Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Luke 11.41

"Give that which is within as charity, and, behold, all things are clean for you."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Romans 13 and the American Revolution

Every now and then I run into Christians who have concluded that the American Revolution was a biblically unjustified war. These men (they’re always men) are bright and serious minded about the faith. Given the nationalistic flavor of much conservative Christianity in the U.S., I appreciate their willingness to challenge often unexamined assumptions of the (ostensible) congruence of our commitment to Christ and to our nation. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to do in a nation in which almost every church puts an American flag next to the altar. (The presence of the flag need not be a bad thing, to be sure. But the implication of its presence is, well, studiously ambiguous, and what modifies what is critical: Are we Christian Americans, or American Christians. The first is just fine. The second is a form of syncretism. It’s unclear to me that a flag next to the altar represents only the former and not the latter.)

Yet while I appreciate the sincerely held views of these individuals, I’ve typically found their historical understanding of the events leading up to the Revolution to be a bit thin in this way: In my experience, they tend basically to view the Revolution as a mob action against duly constituted authority. And so a fairly direct appeal to Romans 13 ends the matter in favor of the British and against the colonists.

But I do not think that things are at all that clear cut against the colonists. There are several points in particular that this “revisionist” view tends to ignore. First, it tends to ignore that the colonists were represented in their own local legislatures. Secondly, the view tends to ignore that there was real ambiguity in the British constitution about the relationship of the colonial “parliaments” to the British Parliament in London. Finally, the view ignores that the constitutional crisis over taxation was a crisis precisely over the constitutional question of the accepted British constitutional right to be governed only by those laws to which one has consented through the legislature.

It is well known that the colonies had their own legislatures. Less well known is that the role of these legislatures in the British Empire had not been constitutionally well defined in the first half of the seventeenth century.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688, as it were, ratified the constitutional principle that the British king ruled in (i.e., with) Parliament. This was the bedrock principle of British constitutionalism after 1688.

The problem arose because the colonists sort of thought that they took the constitutional right of representation with them while the metropolitan authorities sort of thought that the colonists didn’t take this right with them. The problem is that the issue really didn’t force itself on either “side” for most of the first half of the seventeenth century, and so the ambiguity remained. (If an ambiguity can fester, then perhaps we can call it a festering ambiguity.)

In any event, the colonists were not represented in the British Parliament in London, but were represented in their colonial legislatures. This becomes important.

The next step sounds really weird to the modern ear, but understanding it is critical to understand why the imposition of a mild tax met with such resistance from the colonists: Under the British constitution, “taxation” was understood as a voluntary gift from the people to the crown. The British took the notion of representation seriously. “Consent” from your representative was your consent. That a tax required parliamentary consent to be imposed, meant that the people voluntarily gave the revenue to the crown. This, too, was the bedrock principle of British constitutionalism.

From the beginning, the colonists framed their argument in terms of their rights under the British constitution.

For example, the colonial “Stamp Act Congress” resolved, among other things:

“That all supplies to the crown, being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable, and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British Constitution, for the people of Great Britain to grant to his Majesty the property of the colonies.”

Similarly, in perhaps the most widely read tract of the era, John Dickinson, drawing on British legal precedent, argued that “gifts and grants of their own property . . . made by the people [to the king]” go under several names, as taxes and subsidies. “But whatever the name was, they were always considered as gifts of the people to the crown, to be employed for public uses.”

These references could be multiplied.

When the British Parliament imposed a tax on the colonists without the approval of the colonial assemblies, even though the tax was modest, the unexplicated ambiguity in the constitution regarding the relationship of Parliament to the colonial assemblies became immediately highlighted.

The irony, of course, is that both sides of the dispute thought they were fighting for the same principle. For the metropolitan authorities, 1688 vindicated the right of the Parliament – the one in London – to government the entire British Empire. For the colonists, 1688 vindicated the right of Englishmen to be governed by laws of their own consent wherever they traveled. The constitutional crisis concerned the portability of British rights.

The thing is, there was no principled resolution to this constitutional ambiguity, aside from insisting on one answer or the other.

The point for us, however, is that, as I understand the literature, historians seem to agree that the colonists had a colorable constitutional claim. There is no Romans 13 argument for why the colonists had to concede the previously unresolved question in favor of the metropolitan authorities, who, like the colonists, insisted on their previously unexercised “right” over the colonies as much out of interest as out of principle.

So the colonists had a colorable constitutional argument, and had constituted authorities – the colonial assemblies – who arguably had a right to intervene on their behalf against what was, arguably, a usurping political authority on the part of the metropolitan government.

This is not to say that the British Parliament did not also have a colorable argument. This is the tragedy of the Revolution – it pivoted around a constitutional ambiguity that, once revealed, could not be abstractly resolved because it implicated the direct interests of both sides in the dispute.

In any event, I see no biblical argument that would force the colonists to concede the constitutional argument in favor of the British that does not equally require the British to concede the point, and so, in my judgment, the colonists did not violate Romans 13 in insisting on their rights, provoking the British authorities to military action, and then responding in kind to the British military action.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Second Council of Orange

I've always liked the canons of the second Council of Orange (529 A.D.). They combine a high view of baptism, a high view of predestination, and a high view of Christian works.

Plus, the Council has always seemed to me to be, I don't quite know how to put it, pastorally or Scripturally balanced. I don't quite know how to put it better, but what I mean is that the Council goes just as far as the Scriptures do in talking about predestination, and then goes no further. It doesn't create a "system" that then flattens out other things that the Scriptures also affirm, such as the efficacy of baptism or works. The canons are simply drenched in Scriptures.

To be sure, the Council of Orange wasn't an ecumenical council, although the pope apparently received the canons.

In any event, it's all good, but here are a few canons:

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

CANON 13. Concerning the restoration of free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it. Hence the Truth itself declares: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Conclusion. [. . .] According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The ISI's Civic's Quiz

Here's the link to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Civic's Quiz currently being reported about. You can take the quiz there if you're interested.

I did have to make an educated guess on a couple of the questions, and wouldn't have been surprised if I marked the wrong answer on a couple of questions. As it ended up, I scored 100% on the quiz (cough).

ISI's press release regarding the results of the quiz seems to me to be a bit misleading. Early on, ISI makes it sound as though students at elite universities scored lower than students at less elite universities. That's not true if you look at their results. Students at Ivy League schools scored very high on the exam, with students at Harvard scoring the highest.

What ISI is talking about is what schools have the largest difference between what freshmen scored and what seniors scored. To be sure, it still might be a bit disturbing that students at pricey universities don't seem to learn much more about the topics on the exam relative to students at less prestigious institutions, nonetheless, students at prestigious schools start at a higher baseline, and get more answers right on the civic's exam as both freshmen and seniors than do students at almost all other less prestigious institutions. So ISI's "headline" regarding the results seems to me a bit misleading relative to what the results actually are.

Nonetheless, the exam itself is fun to take.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jesus' Grave is Our Mercy Seat -- the Two Angels in John 20.12

This, from a sermon linked on Mark Horne’s website. Sort of an “uh, duh,” moment. Not meaning that it’s too obvious to point out, but that it’s so obvious yet I didn’t notice it until someone pointed it out. Anyway:

John 20.11-12: “But Mary [Magdalene] was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.”

Exodus 24.17-19: “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim with the mercy seat at its two ends.”

Jesus’ grave is our mercy seat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Genesis 3 as the Backdrop to the Dietary Laws

Actually, Leviticus 11 isn’t just about diet. The Israelites became unclean by touching the carcasses of the unclean creatures (vv. 8, 24, 27, etc.), by merely touching certain unclean four-legged animals (v. 26). So I think these laws should be grouped with the other purity laws rather than treated as something different.

I’d argue more generally that Leviticus is “about” overcoming the exile from God’s presence that occurs in the fall. The typology of the tabernacle – the cherubim woven into the sides and the veil, and the cast cherubim placed over the ark and etc. – all suggest the cherubim the guard the way back into the Garden and the presence of God (the tree of life).

I’d argue that the “dietary laws” or, more accurately, the teaching about clean and unclean animals, reflects the curses and the promise in Gn 3.14-19. This is the separation (Lev 11.44-47) that is on point in the purity laws in Leviticus – separation from the cursed world and so adhering to God (rather than separation from God and adhering to a cursed world).

Here are what I’d suggest are the important tells for Leviticus 11:

● Serpent cursed (v. 14).
● Goes on belly as a result (v. 14).
● Eats dust (v. 14).
● Ground/dust is cursed (v. 17).
● Woman’s promised seed has a crushed foot (v. 15).

That the serpent eats dust is not merely a statement that it eats from the cursed ground. The author tells us that God formed man from the “dust of the ground” (Gn 2.7) and that man returns to the ground “for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3.19). So that the serpent eats dust seems to me a more pointed suggestion that the serpent seeks to attack humans, “seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

Given these themes, I think that most of Leviticus 11 is pretty easy to understand: unclean creatures have some sort of serpentine quality. Fish without fins or scales “look” serpent like. So they are unclean (Lev 11.9-12). Scavenger birds and birds that eat flesh (“dust”) are unclean (vv. 13-19). Insects whose bellies go in the dust like the serpent’s belly are unclean (vv. 20, 23), but insects whose bellies do not get dragged in the dust are clean (vv. 21-22). Rodents that go around in the ground/dust are cursed (v. 29), while reptiles have a serpentine look to them (vv. 29-30).

The real trouble for me has been understanding the laws dividing the quadrupeds into clean and unclean, namely that they chew the cud and have split hooves.

The problem isn’t just why a pig is unclean – it has a split hoof but does not chew the cud – but also why the horse is unclean – it chews the cud and has a hoof, but the hoof is not split.

Here’s what I would suggest: Gn 3.15 says that the promised seed of the woman will “crush” the head of the serpent and that the serpent will “crush” the heel or foot of the woman’s promised seed.

So here’s my speculation. A split or divided hoof can look something like a “crushed” hoof. So clean animals are animals with feet injured in the way that looks similar to the way the foot of the woman’s promised seed will be injured when it crushes the serpent’s head. It is only the flesh of these animals that the Israelites could consume. Suggestively, it is from eating the flesh of the promised seed that we become truly clean. (Clean animals must have hooves to separate them from the cursed ground. Animals with skin that comes in direct contact with the cursed ground are unclean, Lev 11.4-6.)

What about chewing the cud? As I understand it, animals that chew the cud are pure herbivores, they do not eat flesh. The non-cud chewing, split-hooved quadrupeds are omnivores, eating flesh as well as vegetables. Given human flesh to eat, a pig will eat the human, just as the serpent seeks to devour humans-made-out-of-dust. So a clean animal is one with no natural inclination generally to eat flesh, or specifically to eat human flesh if given the opportunity. (This goes the same with the carrion-eating birds.)

So the clean quadruped is an animal that is about as different from the qualities and behavior of the serpent as possible. Unclean animals, on the other hand, carry about some likeness or characteristic of the serpent. Since there is no shade of darkness in God, or in the people he redeems, Israel is allowed to eat and touch only clean animals.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Circumcision and the Virgin Birth

Here’s a thought I mentioned on Taylor Marshall’s blog about how circumcision might anticipate the mode of Christ’s incarnation (and therefore also why it disappears after he comes).

First, there is something of an irony in circumcision being a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham. The specific promise in Genesis 17 is this:

I am God Almighty; Walk before me, and be blameless. And I will establish my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly. . . . I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you (vv. 1-2, 5).

The irony is that the sign of the covenant which promises a huge number of descendents to Abraham is for Abraham to mutilate his male organ. This seems to me to be something of a symbolic castration. At least Paul seems to suggest that the teleology of circumcision ultimately is the cutting off of the entire organ (Gal 5.12).

So God promises that he will exceedingly multiply the descendents of a 100-year old man who is married to a barren, 90-year old woman. As a sign of this promise, God requires that the man mutilate the organ he uses to procreate. And, of course, later, God then tells Abraham to kill his only begotten son – the son through whom the promise must be realized.

None of this, of course, is how the world would think to go about multiplying descendents from a man. (There are many of these sorts of inversions in the OT. The multiple examples of barren women in the messianic line, the inversion of the rights of birth order with the younger son being exalted over the older son, which is an inversion of the natural order as well, etc.)

Jesus is the one descendent who ultimately inherits the promise (Gal 3.16). Consider, then, that Jesus is conceived without the mediation of a human male at all, and is born of a Virgin. Just like barren women, virgins cannot have children. And emasculated men cannot produce children. So God fulfills his promise to Abraham in a way that utterly confounds the world. It seems to me at least arguable that that is what circumcision pointed to from the beginning.

Further, the anti-type fulfills the type, and so the type disappears. If Jesus’ virgin conception is the fulfillment of the sign of circumcision, then the sign naturally disappears with the coming of the reality. So circumcision is no longer binding in the new covenant.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


The chaplain at the prison where I teach "A New Man" made a passing comment about getting behind in some work because of the lack of office assistance. So I went in a few mornings in August to help him out a bit.

My motives were not entirely pure. Both prisoner programs I work with (one with a parachurch organization, the other a program that I developed last spring), finished in July, and won't start up again until a little later this month. So I had some extra time and figured that I could get some insight into the inner workings of the prison system by doing a bit of work in the chaplain's office.

It was win-win for me -- I get a slightly better understanding of the overall prison context in which I volunteer, and I give a little bit of help to an overworked prison chaplain (a good guy who's affiliated with the AOG). That, plus I enjoyed visiting with the inmate-clerk while we worked.

So anyway, I'm in the office one morning doing something. The chaplain comes over and we're chatting. In the course of our conversation, the chaplain blurts out that he's "humbled" that I'm willing to come in to help him in his office. I bit my tongue and resisted the temptation to tell him to get a grip.

I mean, this man earns a salary not much over the poverty level while pouring himself out day after day for one of the toughest congregations that any pastor can minister to. To be sure, the inmates aren't all tough in the sense of all being hardened characters, although there are enough of those types around. What makes it tough is that even the Christians among the inmates typically come from backgrounds in which they have been victimized as well as the victimizers (and these often get intertwined). There's just a lot of baggage for any pastor to deal with.

My coming in to move around a few paperclips ain't nothing compared to that. Nothing at all. So I told him that I thought he had one of the toughest jobs conceivable, and my goal was to give him a little help with routine, time-consuming tasks so that he might have more time for the more important parts of his job. (Although, frankly, I'd be happy just to help make his work day a little less crazy.)

It struck me as ridiculous, though. I'm not fit to tie this guy's shoes, and he's telling me that he's humbled that I'm willing to spare a few paltry hours to help in his office. Lord, let me learn.