that we *have* a Bible to read.
Our love for one another is indeed, as Corey says, to be the calling card of the Christian church. It is our hallmark. It is how *the world* knows who we are. But how do *we* know who we are? Doctrine. Biblical Christianity posits a body of propositions to us and demands we believe them. That’s doctrine. Get it wrong, and you don’t have Biblical Christianity. And by the way, what this one has to do with political affiliation I do not know. There are Bible belt Republicans a plenty that go to church every week but care less about doctrinal matters than Benjamin Corey. This goes both ways. If Corey is implying care for doctrine for some reason made you more conservative (which he seems to be), then Corey’s whole thesis that “taking the Bible seriously” makes you more progressive would be a self-contradiction since “taking the Bible seriously” is just another term for doctrine!
So what’s my point? That, No Corey, reading the Bible should actually make you a good Republican? Not at all. My job was merely to complicate Corey’s simplistic reading of Scripture. In none of the above points did I swing the pendulum the other way and say that reading the Bible will actually push you towards the right. While this has of course been done often, I think that that too is a non-sequitor that needs to be abandoned. And that’s my real point in taking on Corey’s interesting article. I think he is making the same mistake in reverse. In many of his points, the problem was he simply did not give serious Bible readers who also vote conservatively the benefit of the doubt, and was too hasty in forging links between Biblical ideas and progressive ideology. His faulty assumption is that Christian conservatives must simply be conservative for tradition’s sake and if they would just study their Bibles more carefully and humbly, well …. Yet isn’t possible they have given the issues real thoughtful consideration, not casting off biblical authority, and simply come to more conservative conclusions. I would give the same benefit of the doubt to political progressives whose theological doctrine is orthodox—and yes, such people exist.
It is simplistic to use the Bible to advance a political agenda where the politics involved are not clearly hit upon in Scripture. And not many political issues are. Oh, there are moral issues coming into sharp focus now that the Bible speaks about, and that may have political implications. But the Bible does not say whether to increase or phase out Social Security. II t does not tell us whether the Keystone Pipeline is a good idea. It does not explain Keynesian and Austrian economics and say which is a more accurate model of the real world. It really doesn’t. It isn’t because the Bible is insufficient. The Bible is a hundred percent sufficient for its purpose. Its purpose is to tell us a story about God, Creation, Fall, and Redemption, what it means for us, and what we must do in light of it. Trying to weave the Bible into politics gets hairy pretty quickly (see also, D.G. Hart and Carl R. Trueman). I am not saying there are no worldview implications derived from the Bible that will bleed into politics from time to time. But I am saying that taking the Bible seriously does not lead invariably to one contemporary American political affiliation or another. Conservatives have been rightly criticized for this kind of shoehorning, but they are not the only culprits. (I once visited a church where the pulpit was basically hijacked as a platform for a liberal political speech. I was furious—and not because I disagreed with the politics.) So now it’s my turn, as a conservative, to call a progressive to account for the same fallacious logic. Let us as Bible-believing Christians just knock it off.
“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
The Bible leaves no doubt about the greatness of the works of God. Our experience should leave no doubt about the greatness of works of the Lord. And we who delight in God should also delight in what God has accomplished. Psalm 111 was read in church this morning, and I took particular notice of verse two. Here, the psalmist says that all who delight in the works of the Lord study the works of the Lord. The NIV says they “ponder” them, and The Message paraphrases the verse by saying, “God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!” Indeed, for the child of God, to study God’s works is to take enjoyment in them as they reveal with greater depth the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Almighty.
Here is a call to consider, to chronicle, to analyze, and understand the works of God. I do not mean we can fully comprehend the reasons for all God’s works, the methods behind all his acts, the interworking of all his plans—or even discover everything God has done. But we can try our best. So long as we refrain from useless speculation about what God leaves hidden and train our minds to examine the works of God that he has revealed, we are doing the right thing and strengthening our ability to exalt God properly.
Studying the works of the Lord involves, as I see it, two broad branches of knowledge. It may involve more than this, as God is creator of all things, visible and invisible, and the ultimate cause of all history. God’s decree includes all things that exist and all things that occur. Hence history is a subject that deals with the works of God indirectly (i.e., via second causes). But when I think of the study of the immediate works of the Lord, I think of especially of theology and science.
Theology is the careful study of the special (Scriptural) revelation from God to humankind. Of course, theology includes more than God’s actions. It also includes God’s being as well as our relation to God, angelology, ecclesiology, etc. But all Bible study is theological in nature, and therefore to study the works of the Lord in the history of redemption is to study theology. The great miraculous works of God in the history of Israel may be more keenly in the mind of the psalmist here, though perhaps not exclusively. But it is clear that the verse applies to the entire portfolio of God’s works. If you are amazed or comforted by them, then study them. If they bring you wonder and delight, then study them. They speak to us about God’s love, God’s holiness, God’s power to save and to judge, and God’s plan for the ages. Study all the Bible says about what the Lord has done.
Science is the careful study of the general (natural) revelation from God to humankind. As such, as I have said previously, science is a kind of theology in its own right, examining, as it were, the artifacts of God. As R. C. Sproul has pointed out, general revelation is just as infallible as special revelation when it comes to conveying truth. Any fact we glean about nature is a fact gleaned about a creative act of God, and thus about God himself. Our interest in the great “works of the Lord” must extend to all his works, and this includes his works of creation. Certainly we see a biblical precedent for this. I remember the first time I realized that King Solomon was an amateur botanist, zoologist, and ornithologist who composed descriptions of local flora and fauna. This is revealed in a single verse in 1 Kings, which says “he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish” (4:33). The NET Bible puts it in more modern terms: “He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish.” Remarkable! Christians have reason to be more excited about science than anyone else, because they know the Maker of “all things visible” (the earth, the elements, life, the whole visible universe) and “invisible” (not only spiritual entities, but radiation, gravitation, magnetism, nuclear forces, energy, and possibly dark matter, plus whatever else may be out there). Delight to study these things.
Needless to say, general revelation is subject to misinterpretation, especially when approached from the outset with a rejection of special revelation (which is more explicit). But special revelation is subject to misinterpretation, too. Furthermore, like non-Christian scientists, scientists who do accept the authority and divine origin of the Bible can and do misinterpret natural revelation. This is the nature of science and the need for the scientific method. But this should not discourage the study of science, since it is still the study of the works of the Lord. Both scientists who do and scientists who do not believe the Bible will, as a result of their fallible science-study of infallible natural revelation, get things right and things wrong about God’s works. Likewise, those who are and who are not true children of God will, as a result of their fallible Bible-study of infallible special revelation, get some things right and some things wrong about God’s works. Wrong ideas about God’s works are to be corrected by ongoing study, whether in the realm of science or in the realm of theology.
By God’s grace, human beings have gained very much knowledge about the works of the Lord in creation by Christian and non-Christian scientists alike. Every fact published by any atheistic scientist, every new discovery disclosed in any secular journal by any institute or organization, adds yet another reason to awe at the glory of God. Even many who scoff at theism have discovered by their good research wonder upon wonder performed by God. There is no danger for the Christian in studying those wonders (scientific facts). Praise God for the good science happening globally. Nevertheless, Christians should not be content to leave the studying to the world. No, indeed! The psalmist says the works of God are studied by “all who delight in them.” Christians, that’s us. It doesn’t mean you personally have to be a scientist or a professional theologian. But if you delight in the works of the Lord, delight to learn about them, about all of them—facts about the miraculous redemptive works of God recorded in Scripture, and facts about the creative works of God recorded in the natural world around us. Even facts about the providential work of God upholding the cosmos and caring for his creation. They are all equally works of the Lord, on display for our education and delight.
A recent evangelical conference associated with the National Center for Family-integrated Churches recently caused an unwelcome stir among believers when a panel of speakers was asked to comment on Christian rap music. I have seen the video of the panelists’ responses and was surprised, upset, and discouraged to hear them one by one in unanimity offer blanket denouncements, sometimes in very strong terms, of Christian hip-hop. Thankfully, there have been a number of appropriate responses by well-respected Christian thinkers, including one by Albert Mohler and a statement approving of Christian rap by Samuel Waldron, who was also a speaker at the NCFIC conference, but not on—and, I believe, unaware—of the small panel that addressed Christian rap. There have also been apologies offered by the host Scott Brown, and by at least one panelist. Additionally, a discussion with Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and rap artist Shai Linne regarding this topic is planned for later today. I happen to know that James White has a positive view of several current Christian rap artists, who produce excellent biblical material.
Nonetheless, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts of my own. One reason is because I feel strongly about the Christian artisan in general. Another is that I have personally been greatly blessed by the music of several contemporary Christian rap artists. In fact, I have been more blessed by their music than by any other form of Christian pop music. So let me address some thoughts offered at the conference.
It was repeated by a couple panelists that it is not only important what we say, but how we say it. That is, form matters. Form as well as message should be under the authority of Scripture. To this I give a hearty Amen. How this indicts Christian rap was never really explained, and I can’t figure it out myself. It would certainly prohibit handing out tracts at a bikini car wash, even though that might attract more people. It would likewise prohibit using force or violence to evangelize. When it comes to music, this principle becomes a little more esoteric. Certainly, any art produced by a believer should aspire to recreate, as Albert Mohler said, what is good, beautiful, and true. There are some forms of music that I believe are not beautiful. They involve screaming. But even here, I would hesitate to take a dogmatic stance. Mohler further pointed out that even the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who made music explicitly in the service of the Lord, was accused in its time of “using crude structures, lowly themes, and of borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” This does not necessarily mean that no form of music is unacceptable. But anyone who listens to the Christian rap on the market, with an understanding of the genre, cannot accuse it of being ugly. It is well made and a joy to listen to, in addition to carrying a wealth of truth.
Bach, as we saw, was accused of “borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” Here we see another accusation offered by the panel at the NCFIC conference, when the cultural origin of hip-hop was mentioned. Certainly, hip-hop originates from anything but a Christ-centered milieu. Indeed, rap music often entertains some of the most unchristian themes and images in all of pop music. How then can believers in submission to Christ embrace this musical style? They can because the style is not the message. Opera often has very sensuous messages, too, but it does not mean opera cannot be used to glorify God. To see this issue from an alternate angle, let us take the example of the Christmas holiday. A couple years ago, I was confronted by a coworker about celebrating the holiday. She was a fellow believer and had seen some material denouncing Christmas, explaining its pagan origins and the pagan roots of common Christmas symbols such as wreaths and evergreen trees. She asked me to watch the presentation, which I did. Looking for help on this subject, I ran across some articles by the Christian Research Institute (with Hank Hannegraff). In one place he observes that
Sometimes it is urged that to take a pagan festival and try to “Christianize” it is folly. However, God Himself did exactly that in the Old Testament. Historical evidence shows conclusively that some of the feasts given to Israel by God through Moses were originally pagan agricultural festivals, which were filled with idolatrous imagery and practices. What God did, in effect, was to establish feasts which would replace the pagan festivals without adopting any of the idolatry or immorality associated with them. It would appear, then, that in principle there is nothing wrong with doing so in the case of Christmas.
This, now, is actually one of the things I celebrate about Christmas. The holiday, created by the Christian church, supplanted pagan festivities. This is not merely using a pagan practice to facilitate Christian observances, but rather, it is a kind of conquering. This same thing can be done for opera; it can be done for pop-rock; it can be done for poetry; and it can be done for rap. Christians should not only be producing rap—they should be producing good rap, and when they do, they take one more part of the world from the god of this world and there plant the flag of Christ.
One of the panelists said that the only defense he has heard for Christian rap is that it is redeeming rap. He opined that in the Bible, redeeming results in “fundamental change,” (his own words), and that he doesn’t see this change in Christian rap. Let me try to unveil the folly of this opinion, if it is not openly apparent. Redeeming cannot mean a “fundamental” change. It does not mean this in Scripture. Redemption means a buying back. It is a restoration. It is fixing that which is broken, not destroying it and starting over. Now, the Christian rap I listen to is absolutely 180 degrees different in its message, posture, and worldview from the rap on the radio (and the rap on traditional radio is the milder stuff, believe me). The only thing that is the same about it is that it is still rap. If this panelist means that to redeem an ungodly art form, it must be so changed that it is no longer that art form, then that is not redemption at all. It is simple rejection. If God “redeemed” us in that way, then we would all be annihilated and replaced with new people. God does not do that. Instead, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, we are mended—we are restored back to what we always ought to have been, and a fundamental change has not taken place because we are still fundamentally the same persons we were to begin with (again, if we are not, then we have not been redeemed). What this panelist must have really believed is that rap itself is not redeemable. I do not believe that. In fact, I believe that the use of rap for the sake of Christ and the gospel is not only acceptable, but is a manifestation of the dominion of the kingdom of God in the world as rap is taken captive to obey Christ. And I believe this is true in every instance where something good but perverted that was once the domain of Satan is usurped by Christ followers and put in the service of the kingdom of God.
Another objection raised by the panel was that making rap was following the world. Indeed, it was called a cowardly following of the world. Perhaps these panelists were unconscious of the fact that by wearing modern suits and ties, they too were following the world. My point is that once any activity that the Bible does not declare sinful is labelled following the world, where does one stop short of monasticism? Making movies with Christian themes, or using a harpsichord to play a Christian song is also “following the world” strictly speaking, but it is certainly not following the system of the world that is opposed to God. We must be careful to properly define what it means to be following the world. A Christian who makes rap with sensuous, greedy, violent, or boastful lyrics to fit in with his friends or with their expectations is definitely following the world. On the other hand, a Christian who makes rap that declares the true attributes of God is not following the world, even though his music is certifiably rap music. Why? Because the rap music itself is the Lord’s, and it can be used to promote either worldliness or godliness, just as 17th century tunes can be used to promote worldliness or godliness. In fact, I would here like to reiterate that when a Christian makes any artwork, it should be made well, to the best of his ability. The Bible tells Christian musicians to play skillfully (Ps. 33:3, 47:7, Ex. 1 Chr. 25:6,7). Should we expect Christian rap that is well made to sound anything like the rap of the world—say, Jay-Z or Eminem? Yes, of course, because it’s good rap qua rap. As it is evaluated even by those who do not know God but do know rap, it should be deemed quality, because it has been made as unto the Lord.
One of the most encouraging things I could hear that is related to this was from an African American friend of mine at my old job. He was big time into hip-hop music. He read XXL magazine. I introduced him to Lecrae while giving him a ride home one time. Later on, I made him two mix CDs of some of my favorite Christian rap songs from a variety of rappers. Once he got around to listening to the first one, he told me it was “awesome.” He couldn’t believe how good it was. I was so proud to hear it. Friends, that’s how Christian rap ought to impress itself upon the world—as being, not merely tolerated by the church, but attended to with the attention, skill and production value befitting those who labor as slaves of the master Jesus Christ and work their crafts as unto him. I do not say that rap is inappropriate for Christians; I say that poor rap is inappropriate for Christians.
Finally, let me testify to the incredible upsurge of Christian rap within the last decade or so. Like I said, this music has richly blessed me personally. I have marveled at the quantity and quality of the content of contemporary Christian rap. So much of it has been so theologically rich and accurate, that listening has been like attending mini Sunday school lessons. The true gospel and ecclesiology, soteriology, hamartology, anthropology, etc. that I have heard in the music of rappers such as Flame, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, KB, Tedashii, Beautiful Eulogy, Lacrae, Sho Baraka, Ambassador, and (if you want to get a little old school) Cross Movement, has stunned me. These artists are for the most part Reformed, and familiar with Christian documents that are hundreds of years old, as well as being well taught and articulate in doctrinal truths. It is ironic to me, that such messages have come from such an unexpected place: hip-hop. But it is like the Lord to raise up unexpected sources of clarity, teaching, and edification. I see the sovereign prerogative of God, if not the humor, in what the Spirit of God is doing through the work coming out of so unpredictable a corner of the musical and cultural world.
Let me finally defend hip-hop in particular as a channel for gospel truth. Hip-hop seems specially suited to the task of proclamation for a couple reasons. First, hip-hop songs are all about the words. The beat and the instrumentation are present, are there to be heard, and are an essential part of the production, but unlike a classical piece or most other forms of music, the words are the main focus, the central piece. Take away the words from a rock-and-roll song, and you still have rock-and-roll music. Not so with rap. In rap, the words make the style. Rock is music with words. Rap is words with music. Second, in terms of sheer word count, rap is especially equipped to divulge messages at greater length than other pop music. Rap songs fit many more words in the same amount of time as other forms of sung music, and hence are more able to “preach” than other forms of music.
Upon watching the panel yesterday, I was not only disheartened, but embarrassed. Let me say that I would not be embarrassed if the men making the statements were not my brothers in the faith, at least as zealous as I am for the lordship of Jesus Christ. But I think their answers were informed more by prejudice and misunderstanding than the Bible. To close, I am embedding a few videos of rap songs that have encouraged me in the faith, and I hope will likewise encourage you. These videos merely scratch the surface.
In the wake of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference on the charismatic movement in the church and the general belief that the revelatory and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are in action today. Tim Challies asked Dr. MacArthur a few questions that people had been wondering about. In the comment section following the interview, I added my opinion to one comment in particular, and got a response. When I tried to reply, I found that comments had been closed. So here it is. A user named RyanJay begins by quoting MacArthur:
“But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture” – A disrespectful comment to the years and years of pain-staking study these men have undertaken for the church. I’m saddened by how MacArthur is choosing to spend these golden years of his life/ministry subtly sowing doubt into the works of men like Piper, Grudem, Stroms as well as others who have spent much time defending the reformed continuationists in a sound, biblical and humble way.
Doubt into the continuationist works of good men like Piper and Grudem—men I respect—is actually quite appropriate in this case. It seems self-evident to me that doubt ought to be cast upon erroneous teaching, while truth ought to be taught and made clear. To contradict anyone is to “sow doubt,” but sowing doubt about long held false beliefs is nothing but liberating. MacArthur’s doing the right thing here, yet doing it with gentleness and respect.
I whole heartedly agree that doubt should be cast upon erroneous teaching, and in fact the way to do this is by speaking the truth and the truth alone. Your presupposition leads you to state that being a continuationists is an erroneous teaching and long held false belief. And since you state that you respect Piper and Grudem I must ask you the question – how is that even possible for you to respect these men who hold such erroneous and false beliefs? And what if these men are teaching the church these so called erroneous and false beliefs? I think the tricky part for the cessationists is where do you put these men in your thinking. They preach the word, they love Jesus, they defend the Gospel and yet they have this “continuationists’ thing about them.
Fuller1754 (My unpublished reply)
Let me give another example: I believe dispensationalism is an erroneous teaching, too. John MacArthur is a dispensationalist, but I obviously have great respect for him. If I did not have respect for any Christian teachers I thought adhered to any erroneous belief, my choices would be slim indeed, and my attitude would be all wrong. I don’t know if I can think of almost any major Christian teacher whom I don’t believe holds to some erroneous belief or another—whether it has to do with eschatology, the law, baptism, or whatever.
I respect Grudem and Piper because they are great men of understanding and of faith. Why shouldn’t I? They do preach the Word; they do love Jesus. I own Grudem’s systematic theology, and coincidentally am taking my wife and myself through a John Piper devotional book right now. It seems completely incongruous to me that someone who has a disagreement with a Bible teacher at some point could not also have great respect for that teacher overall—even if it’s a disagreement about something important. Continuationism is no less erroneous and false. I still love those guys. I really don’t see the contradiction.
Now I would have to ask you: must you avoid coming to a conclusion on any topic about which godly people disagree? Because if you assume you cannot respect teachers whom you disagree with, then if you do come to conclusions about these things, you would lose respect for many a respectable man of God.
People can say stupid things. Some people say stupid things frequently, and others may say things with the intent to inflame or offend certain other people. Especially with that latter group, it may seem that it would be reasonable, whether for the preservation of public order or peace, or to protect groups of people from verbal persecution, to use the law to put a stop to the kind of speech or literature that demeans or ridicules people or portrays them in a false light. Some might even suggest that not doing so would be ignoring the right to privacy or freedom of religion, expression, etc., by creating an environment where a group of people may feel oppressed simply because of their race, beliefs, lifestyles or whatever else.
While people are rightly entitled to legal action against personal slander, libel, and defamation, we must be clear about what kind of proclamations do and do not fall within those categories. It is illegal to say something false about a particular person that damages his reputation or costs him financially. It is not illegal to say something true about a person that damages his reputation or costs him financially.
What else does not qualify as slander or libel is offensive speech or speech that demeans a group of people. If it did, there’d be a line of ex-comedians at the unemployment office. And what even more emphatically does not qualify as slander is the expression of beliefs or the expressed disagreement with someone else’s point of view or way of life.
In England on September 5, Rob Hughes, a street preacher in Basildon, was arrested after a lesbian woman accused him of engaging in hate speech against homosexuals. He was asked by police whether he had said that homosexuality was sinful, as if such a statement would have been hateful. He replied that although he had not said so that day, it was something he would say. Hughes was subsequently arrested, fingerprinted, and detained for seven hours.
Let’s be honest: the statement that homosexuality is sinful and morally wrong is 1) true, and 2) not in itself hateful. However, let us assume someone were saying hateful things against homosexuals. Assume someone were saying hateful things about anyone. What should be done about it? By government, nothing. The right to free speech must protect the peaceful expression of all view points, hateful or otherwise, or it is no guarantee of any right to speech at all. This is especially true since the definition of “hateful” is fluid and often subjective. In fact, the definition has changed so much in recent decades, that the word is now frequently used merely to intimidate and silence those whose views one does not like (see Rob Hughes case above.)
Free speech includes the right to say nasty things about religions, lifestyles, behaviors, beliefs. It means we protect the right of others to say things we do not like or that we find offensive, distasteful, ignorant, or inflammatory, because we ourselves, if we say anything of value, are sure to sound that way to someone else.
Understand, I believe very strongly in civility. I believe in expressing and exchanging ideas and arguments in a respectful, courteous way. But many people falsely believe that “respectful” means you must concede some degree of correctness or value in someone else’s beliefs (it does not). Also, civility is connected to attitude and manner, not to the ideas expressed and furthermore, wrongheaded, ignorant, and hateful speech must be corrected and ended only by citizens of society through counter-argumentation and persuasion and not by the state, because there is no telling what ideas the state may at any time consider “hateful.” Granted, the state must prosecute acts of violence. But if the state begins prosecuting the expression of certain ideas—regardless of how hateful some may think those ideas or how much some may not like them—then our right to free speech is gone with the wind. In a free society, the right to make hate speech must be protected.
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"It is dangerous to have zeal without knowledge" (Proverbs 19:2).
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