When Neo-Calvinism Started to Stop Making Sense

Mark Edwards, Spring Arbor University, has touched a nerve among historians who profess some version of Protestantism by commenting on the new book, Confessing History, edited by John Fea, Jay Green, and Eric Miller and suggesting that the Conference on Faith and History is the intellectual arm of the Religious Right. The historians involved in this discussion don’t mind Edwards reservations about Christian history but are not wild about associations between talk of doing Christian history and the project of evangelical politics (can you blame them?). Edwards explains (courtesy of John Fea):

To me, it concerned the larger issue of “integration of faith and learning” which seemed to underlay CFH at least at that time. For many historians, integrationist language is ALWAYS theocratic code and thus, to them, relative to the Religious Right.

This strikes me as eminently sensible since if you are going to invoke the Lordship of Christ (a Kuyperian trope that informed the Conference on Faith and History from its earliest days) when it comes to academic life, why not also appeal to Christ’s Lordship over the state (as the Religious Right has done in a variety of idioms)? In fact, I began to suspect the weakness of neo-Calvinism when I wrote a piece about the history of the Conference on Faith and History for History and the Christian Historian. I detected that objections to secular scholarship were not far removed from arguments against secular politics. Here is an excerpte:

Apart from the Christian narrative of creation, fall, redemption and consummation, what meaning or purpose can a Christian see in history? And how have Christians historically been able to see this purpose in history? The answer is from some special and authoritative revelatory power, whether it be Scripture or the Magisterium. This means that a Christian historian wanting to understand God’s purposes in the French Revolution or the rise and fall of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) needs some special revelation – unless, of course, Christian historians all have become charismatics and now receive a word of knowledge whenever they sit down at the computer.

The kind of Christian historical agnosticism advocated here even extends to events like the First Great Awakening, the incident that sparked the debate between [Harry] Stout and [Iain] Murray. The latter thinks that Whitefield’s efforts on behalf of the colonial revivals were the work of God. From Murray’s perspective Whitefield’s revivals benefitted the church, both through the spread of sound theology and through the conversion of vast numbers. But how does Murray know that the Great Awakening was the work of God? Did God tell him? His answer would no doubt be that Whitefield’s work conformed to the teaching of Scripture and that mass conversions were a confirmation of God’s blessing. But this is not the only Christian perspective on Whitefield’s revivals. Roman Catholics would no doubt take a different view. So too would those within the Protestant fold, such as confessional Lutherans and Reformed. Furthermore, is God only at work in history when things go well, when saints are added to his church? Or does the doctrine of providence teach that God is also at work in the revivals that Murray questions, such as those crusades associated with Charles Finney and countless other not-so-Calvinistic evangelists? In fact, the doctrine of providence teaches that God is at work in everything, both good and not so good. But to determine what God intended by a particular event is another matter altogether. In other words, without the special revelation God gave to the apostles and through the risen Christ, twentieth-century Christians, just like the early church, cannot know the meaning from God’s perspective of any historical event, even the crucifixion.

This strong assertion brings us back to the question of whether such a thing as Christian history really exists. Are Christian historians better able to discern the hand of God in history than non-Christians? Are their criteria of evaluation any different even from that of an elder in a local church who has to judge whether or not the person meeting with the session is making a credible profession of faith? And if Christians cannot see into the soul of someone else to tell definitively whether God has intervened, are Christian historians any better able to do so with political, economic or cultural events?

In the end, Christian history is nice work if you can get it. It would be marvelous if, because of faith or regeneration, Christian historians were able to divine what God was up to in all subjects of research and teaching. But Christian theology says we cannot discern God’s hand in that way. It also reminds us that we need to trust that God is in control of human history even if we cannot always see that control, that God providentially orders and governs human affairs to protect his children. No matter how much the historical profession says that history moves from antiquity to modernity, the Bible tells Christians, whether historians or not, that the real direction of history is from the first to the last Adam. Only with a sense of history that culminates in Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and new earth will we finally have a Christian history. The problem for CFH members is that of trying to connect the meta-narrative of redemption to the narratives of the United States, ethnic groups, or western civilization, stories all of which are fascinating and part of God’s providence, but that may distract from the grander history of salvation.

From agnosticism about the workings of history, it was relatively easy work to get to agnosticism about political arrangements and candidates, sometimes called A Secular Faith.

69 thoughts on “When Neo-Calvinism Started to Stop Making Sense

  1. So, we’ve finally realized the point at which you started to go awry.

    Just kidding. Sometime you should give us a link to your bibliography or Vita, if they exist.

    Tell the publisher to change the order of the chapters so yours shows up in the preview.

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  2. I know I will tread on your expertise here, Darryl., but it seems to me that you and Edwards miss the point of “Christian” history. If post-modernism means anything, then it means that the (hi)story is told from someone’s perspective and usually with (power) purpose in mind. Unless, of course, you believe in some kind of objectivist view of history. (Or maybe that’s what Christian history is–a recounting of what really happened and why as best as we can discern it).

    Is the fact that Christians don’t like modern historical accounts because they make them secular–you know take away all the religious motivations and underpinnings. E.g. the pilgrims were thankful to the Native Americans at the first thanksgiving (wouldn’t want to mention God).

    By the way, if 2K is true, then that is just the way Christ expresses his Lordship in this time. It doesn’t mean that the “not one square inch” idea isn’t true. So even 2K’ers believe in the Lordship of Christ over history.

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  3. The picture, and the film, completely rock. I’ve listened to this soundtrack for going on 28 years.

    Talking Heads & Jonathan Demme. Best concert film ever made (along with Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop and the Maysles’ Gimme Shelter).

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  4. Terry,

    It is hypocritical for Christian pastors and scholars to appeal to a simplified notion of postmodernism when it suits them but to trash it when it doesn’t.

    Also, the notion that ‘modern historical accounts’ take away all of the ‘religious motivations and underpinnings’ badly misrepresents contemporary historiography. That kind of accusation is just a culture wars trope and a pretty tired one at that. What is a ‘religious underpinning’ anyway? I hear the word underpinning to describe many different things.

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  5. @Caleb,
    I seem to recall George Marsden suggesting in “The Soul of the American University” that much historical work in the 20th century has overlooked or downplayed the role of religion in shaping events. It has been along time since I read this or his follow-on popular book “The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship”, but I seem to recall his appeal to diversity in academia included evangelicals for the kinds of reasons Terry alluded to. GM may have been wrong in his assessment, but I don’t think it is fair to dismiss his arguments (or those who repeat them, however poorly – I mean me, not Terry) as merely culture war trope.

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  6. Problems:
    But this is not the only Christian perspective on Whitefield’s revivals.

    Roman Catholics would no doubt take a different view.—– Not Christians: see WCF/HC on the topics of marriage and the mass

    So too would those within the Protestant fold, such as confessional Lutherans and Reformed. : In what world isn’t Iain Murray Confessionally Reformed? He holds to the Westminster Standards and is a member of a Confessionally Reformed Church. Being confessionally Reformed is like liking Ice cream: there are many different flavors, textures, and sorts you can eat it (in a cone, in a cup, as a sandwhich, milk shake, etc.)

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  7. I don’t see how Ian Murray can be such a fan of the Wesleys and at the same time believe without reservations what the Reformed Confessions say about election, the atonement and imputation. We know that Murray has edited much of the Calvinism out of Pink’s Sovereignty of God book. Murray has proven himself ready to distort the facts of history in order to support his idolatry of the word “offer”. For a Wesley, he always has an excuse at hand. For Pink, however, Ian Murray distorted the text of a dead man. In this, Murray was only following the example of Wesley (Hervey)

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  8. It’s always a mistake for us to think we can interpret the meaning of providence. As John Howard Yoder explained, those who think they can read God’s specific purpose from today’s newspaper also tend to be Constantinians who who think they are in charge of transforming “the culture” in the right direction. Check out Nate Kerr’s book on Christ, History, and Apocalyptic, especially the last chapter..

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  9. @Terry/sdb

    Appeals for more diversity in academia rings hollow if there are no Christians who are actually any good at thinking. As Noll pointed out a while ago, the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no mind.

    Case in point, one must think through the fact that you can’t really do “Christian history” by picking out the “God thread” of, say, the American and French Revolutions. In which case, deconstructing the narrative is not “post-modern”, it’s just good theology saving us from silly history.

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  10. Terry, the point of my piece and the point generally missing from advocates of Christian history is where the revelation comes from to know the Christian meaning. If the Bible is God’s revelation and it doesn’t cover chemistry or American electoral politics, then Christian have no more insights than the next person.

    BTW, your concession to 2k being true for this time, does that mean that the papacy was true for 1150 to 1510?

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  11. SDB, but that is partly the point. Folks who want Christian scholarship should also want Christian politics given their convictions. They may not know they are feeding the culture wars, but they are using a similar logic.

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  12. Joseph, so Iain Murray doesn’t err? Or someone who is a member of a Reformed church is Reformed all the time and doesn’t misapply their notions? Have you heard of theonomy?

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  13. mark mcculley: I don’t see how Ian Murray can be such a fan of the Wesleys and at the same time believe without reservations what the Reformed Confessions say about election, the atonement and imputation. We know that Murray has edited much of the Calvinism out of Pink’s Sovereignty of God book. Murray has proven himself ready to distort the facts of history in order to support his idolatry of the word “offer”. For a Wesley, he always has an excuse at hand. For Pink, however, Ian Murray distorted the text of a dead man. In this, Murray was only following the example of Wesley (Hervey)

    RS: In the works of Toplady he said he prayed for the salvation of Wesley every day. He did not think that a man could be guilty of serial plagiarism as Wesley was and still be a Christian. At one point, according to Toplady, Wesley distorted a work by Toplady and put some of his (Wesley’s) own comments in the book and attributed them to Toplady. Maybe Murray studied too much of Wesley and so took up his practice of “editing” the books of others as if he knew what they would have said if they had lived longer.

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  14. Folks who want Christian scholarship should also want Christian politics given their convictions. They may not know they are feeding the culture wars, but they are using a similar logic.

    Bingo. Curious how some 2kers will push back against various redemptive versions of creational phenomenon that beget the Xn ghetto (Xn politics, medicine, sports, leisure, film, business, economics…sheep herding), but when it comes to education everybody turns into a neo-Cal.

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  15. What an interesting and, to my mind, astute intervention in the “confessing historians” discussion — at least, that’s what we have taken to calling it over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, borrowing from and tweaking the title of the anthology edited by Miller, Fea, and Green.

    For anyone interested in how the discussion of confessional and/or providential history is playing among some (possibly?) “secular historians,” here are links to some of our recent posts (oldest to newest), all from in the last week or so:

    http://s-usih.org/2013/03/a-home-grown-crisis-of-secularism.html

    http://s-usih.org/2013/03/the-disestablishment-of-american-religious-history.html

    http://s-usih.org/2013/03/history-and-theory-today.html

    http://s-usih.org/2013/03/this-i-believe-the-rest-is-theory.html

    http://s-usih.org/2013/03/beliefs-as-motivating-forces-in-writing-history.html

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  16. sdb,

    Thanks for your reply. Could you give some examples of events where Christian influence/underpinning/motivation is unfairly downplayed?

    I say it is a culture wars trope because the biggest complaint that I keep hearing about is the interpretation of the “founding fathers’ Christian convictions and to what degree they should shape our idea of the American nation and its institutions. I think this debate is overblown and in general I don’t think that the ‘confessing historians’ have a leg to stand on.

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  17. “Insights” rooted in a false worldview are most likely nonsense. Scholarship rooted in reality (a true worldview) is likely more insightful. Unbelievers may still be thinking in the context of the Christian perspective (as is the case for much of modern natural science and perhaps others with a more classical/conservative bent). Not so for some scholarship rooted in post-modernist presuppositions.

    Not sure what you’re getting at with your comment about the papacy. My point was simply that 2K may well be Christ’s intended way of ruling the nations in this age. I’m sure you would agree. If it is then Christians in submission to Christ’s rule in every area of life should promote 2K. That’s how a sphere sovereignty, principled pluralist would think.

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  18. Caleb,

    I’m not a historian of any sort, so I’m a terrible person to ask for such examples. It has been 15yrs or so since I read the two books by Marsden I mentioned above, but I seem to recall that his concern was that religious motivations of various actors is often neglected in favor of economic or political factors (for example). One example I faintly recall is the neglect of the theological underpinnings of the Civil War – which is what made Noll’s book a decade or so later so significant.

    I don’t think Noll took a distinctively “Christian” approach to his historical work, but he was attuned to an important part of the story about the Civil War that a lot of other historians had evidently neglected. This is what I think Marsden has in mind when he talks about “Christian Scholarship”.

    The theological underpinnings of the Revolutionary War is another example I suppose. The reviews of Kidd’s “God of Liberty” consistently referred to the novel nature of his work on the role of religion on the revolution which suggests that like Noll, he was attuned to issues that previous scholars had overlooked.

    Like I said, I’m not a historian by any stretch, so I concede that the reviews I’ve read miss the mark and these works by Noll and Kidd are totally derivative. But I’ve not run across any suggestion that this is the case. Our experiences color how we do our work and relate to others. I don’t think that their status as Christians provides them with supernatural intellectual powers not available to the unregenerate. But it seems entirely plausible to me that a conservative Christian might be more sympathetic to the religious sensibilities of various folks in their studies or that they may be more interested in digging into the religious views of their subjects – not too unlike how a feminist might be more interested in digging into the gender dynamics of the folks in an era she studies.

    I’m not sure that Marsden was calling for a unique Christian way of doing history, rather he was calling for broader participation in the academy because of the unique viewpoint Christians bring to the table. I would say the same about politics – it isn’t that Christians have some unique ability to govern because of some supposed superior worldview (the influence of which is way overrated in my estimation). Rather Christians have a different perspective on many issues that should be represented among our leaders.

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  19. Terry, the problem with Christ’s rule in every sphere of life is that the Bible does not speak to every sphere. So Christ’s rule in the world of scholarship and politics is not the same as his rule in the church where the Bible does govern affairs. So in the world of history, I follow the norms of the American Historical Association and in politics I submit to the governments of Michigan and the United States. But in the church I expect the Bible to be the standard.

    Why is that so hard to understand?

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  20. SDB, being open to religious influences is one thing. The Lordship of Christ is another. Since Noll and Marsden have been influenced by neo-Calvinism, I believe they have been influenced to some degree by the rhetoric of no neutrality and Christianity being the norms (not options) for all areas of life. To be sure, they speak much more in terms of academic diversity than of one way for doing history. In which case, academic norms more than the Lordship of Christ are the standard for Christian historians. Neo-Calvinists who believe that Christians have superior insight by virtue of having access to Scripture would not be happy merely with diversity.

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  21. Radnor: Catholic ecclesiology, “complete in itself, admitting of neither diminution nor increase,” and a Protestant vision of the church which is “circumstantial and contingent … occasional and disclosive” are equally inadequate. The saving of the church from her own sins by concocting an invisible or elusive sanctity is, admittedly, a traditional theological move, but it has been a disastrous one.

    http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/marapr/lenten-reading.html?paging=off

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  22. Darryl,

    The quotation of yours cited in the original post does bring up a couple of questions about how you approach historiographical matters. Obviously historians are trying to locate what has happened in history, getting as close to the facts surrounding historical events and persons as possible, but from there how do you, or do you at all try to locate the meaning of a historical event or person?

    It seems to me that this is the dividing line for those who are opting for a “Christian” reading of history. They want to locate the ultimate meaning of historical events and persons, and how these fit into the broader Christian narrative of salvation history where God is advancing his purposes for salvation and judgment in history. Maybe they don’t wholly err in trying to uncover meaning in history, but this seems to me to be much more grandiose than trying to understand how the meaning of one historical event or person might have on another to follow – or how our view(s) of history might have some axillary impact on our social, political, economic, or religious consciousness.

    So, since you don’t look for an ultimate or “Christian” reading of history, as that would imply an improper inquiry into Providence, how far (or not) do you go to understand meaning in history, or the significance of history? Do you take a minimal approach, where you think that there is some small meaning we can extract from history (e.g. as we might be able to understand how WW2 shaped modern geopolitics), or some sort of middle approach falling short of a more maximal approach (e.g. the founding of the US marked a new epoch in the history of salvation)?

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  23. Darryl, not hard to understand at all. Creation is revelation–not as clear or as explicit as the Bible–but revelation nonetheless. So Christ’s rule in the church is different than his rule in the rest of life (sphere sovereignty). Creational revelation–that which we study in science and history and practice in politics is from Christ. Common grace, general revelation, image of God, providence all apply here. Christ is still Lord. Yes?

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  24. Jed, it all depends on the audience, for me. Historians try to explain change over time, and so you look for those crucial developments or circumstances that help to explain the way x is at the culmination of the period you study. If I’m writing for a general audience, the crucial developments need to meet a general standard of what’s important. But when I write church history for believing audiences, I draw on different standards.

    One of my colleagues here at Hillsdale talks about denying one story. We have many stories — national, state, local, school, church, family. Part of the problem of modern historical scholarship may be that we let the nation-state define significance. That means we know the presidents of the U.S. but not the governors of Michigan.

    What I would like to do is recover some of those small stories. Getting those stories published by editors who are looking for general (national and international) readers is the rub.

    Does that help?

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  25. Darryl, inasmuch as they are rightly reading Creation and not imposing idolatrous presuppositions, indeed they qualify. That what common grace and remaining image of God in human beings is about. Of course, their right thinking (after a fashion) never leads them to true worship or to saving faith. But “getting along…in the world” is certainly possible. All truth is God’s truth even when discovered and espoused by Richard Dawkins.

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  26. Terry, so we should really be calling the American Biological Society the Christian Biological Society? This is where the neo-Calvinist common grace program just gets silly.

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  27. Jed,

    I think you are slightly overstating what historians do. I’m not sure anyone is looking for the “ultimate meaning” in, say, the Vietnam War, or the development of systems thought, etc. Deep meaning, consequences, causes, yes. But not ultimate meaning. And if they were, by what method does the Christian historian come to that meaning? His or her theological conviction or judgement about the morality/immorality of the event or its consequences? And how does one challenge said historian? Regardless, I don’t see the use in saying the Vietnam War was divine judgement (for whom?) or trying to discern how it fits in with the ‘plan of salvation.’ And of course those kinds of questions will be deeply political – which will make theologically certain arguments about them all the more dangerous and will not really tell us much.

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  28. Darryl, I’m not too worried about the name. But when unbelievers do good science it’s no different from when a Christian does good science. But, yes, something like that. I will tell a Christian audience that when non-Christians do good science that they’re doing “Christian” science, and that Christians should be afraid of modern acience. By and large the practice of modern science is rooted a Biblical worldview and the findings of science within the limits of human finitude give us an accurate picture of how the world works. “Religious” scientists sometimes interpret their results in ways that deny the truth, ie they see Creation as autonomous rather than dependent on the divine governance and sustenance. Of course, they’re not doing “Christian” science any longer. Perhaps they’re not even doing science any more, but I’m not sure we can get rid of all subjective aspects of the practice of a given discipline.

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  29. As a Christian I find Van Til’s apologetic (as mediated through Bahnsen) interesting and helpful, but I imagine when non-Christians hear it they scratch their heads and look at us as if we are from Mars.

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  30. I play basketball with several Ph.D scientists on a weekly basis. a few are Christians but most are not. We always pray before we play and the guy that leads the group (and is not a Christian) is usually the one who asks someone to pray. It’s an interesting dynamic. The group has been playing for 16 years with guys coming and going. Everyone gets along pretty well.

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  31. Speaking of PhD’s, we have a local legislator (an Economics Ph.D) who has gotten himself in hot water with his fellow Democrats. Currently in Iowa you can currently get 25 years for knowingly transmitting HIV to someone. There is a bill being considered to reduce that to 10 years. This guy introduced a bill to make it a simple misdemeanor. Maximum sentence? 30 days. Even his fellow Democrats are like, “are you an idiot?”. It’s one of those stories where the culture war comes face to face with “common grace”/common sense and is fascinating to watch.

    Procedural issue hangs up bill to ease penalty for spreading HIV

    By Mike Malloy, Staff Writer
    mmalloy@amestrib.com

    UPDATE: Thursday, April 4, 2:38 p.m. Sen. Quirmbach told the Tribune Thursday morning that he has learned his amendment to a bill regarding the transmission of HIV has been ruled out of order and will not be included in the bill. The bill, however, remains in limbo over a procedural matter.

    __

    Earlier Story

    A proposed bill in the Iowa Legislature regarding transmission of HIV has caused division among local Democrats. The effort is also in limbo after what Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said was a “procedural” problem.

    Currently, anyone who knowingly transmits HIV to another person is committing a Class B felony which carries a 25-year maximum sentence. A bill in the Iowa Senate reduces the penalties and includes HIV along with other communicable diseases.

    Intentionally spreading any infectious disease, under the bill, would be a Class C felony, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence, when an uninfected person becomes infected. It also would make it a Class D felony, which carries a five-year maximum sentence, to intentionally expose someone to a disease that the uninfected person does not contract.

    An amendment introduced by Quirmbach, however, has drawn criticism from some of his supporters.

    It would make it simple misdemeanor if a person knows they are infected with a contagious or infectious disease, and willfully misrepresents to another person that they are not infected for the purpose of having sex. A simple misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $625 fine.

    Ames business owner Terry Lowman dislikes the amendment and circulated a petition urging Quirmbach to withdraw his amendment; in a day-and-a-half Lowman secured 40 signatures, many of them Quirmbach supporters, Lowman said.

    Lowman said the bill “takes as much stigma away from HIV” but that the amendment would cause it to go down to defeat.

    “It doesn’t just threaten it, it kills it,” he said.

    Quirmbach told the Tribune he disagrees with Lowman, but said he would support the larger bill whether it includes his amendment or not. Quirmbach would not say why he proposed the amendment but added that it would be a moot point if the procedural issues are not resolved.

    “Somebody wasn’t careful in drafting the bill. It’s a technical thing but it is going to make it hard to proceed,” Quirmbach said.

    To survive the second funnel week, which ends Friday, a bill must pass at least out of committee in both chambers and Quirmbach said he thought the bill was unlikely to pass the House.

    “It, in all likelihood, would not become law this year anyway. If we can get it out of the Senate that would be significant progress and it’s a two-year session so it would remain a live round next year,” Quirmbach said.

    A post on the ACLU of Iowa’s website states the organization is “baffled” by Quirmbach’s amendment and thinks it has kept the larger bill from coming to a vote. The post also includes Quirmbach’s email and home phone number and asks readers to contact him and ask that he drop the amendment.

    Ames Democrat Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell said Quirmbach’s amendment is “redundant” and “doesn’t help the bill at all.”

    She introduced a bill similar to the Senate version that died in the House earlier this session, meaning the only chance the bill could be passed is if it makes it out of the Senate.

    Wessel-Kroeschell said Iowa has some of the strictest laws in the country regarding HIV transmission, which she said causes more people to not be tested for the disease.

    “If they don’t know they have it, they don’t know they are criminals,” she said.

    Acquiring HIV is no longer a death sentence, and Lowman and Wessel-Kroeschell both said the law should change to reflect that. Hall of Fame basketball star Magic Johnson, for example, has lived with the condition for more than 20 years.

    Lowman and Wessel-Kroeschell each cited the case of Nick Rhoades, a man from the northeast Iowa town of Plainfield, who was arrested in 2008 and convicted of transmitting HIV to a man with whom he had sex. The story gained national attention and was featured on CNN last year. According to that story, Rhoades had very little of the virus in his system, the other man was not infected, and Rhoades used a condom.

    “Somebody who has no chance of transmitting HIV should not be a criminal for having consensual sex,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “If the intent is to transmit the disease or if somebody who is HIV positive and does not seek treatment and spreads the disease with willful disregard of the health of others, those people are criminals and they should be held accountable for their actions.”

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  32. Terry,

    Could you clarify how the practice of modern science (by and large) is rooted in a “Biblical worldview”?

    Sometimes I get the sense that Christians talk this way about a “Biblical worldview” as the real foundation of this or that secular pursuit so that we can take the credit for the benefits of the science without putting in any of the hard work of doing it.

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  33. Caleb,

    If I can butt in, I think the answer is that modern science does not make sense unless one presupposes laws of logic & laws of nature and these in turn do not make sense apart from Christian theism.

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  34. Terry, no offense, but calling what non-Christians do “Christian” sort of cheapens what Christ did. I understand he is creator and sustainer. But creation and providence don’t make sense without his work as redeemer. I am less liberal with “Christian” and your broad application of it may explain how neo-Calvinist communions turn liberal.

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  35. Darryl, Seems to be mere semantics. There’s no necessary cheapening of Christ’s redemptive work. And it seems to be arbitrary to restrict the use of the word Christian to things redemptive. Sure Christ is Creator as well as Redeemer. But if it helps I’m happy to call biology “Creational” rather than “Christian” (and actually I do that in most contexts). When biologists who are Christians acknowledge their God as Creator, Sustainer, Governor, and Provider and expose idolatrous thinking they are engaged in distinctly Christian/Biblical biology.

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  36. Caleb, I’m thinking of things like “empirical” reflecting the freedom of God in Creation, “objectivity” that there is a real world out there, “regularity” reflecting God’s faithfulness in upholding Creation, the “knowability” of Creation, that there is a God-created fittedness between our mind and the workings of Creation, the “limitations” and “progressiveness” of science reflecting our finitude and Creation’s ultimate unknowability, the “human face of science” (public, social, culturally-limited) reflecting that God-created dimension of a human endeavor, etc.

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  37. Erik,

    I’ve heard that argument before, having been thoroughly inundated with Van Til and Bahnsen in my high school and early university days. I just think the argument is too selective in its reading of the Bible when it says that the presupposition of Christian theism is the only way to have laws of logic/nature. It wants the Bible to do something that it doesn’t do. I’m a Christian, but I’m not convinced by this argument, though I do think that you could argue for the necessity of some kind of divine.

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  38. Terry,

    I still need clarification here. What do you mean by the ‘freedom of God in Creation’ and how exactly does that relate to empiricism?

    I’m also not sure how the existence of an objective/real/material world requires the Christian God? Why can’t a purely materialist evolutionary conception of the world have an objective, physical reality outside of the minds of human subjects? Why can’t a non-Christian theist have those things?

    As for the rest, I’ve heard them before but they strike me as apologetic fictions that are not, in fact, necessarily Christian. It is very odd (nonsensical?) to say to the microbiologist – the only reason you can make and test hypotheses about the natural world is because there is a God-created fittedness between your mind and the workings of Creation. That kind of argument seems to take the world as it is and say because it is not otherwise, we must presuppose a God. And then Bahnsen pipes up…you mean the Christian God!

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  39. Terry,

    I think Hart’s point about not calling all things that are done well “Christian” is valid. If I’m a pornographer and I’ve really mastered the technical aspects of cinematography and screenwriting are my pornographic films Christian films?

    Just because God causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust doesn’t make the work of the unjust “Christian”.

    There is a certain arrogance that seems to underly the Neocalvinist project that is irritating.

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  40. Terry, how is it arbitrary to assign redemptive terms to redemptive things? It’s a function of distinguishing between creation and redemption, which isn’t really arbitrary but principled. And what do you call it when Xn biologists do biology without “exposing idolatrous thinking” (whatever that means)? My guess is that it’s called Xns doing biology. But is that what Christian-you-name-it is, doing a particular created discipline and “exposing idolatrous thinking” (whatever that is)? But it seems to me that what happens 99% of the time is what could really be understood as Xns doing you-name-it, something I understand. What I don’t understand is that other 1% of the time when Xns doing you-name-it somehow becomes Xn you-name-it, and tacking on “exposing idolatry” doesn’t much help. I do understand short hand, as in Xn scholarship, as in Xns who are scholars, but the way neos talk I always get the sense they mean there really as a redemptive way of doing creational tasks.

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  41. It seems more helpful to say that there are sacred things that Christians do and there are common things that both Christians and non-Christians do. Some do them well, some do not. I don’t think it hurts God’s feelings when we call some things common. Common doesn’t mean lacking in value. As Doug Wilson says, “God likes matter. He created it.”

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  42. The unfortunate flip-side of the “all things are sacred” worldview seems to be a diminishing of worship and the means of grace. We used to have a member in our URC who grew up in the CRC. Her parents worked as CRC missionaries, I believe. When her dad visited he concluded that we were just a bunch of navel-gazers. He was all about getting out, helping the poor, and “doing the faith”. These things are valuable, but they are not sacred and they are not worship, just like a Dordt College biology professor working in her lab is not worship.

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  43. Some food for thought: Read the Westminster Shorter Catechism on the Sabbath. If our vocations and our common activities are sacred, why such prohibitions against them on the Lord’s Day?

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  44. Caleb, no apologetics intended! Nature doesn’t follow any pre-conceived rules (think Aristotelean circular orbits). We have to look a Creation to see how it works because God was free to construct the world as he pleased. Naturalists share some presuppositions with Christians, e.g. regularity of Creation/Nature but we have different bases for those presuppositions. We say God upholds it, they say that’s just the way it is. Since the practice of science can be done with the presupposition of regularity, we have a lot in common in the fruit of science (perhaps all of it!) but in reality their foundation is built on a lie.

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  45. Zrim, Eric, you say tomAto, I say tomato.

    Eric, notice your equivocation. We were talking about Christian this or that and you switch it to sacred/common.

    Zrim, I’m more than happy to refer to Creational. But who is the Creator. Some even there we’re back to Christ.

    Eric, all things being holy doesn’t mean that all things are the same. If God says that the Sabbath is special it doesn’t mean that the other six days aren’t to be lived unto him and to his glory.

    Eric, you’ve got to serve somebody. In the lab you either worship God or you worship idols. In the office it’s either God or money (if Jesus said it, is it Christian then). Romans 12:1,2

    I know that you guys really do agree with me. You’re not just Christians and God-fearing people just once a week.

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  46. Actually, Terry, it’s not a matter of mere accents. But I’ll speak plainly just to be sure: You are saying there is such a thing as Xn biology. I am saying there isn’t. There is only biology, and both Xns and non- can do it. Call it creational if you please–you can even spell it a big C–but that is just being redundant. So we do not in fact agree, unless you can say with me that there is no such thing as Xn biology.

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  47. Terry says: I know that you guys really do agree with me. You’re not just Christians and God-fearing people just once a week.

    Me: I couldn’t agree more!

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  48. Caleb W: It is very odd (nonsensical?) to say to the microbiologist – the only reason you can make and test hypotheses about the natural world is because there is a God-created fittedness between your mind and the workings of Creation.

    RS: Yet that is a very powerful argument in the hands of Alvin Plantinga. Can anyone really known anything unless the mind has been created and sustained by God? If the mind has not been created and if the mind does not have a proper function, then how do we know that it is functioning properly? How can we really know that our minds are interpreting the stimuli that it receives? Has the mind been created by the Creator to be able to arrive at true or are we in the dark and simply wonder around with no real way of knowing if our minds do in fact have the ability to arrive at true conclusions or anything that is even approximate to the way things are?

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  49. RS, Caleb:

    And I’ll go you one further. Divine Command Theory turns out to be correct: “good” is what God has willed.

    BUT

    (1) God’s commands are not arbitrary, but are in accordance with His nature, and
    (2) Man made in God’s image can non-vacuuously say that “God is good” because the imago dei agrees with God’s nature.

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  50. Jeff Cagle: RS, Caleb: And I’ll go you one further. Divine Command Theory turns out to be correct: “good” is what God has willed.

    BUT

    (1) God’s commands are not arbitrary, but are in accordance with His nature, and
    (2) Man made in God’s image can non-vacuuously say that “God is good” because the imago dei agrees with God’s nature.

    RS: That is of course true and absolutely true. If you look at what you are saying in this, however, you have God acting in accordance with His own nature (which is true) and then man acting in accordance with his nature which is made in the image of God. Does God, who does not have a body, know that what He is doing is good and that what He commands is good? We would agree that He does. But how can man (who has a body) know that he is acting according to his nature (either a child of the devil or a child a of God)? Can it be, since Scripture tells us that God makes it known/clear to man that He is real and His basic nature, that man can know things about himself by simply knowing and understanding the God who cannot be seen but instead is revealed?

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  51. Terry, I’m not sure it’s semantics if Heidelberg devotes a question to the meaning of Christian:

    Question 32. But why art thou called a Christian?
    Answer: Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life and afterwards I reign with him eternally, over all creatures.

    Not much about general revelation, common grace, or w-w in that answer.

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  52. Terry – I know that you guys really do agree with me. You’re not just Christians and God-fearing people just once a week.

    Erik – Actually, I’m a really poor Sabbatarian, but I’m trying to get better.

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  53. Darryl, don’t you know the difference between a noun and an adjective? For you and Zrim what I mean by Christian biology is biology that is consistent with Biblical teaching about God, the created world and a Biblical anthropology. You’re perfectly free not to use the word Christian there even though many others do and know perfectly well what is meant by that.

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  54. Terry, but when non-Christians practice Christian biology, it gets confusing. But don’t let clarity get in the way of the Lordship of Christ. Just claim every square inch louder.

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  55. And don’t forget when Xns don’t practice Xn biology. Oy vey.

    But, Terry, why is it so hard to admit there is only biology, done well or worse? It may have less to do with nouns and adverbs than it does with neo-Calvinism demanding faith be displayed in all of life. Can you admit perhaps some discomfort with Xn sheep herding, sports, and basket weaving?

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  56. Zrim: And don’t forget when Xns don’t practice Xn biology. Oy vey.

    But, Terry, why is it so hard to admit there is only biology, done well or worse? It may have less to do with nouns and adverbs than it does with neo-Calvinism demanding faith be displayed in all of life. Can you admit perhaps some discomfort with Xn sheep herding, sports, and basket weaving?

    RS:
    1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

    Colossians 3:17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

    Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,

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  57. None of those verses say anything about those activities being distinctly Christian, only that Christians should do them with a proper attitude and effort.

    The things that take place in worship on the Lord’s Day ARE distinctly Christian, however, which is why Two Kingdoms advocates seek to protect them against those who would put them on par with “all of life”.

    Let’s hear the Neocalvinist argument as to why worship, preaching, the sacraments, and church discipline are more important than making shoes under their system.

    If they don’t have one, I think I’ll avoid their churches and just stay home and make shoes.

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  58. But, Richard, does faith really need to be self-consciously displayed in order to glorify God? Not to bring up dreams again, but I’m pretty sure that when I am sub-conscious in the night faith is still active and in glorifying mode. Same for wake mode when most of the time I am not as epistemologically self-aware.

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  59. Zrim: But, Richard, does faith really need to be self-consciously displayed in order to glorify God?

    RS: I don’t think that my position implies that or necessarily includes it.

    Zrim: Not to bring up dreams again,

    RS: And then you go ahead and do it…

    Zrim: but I’m pretty sure that when I am sub-conscious in the night faith is still active and in glorifying mode. Same for wake mode when most of the time I am not as epistemologically self-aware.

    RS: Since you brought it up, dreams have to do with what a person thinks about and the love of the person. Faith is what unites a person to Christ and since when one is united to Christ that person is always united to Christ, we could argue that faith is always active (as you say). But if that is true, then perhaps Christ is active in and through us all the time as well. In other words, perhaps the glory of God is the work of God coming through His people rather than people working hard to do it.

    As to what happens on Sundays inside buildings that have “church” on the sign, it is not a distinctive Christian thing to do. People gather inside buildings all of the time, even seven days a week. People gather inside buildings to sing songs most days of the week (if not all). People gather inside buildings many days of the week to do something they think of as prayer. People gather inside buildings many days of the week to hear lectures and talks. Some people take what they think of the Sacrament every day of the week. All of those things are not necessarily Christian and are not something Christians do to the exclusion of all other people. What separates Christians from others is not the outward activities, but the inward activity of God in them. True Christians love God and live for His glory, while others have other intents and motives regardless of their external activities.

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  60. Richard, that is my point to Terry. If as you say Christ is active in and through us all the time as well and the glory of God is the work of God coming through his people rather than people working hard to do it, then why work so hard at biology to the point of calling that work’s result Xn biology? And to raise the stakes, whether a Xn does good or shoddy biology God is still glorified because faith is what glorifies God. The unbeliever who does good biology can never glorify God, he can only do good or bad biology.

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  61. Zrim, actually there’s only Chritian biology and Christian basket weaving. God made it all, sustains it all, commands and empowers the culture-building that actually does it, asks us to glorify him in it, erc. Unbelievers live on borrowed capital. They are idolaters if they don’t do Christian biology.

    Erik, if you stay home and make shoes thinking you are glorifying God, you’re not listening to all that God says. If God says worship me 6 days with your work and worship me 1 day in the assembly, I need to do both. I can’t just tell God that making shoes is the same as worship in the assembly. If some neo-Calvinists have gone that far they are simply wrong. Frankly, I don’t know too many who have. Kuyper certainly did not.

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  62. But, Terry, if unbelievers have equal access to the law, as Paul suggests in Romans, then how can they be said to be borrowing anything? If it’s every bit as much theirs as it is ours then wouldn’t the ninth commandment have something to say about suggesting they are stealing?

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