Monday, July 6, 2020

Romans 13 and Protestant Resistance Theory

This was an interesting discussion. I would argue that the lesser magistrate idea is what leads to the slippery slope of private individuals, since if a lesser authority can overthrow a greater authority then why can't we just go all the way to the bottom to the private individual. Certainly, magistrates of equal authority, kings, etc. can overthrow one another and keep one another in check, but the idea of the lesser magistrate seems to be where the Reformers opened a door they could not logically close. However, the rest of this discussion is a good one.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Theonomy and the Perfect Law Code

Springboarding off of our previous discussion of the perfect law code, i.e., the single commandment of the creation mandate in Genesis 1 and 2, I want to discuss what one's view of secular law should look like when constructing a biblically consistent law code off of that perfect law code.

If the perfect law code is one that looks to create and preserve covenant human life then a Christian nation would construct laws that work toward both of these with creation of covenant human life as taking precedence. What I mean by this is that is that a Christian law code should look to govern in such a way so as to allow the church to do its mission of discipling the nations. This means that the laws set up would not interfere with but aid that mission.

This means, however, that if one makes the claim that our laws that govern unbelievers should reflect the Mosaic law code he would be going against the church's mission, and therefore, the perfect law code.

For example, the Mosaic law code commands that all who do not worship YHWH but rather another God must be put to death. This is a civil, not ceremonial law. YHWH is king and to not worship Him is to commit treason punishable by death. Likewise, constructing idols, engaging in sexual relations that do not create covenant human life, etc. are all to be met with the punishment of death. What this means is that ultimately everyone who practices a false religion and has sex, even in marriage, is to be put to death. But the Christian mission, consistent with the creation mandate that prioritizes the creation of covenant human life, is to convert the unbelievers. This is a little hard to do if they are all dead.

What would be consistent with the perfect law code of the creation mandate and the Christian mission is to have a minimal law that sought to preserve covenant human life but still allow unbelievers to morally and theologically sin against God in their deadness. In other words, a law that prevented harm to Christians and any interference of the Church's mission, but allowed the unbeliever to live in his ungodliness as an unregenerate individual. The Mosaic law code does not do this. That is because it is a civil law code not meant for the entire world but for a regenerate people, a saved people. It ended up killing Israel because many of them were not regenerate in the end and therefore were crushed by it. How much more would it crush the world that does not even make the claim to be the regenerate visible community of YHWH?

Hence, codes that are more minimal, like those found in Mesopotamia are instructive but might be augmented by the perfect justice found in the Mosaic law code. These laws deal with things like murder, theft, property rights, adultery, injury, rape, etc. These are things that seek to preserve life against those who would kill or harm it either directly or through the stealing of property. These laws have half of the creation mandate right in that they seek to preserve life. They have half wrong because they don't have the fullness of the mandate in the Christian mission as God's people do, which is to create and preserve covenant human life. But we can take the half that is consistent, evaluate what is more consistent in their laws and punishments with the Christian mission and creation mandate and end up with something much better than the Mosaic law code, not because the Mosaic law code isn't good, but because it is too good. Add Jesus' understanding of the law code to it and it's even better, so much better that anyone who does not obey it will perish. That's the problem of making it into a civil law code to govern unbelievers. It would likely kill believers. How much more unbelievers? And this would all be contrary to the mission of  the church, setting up a law that gets in the way of the church rather than giving it a clear path to do its job in the world.

Monday, June 22, 2020

If the Israelites Weren't Materialists Why Doesn't the Hebrew Bible Talk More about the Afterlife?

I wrote a post a while ago concerning whether the ancient Israelites were materialists and argued in the negative. They clearly have the view of their surrounding cultures when it comes to the existence of the immediate afterlife. Some would use Psalms like Psalm 88, for instance, to try to argue for a diversity of thought in the Hebrew Bible, as though there are some nihilistic materialists among the Israelites, but these texts often contrast the land of the living and what can be accomplished there versus the land of the dead and the ceasing of any accomplishments there. They are not meant to be statements about whether the afterlife exists.

But why doesn't the Hebrew Bible talk more about the afterlife if the people so clearly believe that there is one? I would argue that it is due to their teleological emphasis. Now, this teleology may not necessarily be different than that of the surrounding culture, depending upon what the surrounding culture is at the time, but there is a difference upon the emphasis that is placed on it.

In the Hebrew Bible, the end goal of all of God's people is not the afterlife, but rather the possession of the land of Israel as it rules the entire earth that is restored into a garden of Eden-like state. This is why land is so important and this belief evidences a belief in a physical resurrection of the people of Israel.

Much is made in scholarship of the fact that there may only be one resurrection passage in the Bible and it is a very late one (i.e., Dan 12:1-3). I would argue that this misunderstands the nature of the promises to Abraham and his descendants. In fact, the very promise tells us that it is to Abraham and his descendants, not just some of Abraham's descendants in the future.

In Genesis 13:14-17, 

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring[a] forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

To whom is God giving it? One could argue that God gives it to Abraham only because he gives it to his descendants, but that is not what is promised here. God does not say that I am giving this to your descendants, but rather I am giving this to you. Because he gives it to Abraham, he also gives it to his descendants. This is due to the idea of federal headship. What Abraham receives, his offspring receive. That means not only must Abraham receive it in order for the others to receive it, it means that everyone from Isaac forward must also receive it. The problem is that none of these people ever received it. In fact, it hasn't been received in the way it is promised both here and throughout the Law and the Prophets to this very day. 

What this means is that in order for this to be true, and in order for Abraham to have confidence that God would make this true of both him and his descendants, God must resurrect them all from the dead. Hence, Auctor argues this very point when discussing the Akedah in Hebrews 11:17-19. If Abraham was to receive the promise through Isaac, and God does not lie, then resurrection must be on the table.

Likewise, I would argue that the very analogies made in Isaiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel all have a literal referent in order for the analogies to work. But something even more important than this is the fact that the punishment of the wicked in the Hebrew Bible is removal from the land of the living represented by the garden, wilderness community, land of Israel, etc. Would the Israelites really believed that if they were faithful they would all ultimately removed from the land of the living? It doesn't make much sense if the punishment and the reward are the same in respect to the land that is promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Furthermore, in Isaiah 53, the suffering servant is both killed for the sins of Israel, even though innocent, but because of his innocence, he will receive the reward of long life and see his offspring. How exactly is that possible if he is dead?

My point then is that the Hebrew Bible does not talk about the immediate state of the afterlife very much because it focuses its people on the eternal state of resurrection and restoration of and to the land of the living/garden/earth/Israel in contrast to the wicked who are blown away from it like chaff. Why, then, talk about and describe a spiritual world if the end goal and hope is to possess the current one?

“I will deliver this people from the power of the grave;
    I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
    Where, O grave, is your destruction? (Hos 13:14)

Hence, Daniel 12:1-3 is simply an explicit statement of what is implicit throughout the Hebrew Bible.

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

What Is the Perfect Law Code?

Notice that I did not entitle this post, "What is the perfect law?" We know that the perfect law is the law of love, love of God and love of fellow covenant member, i.e., neighbor. My question instead is, "What is the perfect law code?"

I recently joined a Theonomy group on FB simply because I'm curious to know the various arguments and types of Theonomists. I wouldn't call myself a Theonomist, but the designation might be appropriate if it is understood in light of what I am about to say.

I got into a discussion with a particular Theonomist who was arguing that the Bible does not condemn sex with children, and therefore, it should not be considered a crime. To consider it a crime would be to go beyond God's Word that does not say it is a crime.

He used 1 Corinthians 4:6 to back up his hermeneutic that no one should go beyond what is written. I pointed out, of course, that 1 Corinthians 4:6 is not giving us a hermeneutic by which we might interpret Scripture and apply it, but rather it is not talking about not adding Greek philosophy and persuasive rhetoric to the gospel as though that should capture men's minds. Hence, it is the Spirit through the simple gospel message who does the work of capturing those who are being saved. Men are just the messengers and therefore should not be exalted nor their grasp of deep philosophy or rhetoric replace the Christian message of the gospel which lies at the foundation of all Christian unity and practice.

So I pointed out to him that the law is actually based on the creation mandate in Genesis 1-2. Jesus affirms this by pointing back to this law when evaluating a misuse of a particular law dealing with a divorce case in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Jesus does not bother quibbling about the law itself but points out that this law was a concession that dealt with an unjust situation where a man divorces a woman. Instead, Jesus appeals to the original creation, where a man and woman are made for the purpose of becoming one, and so refutes the Pharisaical interpretation that the law allowed for divorce and remarriage.

Likewise, Jesus' hermeneutic is to go beyond the explicit in the law to get at the creational principle behind it. Hence, it is not enough to simply refrain from murdering someone. One must also not degrade his humanity in any way. It is not enough to merely honor one's parents with his lips, but also to give money to them when they are in need. The Mosaic law does not say that though, which means that the Mosaic law code is not the perfect law code. It is perfect in the sense that it is not flawed or containing error, but it is not perfect in the sense that it is exhaustive and complete.

Notice, Jesus does not negate the Mosaic law in any way. He merely acknowledges that the law is good and right, but that one can misinterpret it if he or she thinks it is exhaustive. This means that the laws in the Mosaic law code, or codes, is representative, not exhaustive. The law is simply filled with examples of the larger principle found in creation, mainly, that what creates and preserves the life of covenant people is good/ordered/creational and what works against that is evil/disordered/chaotic. This means that the Mosaic law code, though good and perfect in one sense, is insufficient if one is looking for every example of good one can do or evil from which one should refrain.

This is why Paul argues that the one who steals no longer (i.e., obeys the Mosaic law of not stealing) must also now work to provide for anyone who is in need. The latter is not implied in the law of not stealing, but both not stealing and providing for covenant members is implicit in the creation mandate.

What this means is that the creation mandate, not the Mosaic law code, is the perfect law code simply because all of the laws both in the OT and the NT are implicit within it. It also means that other laws not mentioned in the Bible but that are implicit in the creation mandate are also meant to be obeyed by Christians. Hence, sex with children is wrong because it works against the creation mandate. Children cannot have procreative sex. It is therefore forbidden and would carry with it the same penalties as those found in texts condemning unproductive sexual activity (e.g., Lev 18).

What this means is that the perfect law of love, not only looks to the Mosaic moral law for examples to follow in order to love God and other covenant members, but first and foremost to the principle of the creation mandate the governs all law codes within the Bible.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Identification and Solution of White Privilege and Systemic Racism

One of the frustrating things about the current social climate is the cult-like atmosphere of having to hold certain mantras. It reminds me of watching Mormon speakers and hearing, “I believe in the Book of Mormon and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God,” or the Muslim mantra “Allah is God and Mohammed is his prophet.” In the same way, one must affirm the truth of phrases like “white privilege” or “systemic racism” in order to be seen as a good and decent human being worthy to be received by the ruling mob.

I personally believe that this movement is filled with misidentifications of the problem, and therefore, misidentifications of the solution but I do want to note that I do believe that white privilege and systemic racism exist. They’re just not as cut and dry as most people think they are.

For one, the real issue with privilege is actually classism. Race comes in only when a particular race is in the majority and decides to keep other races out of its elite classes, but this in no way means that everyone of that race is in the elite class, has power therefore to keep races out of it, or even benefits from it. I have a feeling, affirmed by having multiple people explain white privilege and systemic racism to me, that what most people are picturing when they say “white” is actually “upper class white.” No one is looking at the homeless guy who inherited a long history of poverty from his impoverished family line as having white privilege, nor could one make the argument that his life is somehow slightly better as a white homeless man that it would have been had he been a black homeless man. Is it really appropriate to compare the white homeless man to a rich black congressman and say that the rich black congressman would have been richer had he been white and the white homeless man would have been even worse off had he been black, and therefore, the white guy has privilege the rich black congressman doesn’t?

Likewise, systemic racism doesn’t involve all people, but only the elite class of white people in the West. I absolutely agree that any culture where one race is dominant there tends to be privilege given to that dominant race by the dominant race, but such privilege tends to be granted by the upper class in that society where the lower classes have little to no ability to grant access or deny it to anyone. Do you think that white people get the same opportunity for employment in places dominated by other races in other countries?

I grant that the West is a bit unique in that it has become made up of multiple races, and because of this, the injustices of privilege are going to be more pronounced than in many countries that simply have one race (although you can see the same injustices applied in these countries based on tribal affiliation, religion, etc.).

So I think it is absolutely true that there is systemic racism that has prevented black people from entering into the upper classes so that they had to work extra hard and jump numerous obstacles their white counterparts did not have to in order to get a leg up. Going from slavery to the upper class was a much longer road than anyone else of another race had to take in our culture. Hence, white elite class privilege existed and exists if those elite whites are still elite as a result of their ancestry. It no longer exists if they have no such inheritance.

Of course, there is also much confusion over the idea that all elite white people became elite from slavery. This actually isn’t true. People were rich long before they came to America. Many became rich apart from the slave trade or owning any slaves at all. Some were always opposed to it. Some just had nothing to do with it. Most of those actually guilty were either killed or impoverished in that big war we had between the North and the South. If it is simply a matter of guilt by benefiting from another person’s evil then everyone in the world is guilty of all sorts of crimes committed by others throughout history, but God does not tally sins in such ways unless those sins are continued by the individuals who benefit from them. Indeed, such would make even black people guilty having been ancestors of black people who kidnapped and sold other black people into slavery, and thus, having benefited from the wealth made by slavery with the rest of America, they would become guilty as well. Other races who were involved in the slave trade and have benefited from it in the butterfly effects of the modern-day would also be guilty.

But let’s say for a moment that it really is every white person alone in the world who has privilege. What does justice look like now? Does justice mean that they should be given less favor in order for the disadvantaged to be given more? Does it mean we take away what belongs to them in order to give it to others with less privilege? The Bible would argue that this is actually unjust and something the wicked do.

You shall not follow the crowd in wrongdoing. When you testify in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd. And do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Exod 23:2-3)

I find this verse rather interesting since we are being led along by mob justice these days. As long as the mob agrees justice is taking away from those who have, as long as they’re a particular color, in order to give to those who do not, again, as long as they’re a particular color, then suddenly it is. 

You must not pervert justice; you must not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the rich; you are to judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15)

This verse in particular is talking about a fellow Christian. Now we are talking about doing what is unjust to a fellow believer because of his class. Notice, some people had the tendency to hate the rich and be in favor of the poor instead. Others gave favor to the rich and so did wrong by them. God tells His people that they are to do neither. They are not to be partial which means that they are not to take into consideration factors of class when they are judging one another.

Show no partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be intimidated by anyone, for judgment belongs to God. (Deut 1:17)

Again, “small and great” refer to those who have no privilege and those who do. You are to hear both out fairly and not be bullied into favoring one over the other.

Micah 2:6-9 is particularly interesting because many people thought they had the right to take away the privilege inherited by the rich. Yet, God sees this as their covetous depravity.

“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will not overtake us.”
You descendants of Jacob, should it be said, “Does the LORD become impatient? Does he do such things?” “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?
Lately my people have risen up like an enemy. You strip off the rich robe from those who pass by without a care, like men returning from battle.
You drive the women of my people from their wealthy homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever.

What this passage actually tells us is that what the upper class have has been given to them by God through inheritance. Notice, again, the fear of being bullied and so their false prophets tell them not to speak against these acts. Justice isn't righting all of the wrongs of the past and making everyone the same class with the same privilege, but being fair to everyone, rich or poor, by allowing them to keep what God has allotted to them. This means they should not be unfairly treated by the law, nor have any possessions that belong to them taken from them, nor be shorted in anything that is owed to them.

The wrench in all of this is the fact that it is not simply a matter of privilege due to merely being the majority race in our country, but a history of racial injustice beginning by buying black (kidnapped) slaves, something expressly forbidden and carrying with it the death penalty in Scripture (Exod 21:16) and placing them in conditions where thriving was next to impossible. 

What should be done here to right this wrong? First, nothing can be done to right the wrong apart from Christ’s death or the death of those guilty because nothing can be done to right any wrong like those that have been committed but death. Blacking out one's FB profile, getting on one's knees, or marching and breaking things for justice sake isn't the penalty in the law for these crimes. Death is. Yet, the people who did this and who the Bible would consider guilty are dead already and the Bible forbids that any man should be put to death for the sins of his ancestors when he has divorced himself from them and has not repeated them himself (Deut 24:16; Ezekiel 18). This means that no one, as long as he has not continued the racist acts of years gone by, is guilty before God of these acts, and to claim that they are is to speak against God, bear false witness against your neighbor, and to do the very injustice once delivered upon a people merely because of the color of their skin. As the wise priest in the Count of Monte Christo once said, "Do not become guilty of the crime for which you now serve the sentence."

What is the way forward then? For Christians, the cross is the only way forward. All injustice has been settled there in the blood of Christ for all who believe and if any current racism in the church is to be destroyed it must be destroyed there. Christians should help Christians wherever they can regardless of race because blood is thicker than skin color and we are one Body with one another.

For the unbeliever, he will defy God’s Word, bear false witness against those who are not guilty according to God, seek out unjust vengeance upon those who are not guilty, and end his world in death and destruction of the innocent. He will rob and deal unfairly with the privileged because there is no just rationality in the wicked mind. Men will continue to be tyrants one way or another. They will commit atrocities against one another and find multiple ways (color, class, tribe, team, gang, etc.) of justifying their bloodlust. And they will do this because the real problem isn’t racism, class, or gender. The real problem is that man is evil from his earliest days on. The only remedy, therefore, is a transformation of nature through the gospel of Christ and all who come to Him, of every nation, tribe and language, will forever sit enthroned over all creation. And that is a privilege every Christian seeks to have and keep.