Tuesday, May 2, 2017

NEIL GORSUCH, KIM DAVIS, AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Before being elevated to the Supreme Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch sat on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. One case that came before 10th Circuit during his tenure was the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor. That case involved that charity's contention that the Obamacare mandate requiring them to provide contraceptives which could induce abortions violated their religious liberties. The Little Sisters of the Poor also contended that the required forms they had to fill out to make those drugs available also violated their liberties. The majority of the 10th Circuit ruled against the charity. Justice Gorsuch wrote a dissent. (HT: Various examples of Neil Gorsuch's writings from the Washington Post) In Gorsuch's opinion, the majority of the Judges on the 10th Circuit restated the beliefs of the plaintiffs so they could rule that the Obamacare regulation did not substantially burden their religious liberties.The case made it to the Supreme Court which sent the case back to the Appellate Court for further adjudication. However, this move is seen as a victory because the Obamacare rules on contraception/abortifacients were vacated in a unanimous decision. The reasoning behind Gorsuch's dissent, written before the case went to the Supreme Court, can be seen below. I especially direct your attention to his concluding remarks:

 "The opinion of the panel majority is clearly and gravely wrong—on an issue that has little to do with contraception and a great deal to do with religious liberty. When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion. All the plaintiffs in this case sincerely believe that they will be violating God’s law if they execute the documents required by the government. And the penalty for refusal to execute the documents may be in the millions of dollars. How can it be any clearer that the law substantially burdens the plaintiffs’ free exercise of 
religion?"

Where, in Gorsuch's opinion, did the 10th Circuit go wrong? Here is his answer:

"It (the majority does not doubt the sincerity of the plaintiffs’ religious belief. But it does not accept their statements of what that belief is. It refuses to acknowledge that their religious belief is that execution of the documents is sinful. Rather, it reframes their belief. It generalizes the belief as being only opposition to facilitating the use and delivery of certain contraceptives to which they object. Under this reframing, the plaintiffs have no religious objection to executing the forms; it is just that executing the forms burdens their religious opposition to certain contraceptives. The burden would be akin to that caused by a tax on sales of religious tracts at the church bookstore, where the church has no religious objection to paying a tax but complains that the tax will make it harder to spread the Gospel. After so framing the plaintiffs’ belief, the panel majority then examines the particulars of the governing law and decides that executing the documents does not really implicate the plaintiffs in the use or delivery of the contraceptives. If one accepts this reframing of plaintiffs’ belief, the analysis of the panel majority may be correct; perhaps one could say that the exercise of this reframed belief was not substantially burdened. But it is not the job of the judiciary to tell people what their religious beliefs are."

Gorsuch went on to describe the dangers of courts deciding which religious beliefs are reasonable and which are not:

"...the panel majority may be saying that it is the court’s prerogative to determine whether requiring the plaintiffs to execute the documents substantially burdens their core religious belief, regardless of whether the plaintiffs have a “derivative” religious belief that executing the documents is sinful. This is a dangerous approach to religious liberty. Could we really tolerate letting courts examine the reasoning behind a religious practice or belief and decide what is core and what is derivative? A Christian could be required to work on December 25 because, according to a court, his core belief is that he should not work on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus but a history of the calendar and other sources show that Jesus was actually born in March; a December 25 work requirement therefore does not substantially burden his core belief. Or a Jewish prisoner could be provided only non-kosher food because the real purpose of biblical dietary laws is health, so as long as the pork is well-cooked, etc., the prisoner’s religious beliefs are not substantially burdened. The Supreme Court has refused to examine the reasonableness of a sincere religious belief—in particular, the reasonableness of where the believer draws the line between sinful and acceptable—at least since Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 715 (1981), and it emphatically reaffirmed
that position in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2751, 2778 (2014)."

In his conclusion, Gorsuch emphatically states that a person's religious beliefs are always substantially burdened when that person must pay a penalty for acting upon them:

"Fortunately, the doctrine of the panel majority will not long survive. It is contrary to all precedent concerning the free exercise of religion. I am aware of no precedent holding that a person’s free exercise was not substantially burdened when a significant penalty was imposed for refusing to do something prohibited by the person’s sincere religious beliefs (however strange, or even silly, the court may consider those beliefs)."

Lets look at that last sentence again:

"I am aware of no precedent holding that a person’s free exercise was not substantially burdened when a significant penalty was imposed for refusing to do something prohibited by the person’s sincere religious beliefs (however strange, or even silly, the court may consider those beliefs)."


It would have been interesting to have seen how Gorsuch would have ruled in the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who thought her Christian beliefs prohibited her from processing marriage licenses for those seeking same sex marriage. She sought an accommodation from the state for her religious beliefs that would have allowed those licenses to be issued without her beliefs being compromised. The state would not cooperate and jailed her for a short time. However, after a new (Republican) governor replaced the outgoing (Democrat) governor, a compromise was reached which accommodated Davis. The legislature later ratified the Governor's decision as the law of the state. This proves that an accommodation along these lines could have been reached before Davis was sent to jail. The powers that be, including some conservative commentators, simply wanted her to be jailed. As in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, the state had alternatives to implement the policies concerning same sex marriage. ( In the Little Sisters case, the Obama administration admitted there were other ways they could make the contraception pills available.) Certainly, the state of Kentucky was demanding she pay a substantial penalty for refusing to act against her own conscience. According to Gorsuch's dissent in the Little Sisters case, that penalty imposed on Davis does not pass Constitutional scrutiny. I'm glad Neil Gorsuch has been elevated to our highest court to replace Antonin Scalia. I pray that when President Trump has more opportunities to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, he names people who will protect the freedom of conscience from government coercion, such as Neil Gorsuch.

Friday, April 28, 2017

LAST DAYS OF JESUS ON FRIDAY NIGHT FROZEN DINNER AND AN INTELLECTUAL

One of my tasks as a blogger is to seek out new material to benefit and edify my audience. Another task is to view material so to warn readers not to waste their time on what I have viewed. This post fulfills the later task.

The Last Days of Jesus originally aired on PBS before Easter, but I didn't get a chance to see it then. I watched it last Friday online. It will not be available for viewing online for much longer, and so I could have avoided mentioning it altogether. However, every Christmas and Easter, PBS airs material questioning the accuracy of the Bible and orthodox (with a little o) beliefs held by Christians for two thousand plus years. So we can expect PBS to run this program again. And so I feel obligated to steer you away from this time waster.

The overall premise of The Last Days of Jesus is that Jesus was in cahoots with a powerful Roman official, Sejanus, and King Herod. If all went according to plan, Sejanus would become Caesar. Then he would name Herod king of all the Jews. And then, the Temple priesthood would be replaced by Jesus and His followers. However, the plan failed to materialize. Sejanus lost favor with Emperor Tiberius and was executed. When Jesus was informed of this setback, he convened an emergency meeting among his followers (the real Last Supper) to decide what to do. This is when Judas decided to betray Jesus. Jesus was arrested and held in prison for months, and then crucified. The chief piece of evidence, according to this theory's proponents, is the use of palm branches to celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospels tell us that Jesus entered Jerusalem right before Passover. According to Simcha Jacobovici, palm branches would only be available to crowds in Jerusalem six months before the Passover. This proves, according to Jacobovici, that Jesus came to Jerusalem six month earlier than what the Bible claims. Another piece of evidence, according to Jacobovici, is that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, Jesus wasn't arrested on the spot. The fact that he wasn't arrested right then proves He, Herod, and and Sejanus were co-conspirators.

The proponents of this theory claim that when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, He and His followers shut down the Temple for two days. Why didn't the Roman guards arrest him right then? For starters, Jesus did not shut down the Temple. The only portion of the Temple that was being prevented from being used for its intended purpose was that portion where the tables were set up. That portion was called the court of the Gentiles. It was an area where non-Jews could come to worship the true God. By allowing trading in the only place in the temple where Gentiles could pray to God, the Temple priests were shutting down Gentile worship and prayer. That is why when He overturned the tables, Jesus quoted Is. 56:7, "...for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (NIV) By allowing commerce to block Gentile worship in the Temple, Jesus declares that the priests have made the Temple a den of thieves, or robbers. Jesus did not shut down the whole Temple, as the Last Days of Jesus claims. He would never have prevented sincere worshipers from offering up the sacrifices commanded in the Pentateuch. He freed up the one portion of the Temple not being used as God commanded. Why didn't the Romans guards arrest Him? Not because Jesus was a Roman collaborator, but because there were no Roman guards in the Temple. The Temple had its own Jewish guards. The Romans knew that if they entered the Temple, the Jews would very possibly revolt against their Roman occupiers. The priests would never have called the Romans into the Temple to arrest Jesus for they were not permitted to be there. They did not order the Temple guards to arrest Jesus in the Temple because He was popular with the people. The priests didn't want to alienate the people and cause a riot. The theory that Jesus was a co-conspirator has no basis. A clear examination of scripture and biblical scholarship is enough to refute the claims of the Last Days of Jesus.

The underlying assumptions of the narrative in the Last Days of Jesus are the same assumptions that underlie other PBS specials on Christianity. Those interviewed view Jesus as a revolutionary figure determined to over throw the Roman occupation and set up his own kingdom and inaugurate the final period of history. All the writings in the New Testament of Jesus claiming to be the Son of God were claims made by later writers who won the struggle to determine what the Church's message would be. In fact, the New Testament as we now have it is not made up of eyewitness accounts, but were written long after. That's according to one interviewee, James Tabor. Those PBS relied upon to advance the documentary's theory have been associated with dubious theories concerning Jesus. Simcha Jacobovici and Barry Wilson have been one of many claiming that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children by her. James Tabor has claimed that Jesus founded a dynasty before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Helen Bond, also interviewed, views Jesus as a revolutionary figure only.

I figured this special would not be worth watching. But if this brief review keeps you from wasting your time watching it the next time it is aired, then it was time well spent. Today, Friday, will be time well spent as I listen to an interview with the late Thomas Oden.

For an explanation of the title, Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

DENNIS KINLAW, 1922-2017

The Wesleyan world has lost two great theologians and spiritual giants in the past few months. Thomas Oden passed away shortly before Christmas. And now Dennis Kinlaw, former President of Asbury College, former professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Asbury Theological Seminary, founder of the Francis Asbury Society, died earlier this month. I met Dr. Kinlaw only once, during a speaking engagement he gave at Wesley Biblical Seminary (WBS) that lasted a few days. I found him to be a person who was interested in talking to whoever came across his path. His love of God was evident to all who spent time with him. While my contact with him was limited to this one encounter, I have known many who have been influenced by him. That influence will continue to have a positive impact on the ministry for many decades to come. I had hoped to post a series of tributes to Kinlaw such as I did when Oden passed away. However, little has appeared on the internet concerning Kinlaw's life and legacy. Asbury College and Asbury Seminary posted tributes to him, as did WBS. The Francis Asbury Society also has a short biography of him on their site. I can only find three individuals who published tributes to Kinlaw. WBS graduate Matt O'Reilly published one on his blog, Orthodoxy For Everyone, and Joe Henderson did the same on the Scriptorium Daily website. One Mission Society (OMS) posted a tribute by OMS president Bob Fetherlin as well.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

HILLARY IS NOT PRESIDENT, BUT THE CLINTON EFFECT IS NOT GOING AWAY

I was always confident that Hillary Clinton would never be elected President. I had expressed this confidence here before. I had given thought to how I would respond when her defeat was certain, when she would finally cease to be a factor in American politics. This is what I thought I would write:

I have been told that once a virus is introduced into the human body, it is there for the life of the individual. However, that is not necessarily true for the body politic. With the defeat of Hillary Clinton, the Clinton's negative influence on American life and politics is at an end. The nation is no longer mesmerized by Bill Clinton. Most younger voters are not even old enough to remember his presidency. Now that Hillary has lost, politicians, foreign and domestic, will no longer seek favors from them. Chelsea has no future in politics. We have paid a high price for the presence of the Clintons in our political life. Their presence has been like a harmful virus in our system. Fortunately, with Hillary's defeat, that virus has been removed.

However, I would have been naive to think the influence of the Clintons would be over.

We have indeed paid a high price for electing the Clintons in 1992. I don't need to go into detail concerning their crimes and scandals. But I will point out that the brazen way they have flouted the justice system has emboldened the liberal-progressive-democrat party to openly defy the law of the land. To take one example, let me mention the FBI files scandal. Charles Colson, one of Richard Nixon's top aids, went to jail for reading one top secret FBI file. Hillary hired political operatives to obtain FBI files on hundreds of former officials of the first Bush administration. No one was arrested or sentenced for this flagrant criminal activity. The political establishment pretended no crime had been committed. The press had become so invested in the Clintons that they didn't seriously report on it. That the Clintons got away with so much only emboldened President Obama's administration to undermine the rule of law on a grand scale. Had it not been for the Clinton example, Obama's IRS might not had targeted conservative groups or been so openly contemptuous of the efforts to discover the truth. Without the Clinton example, the justice system might not have been politicized to the extent it was under Obama. When another liberal-progressive-democrat enters the White House, they will be as much, if not more emboldened, to undermine the belief that we are a nation of laws and not of men. Our politics have acquired a non-stop intensity because of the Clintons. It was the Clintons who introduced the notion of the permanent campaign into our political life in 1992. They are the ones who established the "War Room" to deal with every criticism of themselves and their policies. Most serious of all, we have paid a high price in human lives The Clinton policy, known as "the wall", made 9/11 possible. That policy prohibited intelligence sharing between the CIA and the FBI. Had that policy not been in place, and had Bill Clinton taken out bin-Laden when he had the opportunity, 9/11 would not have taken place. Were it not for Hillary Clinton's incompetence, four Americans would not have died in Benghazi. If it were not for Hillary Clinton's incompetence, in cooperation with Obama, many in the Middle East would not be terrorized by ISIS. President Trump campaigned against engaging in "unnecessary" wars in the Middle East. Yet the price to reverse the effects of the Clinton-Obama debacles may cost many more American lives, in addition to innocent lives of Muslims and Christians in that region. Because many thought Hillary would be elected President one day, many foreign leaders and business figures have donated enormous sums to the Clinton Foundation. They expected future favors from the Hillary Clinton administration and many received favors while Hillary was Obama's Secretary of State. In one case Hillary signed over to the Russians a major portion of the United States' uranium supply. The Clinton Foundation received donations for charitable enterprises. Yet much of the money was not spent on charity. The people of Haiti have seen very little of the money donated for their relief after the 2010 earthquake which devastated their nation.

Hillary's defeat has indeed rendered her and Bill Clinton politically irrelevant. But we have not yet paid the full price for their conduct. The consequences of policies may be reversed over time. But the corruptions of our system of government are here to stay.

You might say, "Why write this now? The election is over. Why didn't you post this during the campaign, or right after the election? This is old news." But is this really old news? We hear much in the news these days about the threat posed by North Korea. President Trump may have no option but to launch a preemptive strike to prevent North Korea from launching a nuclear attack on South Korea or Japan. Who knows how many lives will be lost. What does this have to do with the Clintons? It was the Bill Clinton administration that allowed North Korea the ability to produce nuclear weapons. The North Koreans were permitted to produce nuclear power for "peaceful purposes." Anyone with any sense should have known the North Koreans would use this opportunity to build nuclear weapons. This world is now a much more dangerous place because the Clintons were elected to high office. Who knows how much more damage their presence has caused?

   

Saturday, March 18, 2017

REDEMPTIVE THOUGHTS IS BACK!

Redemptive Thoughts is now running at full steam. Barely an article has appeared here for a year and a half. I was at work on a project that took all my time I had to blog. That project is now complete and will be featured on this site later this year. In the meantime, I hope to post here a couple times a week to build back the readership Redemptive Thoughts once had. A few political posts will be my first focus. My primary concern for posting these is to counter the view of some Christians who believe that Christians must abandon evangelical political and social action. I would like to to post more audio material with the purpose that I might engage in podcasting later on. The semi-regular feature "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will return, providing not only book reviews but more reviews of web pages, internet articles and podcasts. In the past, I had expressed my intention to examine the situation and views of the Global Church. I intend on turning that intention into a reality here. I also hope to feature more Christian biography and history, and Wesleyan writings. As always, feel free to comment on anything that appears here.

Friday, January 6, 2017

THOMAS ODEN, 1931-2016

Thomas Oden, the best known American Evangelical theologian from the Wesleyan-Arminian branch of the Church, died last month. He was already a professor of theology when he came to faith in Christ after studying the early Church Fathers. His 3 volume systematic theology was required reading at Wesley Biblical Seminary. His theological method was not to create something new. He applied the wisdom of the historic Church, from the early Church to the Reformation, to our understanding of scripture, the Christian life, and to the Church's mission in today's world. He sought out the truths that have been acknowledged by all branches of the Church from its beginning as the standard by which we discover the source of this wisdom. (Oden acknowledged that Scripture has greater authority than Church teaching.)   Oden's method is often referred to as Classical Consensual Christianity. Oden referred to it as paleo-orthodoxy. Oden also sought to locate the place of Wesleyan theology and spirituality within the greater Church tradition. Recently, he had been educating the Church on the roots of African Christianity and its place in Church history. I never met Thomas Oden. However, many of my professors at Wesley Biblical Seminary were taught and mentored by him. I would like to think that my classmates and I were influenced by Oden through them and help carry on his legacy in the ministry and in the classroom. Here is a collection of articles on Oden that appeared after his death. I hope you take some time to gain some perspective on one of the 20th century's theological giants from a variety of theological viewpoints.

Before examining Thomas Oden's theology and impact, here is a humorous personal account of what kind of person Oden was by C. Michael Patton, a Calvinist. (HT: Kevin Jackson's Wesleyan-Arminian blog).

Andrew Dragos of Asbury Seedbed gives a short account of Oden's life and importance.

This article from Christianity Today was linked to more than any other by those who wished to bring attention to Oden's life and work after his death. It features praise for Oden and his contributions to theology from theologians of many perspectives. For instance, J.I. Packer is quoted as saying that Oden's work on classical Christianity was needed by the Church for centuries.

Here, in Oden's own words is a short account from of his journey from spiritual futility to a robust faith in Christ. (HT: A short article on Oden from Mark Tooley, President of the Institute On Religion and Democracy, on the Caffeinated Thoughts blog. Here is a tribute to Oden written by Tooley after Oden's death. (HT: The Gospel Coalition.)

 Here is a short but useful article from Ben Witherington of Asbury Seminary explaining Oden's contribution to theology with a lament that Oden was not able to produce more on Wesleyan theology. 

Here is a article that links to a great interview by Ray Nothstein of Oden. It is a wide ranging interview covering not only classical Christianity, but its application to such subjects as poverty and social witness, ministry to prisoners, immigration, and suffering. The link to this interview appeared in an article on the Acton Institute blog by Joe Carter.  Here is a link to another interview with Oden, this time with Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Its not as wide ranging as the interview with Nothstein. It focuses almost exclusively on Oden's theological and spiritual journey. The link to the original audio for this interview is provided below.

Michael J. Kruger, of Reformed Theological Seminary, learned seven lessons from Oden's life story.

Short tributes to Oden by Stephen Beard of Good News Magazine and Jason G. Duesing

Here is a examination of Oden's theological method from the SUMMA PHILOSOPHIAE blog. This is not an article that can be understood through speed reading.

You can read reviews of Oden's autobiography , A Change of Heart, on Amazon .com . (HT: Gene Vieth.)

Here is a lecture given by Thomas Oden. I haven't had time to listen to it yet. It was given at Seattle Pacific University. It is entitled The Renewal of Classic Christianity:Spirituality (HT: Kevin Jackson's Wesleyan-Arminian blog). When I recommence blogging in earnest, one of my first posts will be my impressions of it, along with the interview with Mohler mentioned above.

Here is a post with a very short video of Oden. However, after it is over, links to longer interviews appear. From Terry Mattingly's On Religion blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

REDEMPTIVE THOUGHTS IS TEN YEARS OLD!

This blog is ten years old. On 12/7/06, from a solitary seat in a Panera Bread, somewhere in America, I began expressing myself on various subjects to the world. Whether the world wants to know what my opinion is on any subject is another matter. (One angry American atheist in Austria wanted me to tell him where I lived, probably so he could find me and punch me in the nose. But our exchange occurred on another blog.) I was reluctant to begin blogging. I was afraid it would compete for valuable time with legitimate spiritual activities. I have actually received a few comments over the years questioning whether one can be both a blogger and an active disciple of Jesus Christ. After ten years, 428 published articles (449 if you count those in draft), my fears did not materialize. In fact, much good has come from it. I learned anew how to express my thoughts in written form. I had let that skill deteriorate after college. I did not regain it while in seminary, which was very inconvenient when writing papers and taking exams. Only after I began blogging did I regain this ability. Many of the books I have on my shelf would not have been read had I not disciplined myself to read them so I could review them online. Many of these books were bought from the Wesley Biblical Seminary library. These books influenced my spiritual and theological development. One in particular influenced how I taught a class at the church I currently attend. The book was The Goodness of God by the late John Wenham. It sat on my shelf for at least ten years. As I turned each page, the page became separated from the binding. I wrote some good articles based on it that will appear one day on this blog. Some of the scriptural references appeared on my other blog, Notes From My Study. I thought that this this book would influence me no further. But soon after reading it, I heard a member of my class ask my pastor about some of the difficult issues surrounding the Old Testament. In God's sovereign timing, I had just been been prepared to deal with her questions. I already had background in the subject, but this particular book prepared me to teach the subject I was already going to teach in far more effective manner. And I would not have read the book if I had not been a blogger. In some cases, expressing myself in print has allowed me to sort out what I really believe on a subject. This was the case with the article, A Post Without Answers. It was a response to the controversy surrounding Pat Robertson's remarks on the earthquake in Haiti. It was the hardest single article for me to write because my position kept changing as I wrote. I have also learned that I have the greatest difficulty expressing myself theologically. It took me a year to produce an article in response to the theological writings of N.T. Wright. Being a blogger has caused me to express myself on other sites. Some of those exchanges were heated, but I also have had worthwhile contact with others I would not otherwise have had. These benefits have been a great blessing over the years, and I expect more positive benefits in the future. Social Media certainly deserves the criticism it has received for its adverse affect on our culture. But it has had one benefit for me. In certain instances, it has offered me an opportunity to define myself instead of having myself defined by others. Even in Christian circles, there are those who would try to marginalize you by painting a false picture to others of your intelligence and capabilities. Blogging has allowed me to transcend such attempts at marginalization. As to those heated exchanges, they have proven to be beneficial to me as well. Learning how to engage a hostile internet antagonist in a civil, Christian manner has been good training. Recently, I had needed that training as I dealt with someone who became somewhat aggressive toward me on another site. That kind of training carries over into other areas of human interaction as well.

So I look forward to another ten years of blogging. I hope soon to increase my productivity. In recent years, my productivity has declined. Productivity declined by half beginning in 2010 when I moved to my present location. Some of the ability to express myself in print seemed to disappear when I made the move. Also, since 9/15, I have been at work on a project which has taken up all the time I have to produce material for posting. I hope to finish this month. I might not produce the 70, 80, or 90 posts a year that appeared in my blog's first few years. But I do hope to produce at least 50 posts a year under my present circumstances.

If you have taken time to peruse my posts on this blog in the past, thank-you. I hope they were beneficial to you in some way. I hope Redemptive Thoughts continues to be a place where you can find articles of interest on a wide range of subjects.

I would also like to thank one of my fellow Wesley Biblical Seminary alumni Jason Kranzusch for encouraging me to be a blogger.