The Bible and the Politics of Sex

Discussions about the relative value of special (i.e. the Bible) or general revelation (e.g. natural law) for politics and society often bog down on the politics of sex. What about abortion? It is a heinous practice that cannot be outlawed on as flimsy a basis as natural law or private conscience. What about gay marriage? The Greeks were pretty good at natural law sorts of arguments but not necessarily reliable on same-sex relationships. Or what about women in the military? (I actually think nature is far more instructive here than God’s word, having seen some of the tortured reasoning from Presbyterian communions on women serving in the military.) The idea that most Americans will rally around an argument from general revelation to ban women from the armed services seems far fetched.

And of course beyond whether or not natural law will be more effective than Scripture in public debate is the issue of what’s right. If God requires certain kinds of holiness from his people, and believers are implicated in a host of immoral activities by virtue of their citizenship and taxes at work, then shouldn’t Christians object to laws and policies on the clear grounds of the Bible?

The problem for sufficiency-of-Scripture advocates, though, is that government these days involves a lot more than sex. After all, the president’s health care legislation is more than 1,000 pages. I haven’t seen it. I know many believers are concerned about the potential for government-funded abortion. But can this piece of legislation simply be boiled down to pro-life implications? At stake are questions about the power of the federal government, the private sectors of medical insurers, drug companies, the livelihoods of physicians, and even public health. In other words, I’d bet that 99 percent of the document involves matters that Scripture won’t resolve. And yet, Christians only seem to react to those aspects of law that pertain to abortion while insisting that the Bible is the standard for public life.

An article in the New Republic recently about copyright laws and Google’s attempts to make all books available on line illustrates the weak link in the Bible only argument. The author, Laurence Lessig, starts with the case of Grace Guggenheim, the daughter of a successful documentary film maker who wanted to reproduce digitally all the films made by her father. But Guggenheim could not complete the task. Lessig explains:

Her project faced two challenges, one obvious, one not. The obvious challenge was technical: gathering fifty years of film and restoring it digitally. The non-obvious challenge was legal: clearing the rights to move this creative work onto this new platform for distribution. Most people might be puzzled about just why there would be any legal issue with a child restoring her father’s life’s work. After all, when we decide to repaint our grandfather’s old desk, or sell it to a neighbor, or use it as a workbench or a kitchen table, no one thinks to call a lawyer first. But the property that Grace Guggenheim curates is of a special kind. It is protected by copyright law.

Documentaries in particular are property of a special kind. The copyright and contract claims that burden these compilations of creativity are impossibly complex. The reason is not hard to see. A part of it is the ordinary complexity of copyright in any film. A film is made up of many different creative elements–music, plot, characters, images, and so on. Once the film is made, any effort at remaking it–moving it to DVD, for example–could require clearing permissions for each of these original elements. But documentaries add another layer of complexity to this already healthy thicket, as they typically also include quotations, in the sense of film clips. So just as a book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Jonathan Alter might have quotes from famous people talking about its subject, a film about civil rights produced in the 1960s would include quotations–clips from news stations–from famous people of the time talking about the issue of the day. Unlike a book, however, these quotations are in film–typically, news footage from CBS or NBC.

The point of Lessig’s example is that reproducing documentaries becomes impossible because of the fees necessary to secure permission (again) to use footage contained in the original product. For instance, one documentary on the Civil Rights movement, considered the most complete visual chronicle of the events, will never be seen again because the original permissions have expired and the company that made the film no longer exists.

Lessig goes on to raise questions about the recent settlement of Google’s plans to reproduce books on-line. He believes that a similar set of hurdles has entered the realm of books that once only applied to other media. He concludes:

I have no clear view. I only know that the two extremes that are before us would, each of them, if operating alone, be awful for our culture. The one extreme, pushed by copyright abolitionists, that forces free access on every form of culture, would shrink the range and the diversity of culture. I am against abolitionism. And I see no reason to support the other extreme either–pushed by the content industry–that seeks to license every single use of culture, in whatever context. That extreme would radically shrink access to our past.

Instead we need an approach that recognizes the errors in both extremes, and that crafts the balance that any culture needs: incentives to support a diverse range of creativity, with an assurance that the creativity inspired remains for generations to access and understand. This may be too much to ask. The idea of balanced public policy in this area will strike many as oxymoronic. It is thus no wonder, perhaps, that the likes of Google sought progress not through better legislation, but through a clever kludge, enabled by genius technologists. But this is too important a matter to be left to private enterprises and private deals. Private deals and outdated law are what got us into this mess. Whether or not a sensible public policy is possible, it is urgently needed.

This is a long article, well worth reading for those interested in law and the future of the book. And this post hardly does justice either to the article or issues involved. But the article does illustrate a point: most of what magistrates do pertains to matters far removed from the clear moral teaching of Scripture about sex and marriage. So if some are going to fault natural law for not performing a slam dunk on the hot button topics of the culture wars (abortion and gay marriage), when will those advocates of a biblical approach to politics admit that Scripture won’t resolve important questions like this one about the copyright of words and images?

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81 Comments

  1. Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    SR is clear: thou shalt not kill, with exceptions seen in case law. GR is unclear: killing feels yucky, except when it doesn’t. SR is clear: man is made in God’s image. GR is unclear: what does it mean to be human?

    Jeff,

    First, I just don’t accept your premise that GR is fuzzy on murder. I have no idea how pagan civilizations were built if they were so clueless about human life. And if you think SR makes things clearer, and thus is a link to building better societies, you still have to deal with the fact that murder took place in Israel. Again, human sin is the problem, not that human beings aren’t using the right book. So God says not to murder, so what? That doesn’t solve anything. If simply making the rules clear to people were really the point, then I should be able to build the perfect tennis player by simply explaining all the rules and what it takes to win every time: hit it back in such a way that your opponent can’t return it. Never mind my student is a big, fat uncoordinated slob. Huh?

    Second, does it really matter if anyone acknowledges the one true God to ground a prohibition of murder? I mean, when a pagan deals rightly with me I don’t make much fuss about his reasons, all I care about is being dealt with rightly. When my unbelieving neighbor keeps himself from killing me I don’t quibble about why. He seems to know that killing it wrong. And what about when believers deal with me wrongly? It would seem that knowing that I am made in God’s own image didn’t really keep him from bearing false witness against me. Call me radically convoluted, but I’d much rather explain sinful behavior by the doctrine of sin instead of by epistemological knowledge or ignorance.

    Yes, “who gets to decide” is a real question. But abortion as a civil rights issue is more pressing.

    I realize both lifers and choicers agree that it’s about the individual rights of one group or another, but I disagree. I don’t think it’s a civil rights issue. I think it’s a jurisdictional question. But I’m not about to picket Planned Parenthoods or Pregnancy Resource Centers, frothing at the mouth about how each is a slaughterhouse of states’ rights. I’m radical that way.

  2. Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    First, I just don’t accept your premise that GR is fuzzy on murder. I have no idea how pagan civilizations were built if they were so clueless about human life. And if you think SR makes things clearer, and thus is a link to building better societies, you still have to deal with the fact that murder took place in Israel. Again, human sin is the problem, not that human beings aren’t using the right book. So God says not to murder, so what? That doesn’t solve anything. If simply making the rules clear to people were really the point, then I should be able to build the perfect tennis player by simply explaining all the rules and what it takes to win every time: hit it back in such a way that your opponent can’t return it. Never mind my student is a big, fat uncoordinated slob. Huh?

    The GR is fuzzy on whether abortion is murder.

    The tennis player analogy “swings and misses” with me, so to speak (sorry, couldn’t resist), in that you’re back to building better societies, which isn’t the point.

    The point is, the Christian Magistrate is normatively obligated to Scripture.

    I don’t think it’s a civil rights issue.

    How is the 5th Amendment not relevant here?

  3. Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    RL: Did any of you guys read that Poythress article linked to above? I have plenty of respect for that man’s educational training and strong intellect, but that’s one of the goofiest things I’ve ever read.

    Twice, now. He sounds like Stallman. Which parts do you find goofy?

  4. Posted March 31, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “Did any of you guys read that Poythress article linked to above? I have plenty of respect for that man’s educational training and strong intellect, but that’s one of the goofiest things I’ve ever read.”

    I didn’t make any claims that the article was on the mark. I was merely pointing out that some have discussed copyright issues from Scripture. You might not agree with the case he’s made, you might think it’s goofy, but my point was just that some apparently do think Scripture speaks to copyright issues. Also note that the article was written in 1995. That’s 15 years ago. Clearly things need to be discussed in new ways as technology has expanded since then.

  5. Posted March 31, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    The GR is fuzzy on whether abortion is murder.

    Then you have no choice but to say to those who disagree with you around the cultural table, “The Bible says abortion is murder. Solved.” I don’t understand how you think you’ll get very far when many of them don’t subscribe the Bible. You have to appeal to what everyone subscribes to, which is to say the law written on the human heart. And just because some people don’t get it doesn’t mean GR is fuzzy—the fault isn’t with the law but with people (Ro. 7).

    Besides, I thought you admitted that GR was sufficient for general tasks? Now it’s fuzzy again? I guess I’m still fuzzy on your notion of sufficiency.

    The tennis player analogy “swings and misses” with me, so to speak (sorry, couldn’t resist), in that you’re back to building better societies, which isn’t the point.
    The point is, the Christian Magistrate is normatively obligated to Scripture.

    Jeff, I get your concern about the CM. But the CM lives with others. He doesn’t just exist to “glorify God” in some ethereal way. He actually has to get things done. There is just as much a vertical responsibility as there is a horizontal one. I have Christian subordinates, but I don’t evaluate their performances by saying they “glorified God” because they, too, have to get things done. And we all understand we are obligated to Scripture, but often in the course of getting things done we disagree about how that should happen best. And neither of us can just appeal to the Bible when my solution X diverges from their solution Y. I know you want to avoid the question of building society and make it about glorifying God, as if for the believer these are somehow mutually exclusive (?), but you just can’t. We’re social creatures.

  6. RL
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Jeff:

    Regrettably, I’m pretty busy right now, so please pardon my brevity and sloppiness. In short, some of the ideas appearing under the heading “Property and the Bible” seem goofy. Especially the paragraph that ends with this sentence: “By copying, they display the presence of God and spread blessings to other human beings who enjoy the fruit of copying.” That and the prophets-copied-so-copying-is-good argument. I think these follow woefully short, and I think its also a bit careless, in light of recent debates within the OPC and PCA concerning the Creation account, to rely on it for a copyright argument, and overall I thought his arguments lacked the sort of precision that I consider a hallmark of his best writing, though I still disagree with it at places.

    I think Poythress confuses some of the most basic categories of intellectual property law, but he didn’t claim to be an expert in that. Larry Lessig, on the other hand is an expert, and he does the same thing, only, I think, he does it intentionally. I am really short on time–if CVD’s reading he can elaborate. First, they both fail to properly and precisely distinguish between copyright, patent, and trade-secret protection and the way these things work together. Second, they fail to explain how copyright law does not protect ideas or facts it only protects the expression (e.g. presentation and arrangement). So that table of the was missing from the article that Lessig writes about may be protected by copyright law, but only those aspects of it that are essential to its presentation. The knowledge, facts, and ideas conveyed in that table do indeed belong to everyone, and a careful and courteous publisher would have included those ideas and facts in the article (i.e. put them in paragraph form with brackets or reword the table or put them in a footnote). The missing information was caused by sloppy publishing not copyright law.

    As to Poythress, KFC’s and Coke’s secret recipes are secret because they’ve kept it secret, not because of the copyright law, and because an axe is not an “expression” (unless its hanging on the wall in some post-modern museum) it is not afforded any copyright protection. If the axe has any IP protection it has patent protection, and patent protection is designed to do exactly what Poythress wants to do–it creates an incentive for people to reveal their secrets for a limited time in exchange for limited monopoly over the design or process. That’s why you have to file your patent with the patent office–so that they can give it away to anyone who asks aften the patent expires. There are different kinds of patents, and duration of the patent protection varies, but the most popular patents in the US are only last for 14 to 20 years.

    Hope that’s not too confusing.

  7. Mike K.
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Lessig’s Free Culture is his standard work on the subject. It’s been a couple of years but I don’t remember him worrying about patents or trade secrets. His primary concern there was the damage inflicted by copyright on our cultural development. He also has youtube videos discussing fair use.

  8. Mike K.
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  9. Posted March 31, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    RL: Thanks.

  10. Posted March 31, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Zrim: You have to appeal to what everyone subscribes to, which is to say the law written on the human heart. And just because some people don’t get it …

    There’s the problem in a nutshell. You’ve got a split personality about the universality of the NL. On the one hand, we all subscribe to it in such a way as to make just laws with it; on the other, none of us does. Not some; none. Paul is pretty definite about this.

    You’re concerned that I won’t get very far by saying, “The Bible says so.” And maybe I won’t.

    How much further will you get by saying, “Because it’s just the right thing to do”? Isn’t that going to be interpreted as “Because I say so”? (And in fact, is it really different from that?)

    You hope that the NL in people’s hearts will lead to conviction so that you can get some agreement. But why couldn’t I have the same hope? At least, I’m appealing to a means that God uses to convict people, instead of just saying “because I say so and you know I’m right.”

    Zrim: Besides, I thought you admitted that GR was sufficient for general tasks? Now it’s fuzzy again? I guess I’m still fuzzy on your notion of sufficiency.

    GR can get the city built. It won’t make its laws just.

    The Romans, to whom you appeal as a fine example of GR, thought that not merely abortion, but the exposing of babies and even killings by the pater familia were just fine. Murder-for-sport in the gladiatorial games was standard entertainment — and Tertullian sure didn’t feel shy about critiquing it using Scripture.

    In fact, he explains that the games are not culturally neutral:

    Now nobody denies what nobody is ignorant of-for Nature herself is teacher of it-that God is the Maker of the universe, and that it is good, and that it is man’s by free gift of its Maker. But having no intimate acquaintance with the Highest, knowing Him only by natural revelation, and not as His “friends”-afar off, and not as those who have been brought nigh to Him-men cannot but be in ignorance alike of what He enjoins and what He forbids in regard to the administration of His world.

    Tertullian, at least, was not a fan of the “sufficiency of NL.”

    Zrim: I have Christian subordinates, but I don’t evaluate their performances by saying they “glorified God” because they, too, have to get things done. And we all understand we are obligated to Scripture, but often in the course of getting things done we disagree about how that should happen best. And neither of us can just appeal to the Bible when my solution X diverges from their solution Y.

    Never? Or not always? Being vague on this point obscures a huge difference.

    I know you want to avoid the question of building society and make it about glorifying God, as if for the believer these are somehow mutually exclusive (?), but you just can’t. We’re social creatures.

    I agree with you: there is unity between our actions and the glorifying of God in those actions. It follows therefore that the Scripture, which contains all things necessary for us to glorify God (WCoF 1.6), will have be used in a unified fashion with GR.

    If that means that by using SR I mark myself as an alien in this world and a citizen of the next, that may be necessary. For the sake of charity I can be as flexible as I may be — but there comes a point where flexibility becomes disloyalty, and at that point the flexing must stop.

  11. dgh
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    Craig, I didn’t say you violated the ninth commandment. What I said was that you are not paying heed to the ninth commandment. When you say that 2k relegates the church to uselessness, or that 2kers submit to the government as in a 1k world, or that 2k destroys piety, you are making assertions that do not present 2k accurately. You are trying to make it look as bas as possible. As I read the catechisms on the ninth commandment, that is not what we’re supposed to do.

    Now, I can live with mischaracterizations. But then behind these points is your other language of 2k being a system of sin. You don’t ask whether 2kers hold to the views you say we do. You don’t try to persuade us from the error of our ways. You merely bang the gavel — condemned.

    Again, that may be okay for some. But when you are very protective of the sixth commandment and are sure to bang 2kers for not adhering to it the way you do, it sure does look selective the way you step around the 9th commandment.

    And, I’m still waiting for your proof texts on copyright, Google, and books. You get one more swinging miss and then you’re out.

  12. dgh
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Joel S., why do you suppose that the Bible is the place to go for carpet color? Why isn’t there godly wisdom outside the Bible? Can’t you see that looking for carpet color in the Bible doesn’t make Scripture more but less important? It trivializes it.

    Someone may go to the Bible for this. But it may actually be an instance not of devoutness but folly.

  13. Bob
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Of various forms of IP rights, copyright is most closely linked to Christian (albeit Catholic) theology. European Roman Catholics believed that artistic works reflected the spirit of the artist. Therefore, the unauthorized reproduction somehow violated the spirit of the artist. Of course, this justification seems to lose a bit of force in today’s world, where artists generally assign those rights to media conglomerates. The economic justification for copyright protection is a bit flimsy.

    I can’t see that SR (or Christian theology, generally) would have much to say about patent law. Heavily Reformed countries in Europe, such as Holland and Switzerland, were some of the last developed countries to enact patent protection that was consistent with the Paris Convention. Still, patentees do not fare well in enforcing patents in the Western District of Michigan.

    “[S]o long as they did their job well can go home knowing that they executed their vocation in a God-honoring way.” Hmm. If only that were true, Jed. When I practiced in a firm, I was just trying to keep my sanity while dealing with the pressures of firm life (e.g., insanely long hours, lots of profanity-laden yelling, constant fire drills, lots of drinking, etc.). But in general, I agree. Every client has a story to tell that explains why, if the law is just, it ought to vindicate its conduct. So, good lawyers generally invest a lot of time developing a meta-narrative that frames the relevant facts of a case. But each side generally has a decent story to tell, as most civil litigation involves cases where the facts cut both ways.

    Can anyone explain to me why some evangelicals seem to be obsessed with criminalizing abortion? In five centuries of common law, early-term abortion has never been treated as murder. So, it makes no sense to start doing it now. Besides, if we treated early-term abortion as murder, we’d also have to start investigating miscarriages as potential homicides and we’d have to ban most oral contraceptives (because they often have an abortifacient effect). So, why only picket Planned Parenthood facilities? Why not CVS also? After all, if life starts at conception, then oral contraceptives have murdered far more “unborn babies” than abortion.

  14. Posted April 1, 2010 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Re abortion:

    (1) “In five centuries of common law, early-term abortion has never been treated as murder. So, it makes no sense to start doing it now.”

    There’s a study by a fellow at U-Mich that demonstrates conclusively that early-term abortion was not treated as murder because of evidentiary reasons: until “quickening”, there was no proof of pregnancy.

    As the situation changed, so did the law.

    I don’t know if I’d be able to find it again; my bookmarks at school were clobbered when my profile blew up in January. But if you’re interested, I could try.

    (2) Oral contraceptives may, infrequently have an abortifacient effect. The only studies done to my knowledge have been on horses, indicating a 1% mortality rate of fertilized eggs in horses.

    That was enough for us to avoid oral contraceptives, but not so much that one could conclude that oral contraceptives have murdered far more unborn babies than abortion.

  15. Posted April 1, 2010 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    DGH: Why isn’t there godly wisdom outside the Bible?

    This needs explaining…

  16. Posted April 1, 2010 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    GR can get the city built. It won’t make its laws just.

    Jeff, this seems like more bifurcation, and I don’t understand it. Part of what it means to build a city is to maintain law and order. But I also keep getting the sense that you are still not distinguishing between proximate justice and exact justice. So GR helps build a city, which necessarily includes making just laws, but the building and making respectively are always going to be imperfect.

    Can anyone explain to me why some evangelicals seem to be obsessed with criminalizing abortion? In five centuries of common law, early-term abortion has never been treated as murder…

    Bob, as with all obsessions, I tend to think it owes less to logic and a lot more to emotion (i.e. being on the right side of righteousness, fear and loathing, etc.). This isn’t to trivialize the honest moral concerns of some, but I think those more genuine get pretty well drowned out by the power-obsessed mania of group-think culture warriorism. If it weren’t abortion it’d be something else.

    And to the extent that such mania is really in the DNA of evangelicalism, that’s all fine and good. But what bothers me is when Reformed and Presbyterian join in. I mean, we’re supposed to be about sobriety and sanity, not mania. And not to hit a nerve to close, but it’s curious to me how so many P&R criticize evangelicals for lots of things, (and rightly so), but when the a-word is mentioned they can go just as ape, and you’re not sure if you’re listening to a Presbyterian or an evangelical. It almost seems like a case of “they can’t because they’re them, but we can because we’re us.”

  17. Posted April 1, 2010 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    The Romans, to whom you appeal as a fine example of GR, thought that not merely abortion, but the exposing of babies and even killings by the pater familia were just fine.

    Jeff, I know you don’t like my point that the Roman system of justice has to be understood as stellar in order to understand it as typological of God’s perfect justice against sin. But typology, by definition, means that what is typifying is but a shadow of what is being typified. Joshua wasn’t Jesus, and Roman justice wasn’t righteousness, but they serve a purpose in pointing to a larger reality. Again, approximation versus exactitude.

  18. Posted April 1, 2010 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    Zrim: This isn’t to trivialize the honest moral concerns of some…

    Sure seems like it. If I want to honor the honest moral concerns of some, but downplay the mania of others, then I use words to esteem the honest moral concerns instead of using words to criticize the mania. It’s a matter of relative volume levels, of drawing attention to what is good and right instead of to the misbehavior of the clowns.

  19. Posted April 1, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    “Joel S., why do you suppose that the Bible is the place to go for carpet color? Why isn’t there godly wisdom outside the Bible? Can’t you see that looking for carpet color in the Bible doesn’t make Scripture more but less important? It trivializes it.

    Someone may go to the Bible for this. But it may actually be an instance not of devoutness but folly.”

    I don’t believe I said the Bible was the place to go for carpet color. I said that no, Scripture does not address carpet color. So I’m not going to the Bible to look for carpet color. But if I’m a Christian, surely I should be formed by the Scriptures so that I make such a decision by the Scriptural principles that have (hopefully) shaped my life. E.g., I know from Scripture what my priorities should be in spending money, etc. Those biblical principles that I have hopefully learned should guide me (whether I go searching in Scripture when the carpet decision comes up or not).

    I’m not denying by any means that you must use extra-biblical information in your decision. Surely one must know all sorts of things to make a good decision in this situation. But it seems to me that a rigid divide between “godly wisdom outside the Bible” and the godly wisdom I attain from reading and applying Scripture would be somewhat paralyzing. How can I make such a dichotomy if I worship Christ and read Scripture with the intent that I would be changed more into his image?

    Thanks again for your thoughts as I try to think through these issues.

  20. Posted April 1, 2010 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    If I want to honor the honest moral concerns of some, but downplay the mania of others, then I use words to esteem the honest moral concerns instead of using words to criticize the mania. It’s a matter of relative volume levels, of drawing attention to what is good and right instead of to the misbehavior of the clowns.

    Jeff,

    That’s one way, yes.

    But you’re a veteran of classroom management, yes? Do you diffuse the class clown by ignoring him and up-playing the good behavior of the obedient? The mania still needs to be addressed instead of ignored because I think it points to something pretty significant. Granted, responding to the mania can be a bit like rewarding a disobedient child with the negative attention he seeks, but that’s why I think the mania should probably be addressed more indirectly than directly. Sort of like the grown ups who discuss the problem child between themselves before removing the problem element into the hallway instead of in the classroom where he gets the show he wants. If only removing the cultural clowns into the hallway for discipline were as easy as removing the class clowns.

  21. Posted April 1, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Zrim: Do you diffuse the class clown by ignoring him and up-playing the good behavior of the obedient?

    Absolutely. And if I need to call out the class clown, I do it in private if possible. Rarely, only rarely, do I make a public example of the clown — because to do so is high-stakes and allows him an element of control.

    If only removing the cultural clowns into the hallway for discipline were as easy as removing the class clowns.

    I hear ya. My slogan in the 80s was, “Can I fire Jerry Falwell?”

  22. Posted April 1, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    So Zrim, which horn of the dilemma do you grasp? Are your NL arguments a covert appeal to the decalogue? OR are they an appeal to a different moral standard altogether?

  23. dgh
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Jeff, godly wisdom outside the Bible means that non-believers have a host of insights into human existence. Since this wisdom comes from general revelation, it is from God.

    Joel S., as I see it, not making the distinction between Scripture and wisdom outside the Bible is incredibly paralyzing. It leads me to think that I need to consult the Bible for everything I do in life, when God has given us good gifts of learning, wisdom, friends, relatives — all sources of counsel that are usually easier to access than looking through sixty-six books of different genres spanning almost two millennia and trying to figure out God’s will for which part-time job I should take. Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to diminish the authority or truthfulness of Scripture. I am rather trying to highlight how precious and how other the message of Scripture is, while also recognizing that God has given us other sources of wisdom.

  24. Posted April 1, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    …which horn of the dilemma do you grasp? Are your NL arguments a covert appeal to the decalogue? OR are they an appeal to a different moral standard altogether?

    Well, the law written on the heart and the law written on stone are not at odds but are one and the same. But I’m not comfortable characterizing that as a “covert appeal” to a peculiar covenant. It sounds like you want to force on my behalf a theocratic conclusion because I admit the two laws are one and the same. In other words, I’m not keen on your rather two-dimensional dilemma. I’m with Reformed writers who make these necessary distinctions:

    1. Because the civil and ceremonial laws were specifically and intentionally tied to the Old (Mosaic) covenant, they were fulfilled in the Kingly and Priestly work of Christ and are therefore no longer binding on the Christian.

    2. The Mosaic civil law, because it was specifically and intentionally tied to the temporary and typical Old (Mosaic) covenant, it was never intended to serve as norm for any other state than Mosaic-Davidic theocracy.

    3. Any attempt to re-impose the Mosaic civil laws or their penalties fails to understand the typological, temporary, national character of the Old (Mosaic) covenant.

    4. The moral law, to the degree it expresses the substance of God’s moral will and is not tied to the ceremonies of the Old covenant continues to bind all human beings.

    5. In the New Covenant, only the second table of the Law can be said to bind the state.

    6. There are two kingdoms: that of the right hand and that of the left.

    7. Both kingdoms are under the authority of Christ, but are administered in diverse ways.

    8.In each kingdom, Christians live under Christ’s lordship according to the nature of that kingdom.

    9.The kingdom of the Right hand describes the ministry of Word and sacrament.

    10.The kingdom of the left hand describes the exercise of power in the ecclesiastical and civil realms.

    11. Because of the distinction between the two kingdoms and because the Decalogue is substantially identical with natural law, Christians should advocate laws and policies in the civil realm on the basis of the universal, natural knowledge of the second table of the law.

  25. Posted April 1, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Darryl,
    I don’t believe I’ve simply dropped the gavel and said “condemned!” without an argument. Feel free to *specifically* argue…or show me where my reasoning is *specifically* flawed.

    With regard to copyright law, I thought my questions answered you. Thoughts are not property. The ink and paper they are placed on are. Biblically, I may not steal your books, but biblically, your written thoughts may be copied by me on my own paper with ink, or electronically…though I can’t do so legally…well, not for 50 years or so :)

  26. Posted April 2, 2010 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Zrim, there’s a lot to agree with in your summary.

    There’s really just two things that are not settled for me. First, #5 is appealing, but how do we know that it’s true? After all, the biggest and most obvious thing that the natural law teaches is that there is a Creator who is to be worshiped instead of the creation.

    Second, in relation to #11: Perhaps you feel that my dilemma is “two-dimensional” because I don’t consider motive. That is, by calling NL a covert appeal to the decalogue, I make it seem like you’re trying to be sneaky.

    But actually, I think you’re trying to be polite, or agreeable, or “common denominatorish.” You want to live in the common realm with your fellow men, believer or otherwise, with as broad a basis of agreement as possible.

    My question is, “What happens when the agreement breaks down?” You say X, Alice says Y, now what?

    I don’t think “because the Natural Law says so” helps one iota more than “because the Bible says so.”

    And in any event, an astute non-believer will notice that your version of the Natural Law just happens to coincide with the 10 Commandments every time. When I’ve discussed abortion, for example, with non-believers, I make natural-law type arguments. Nonetheless, they are dismissed as “religious.”

    That’s where we are in the culture.

    Guys, I’m going to take a hiatus from this discussion. The Advanced Placement exams loom in May and my energies are required. Thanks for your time, and for your patience with my persistence.

    JRC

  27. Posted April 2, 2010 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    “Joel S., as I see it, not making the distinction between Scripture and wisdom outside the Bible is incredibly paralyzing. It leads me to think that I need to consult the Bible for everything I do in life, when God has given us good gifts of learning, wisdom, friends, relatives — all sources of counsel that are usually easier to access than looking through sixty-six books of different genres spanning almost two millennia and trying to figure out God’s will for which part-time job I should take. Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to diminish the authority or truthfulness of Scripture. I am rather trying to highlight how precious and how other the message of Scripture is, while also recognizing that God has given us other sources of wisdom.”

    Dr. Hart, thanks for your reply. This sort of reasoning makes me very nervous, but I will need to spend some time thinking about it.

  28. Posted April 2, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    My question is, “What happens when the agreement breaks down?” You say X, Alice says Y, now what?

    I don’t think “because the Natural Law says so” helps one iota more than “because the Bible says so.”

    Your question seems to presume that disagreement is a problem. I don’t see it as a problem, I see it as an inescapable condition of life east of Eden. And when I try to settle my disagreement with my unbelieving neighbor by appealing to a book he doesn’t subscribe I don’t see how that is any different from my Mormon or Muslim neighbor settling ours by pulling out the Book of Moroni or the Koran. Those are special books that some subscribe and others don’t. We all have to appeal to a book we all agree with. And, even then, problems won’t be solved and we all still have to live in a world that doesn’t shake out the way we think it should. But my pilgrim theology tells me that’s just the way it is and why. Get up the next day and try again and learn to live with failure, as well as with the idea that, as persuaded as you might be about whatever, you could be wrong and the other guy could be right.

    And in any event, an astute non-believer will notice that your version of the Natural Law just happens to coincide with the 10 Commandments every time. When I’ve discussed abortion, for example, with non-believers, I make natural-law type arguments. Nonetheless, they are dismissed as “religious.”

    I hear you. But, Jeff, people come in contexts. My unbelievers know my religious devotions, and I’ve no need whatsoever to hide them (so much for hermetically sealing off my faith in the public square). And if I am unduly dismissed for my views simply because someone else smells a rat, well, I can’t solve for that. Nor do I really want to. That’s their problem, not mine. But if being dismissed bothers you that much, try making the abortion question one about states’ rights. Unless, of course, you have an allergy to being dismissed by fellow believers, in which case, stick with the natalism and you’ll be very popular.

    Best in your test prep. We’ll be waiting for you here in Assessment-ville, trying to figure out what the heck your kids are trying to say.

  29. dgh
    Posted April 3, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Craig, I’d say that calling 2k a “system of sin” is banging the gavel. And it’s not as funny as when members of the Monty Python troop did it.

  30. Posted April 3, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Darryl,
    I didn’t say I hadn’t dropped a gavel…I *did* say this…which I will reproduce for you:
    “I don’t believe I’ve simply dropped the gavel and said “condemned!” without an argument.”

    Big difference. I’ve given arguments…you’ve given: ad hom, misstated what has been said, misunderstood what’s been said, shifted subjects, snarked, made “witty” comments, asked more questions while being sure to never answer anyone else…then pout ’cause someone messed up the castle you tried building in your sand box.

    I then invited you to do this:
    “Feel free to *specifically* argue…or show me where my reasoning is *specifically* flawed.”

    Which you haven’t done. With your reference to Monty Python, misstating what I had actually said, and then not taking up task of answering…I just got 3 of DGH’s pre-packaged responses from a single dive into the grab-bag…and you were able to so so in 2 sentences. Kudos.

  31. dgh
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    Craig, how can I argue with your reasoning since you don’t even understand 2k. You have boxed with shadows but have not actually dealt with the actual ideas of 2k or the theological rationales for them. As I said above: “When you say that 2k relegates the church to uselessness, or that 2kers submit to the government as in a 1k world, or that 2k destroys piety, you are making assertions that do not present 2k accurately. You are trying to make it look as bas as possible.” And on the basis of the worst possible construction of 2k you say it is a system of sin.

    That sounds a lot like a gavel — but from a kangaroo court.

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