Sunday, July 31, 2016

Questioning Dr. Grudem's Defense of Trump

Dr. Wayne Grudem has recently written an essay arguing the case for conservative evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.  His essay, posted as, is entitled Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.

Voting for Trump: Permissible or Obligatory?

It is important to note that Dr. Grudem is not simply arguing that it is moral permissible to vote for Donald Trump.  Rather, as one reads the essay it becomes clear that Dr. Grudem is arguing that is morally obligatory to vote for Donald Trump.  In the section "A good candidate with flaws" Dr. Grudem writes:
I do not think that voting for Donald Trump is a morally evil choice because there is nothing morally wrong with voting for a flawed candidate if you think he will do more good for the nation than his opponent.  In fact, it is the morally right thing to do.
Notice that the first sentence in this quotation speaks to the issue of moral permissibility whereas the second sentence moves closer to moral obligation.  Dr. Grudem's scriptural arguments also move in this direction.  In the section "Seek the good of the nation" Dr. Grudem quotes three biblical passages.  The directive of Jeremiah 29.7 to "seek the welfare of the city" is applied to modern Christians in the U.S. so that they "have a similar obligation to vote in such a way that will 'seek the welfare' of the United States.  Dr. Grudem claims that failure to vote for Trump in a close election means that the individual Christian is directly helping Hillary Clinton.

Grudem's next passage is set up this way:
Under President Obama, a liberal federal government has seized more and more control over our lives.  But this can change.  This year we have an unusual opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton and the pro-abortion, pro-gender-confusion, anti-religious liberty, tax-and-spend, big government liberalism that she champions.  I believe that defeating that kind of liberalism would be a morally right action.  Therefore I feel the force of the words of James: "Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4:17).
The implication seems to be that failure to vote for Trump is sin--thus voting for Trump is morally obligated.

Dr. Grudem argues against not voting for Trump in the following manner:
Some may feel it is easier just to stay away from this messy Trump-Clinton election, and perhaps not even vote.  But the teachings of Scripture do not allow us to escape moral responsibility by saying that we decided to do nothing.  The prophet Obadiah rebuked the people of the Edom for standing by and doing nothing to help when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem: "On the day you stood aloof, on the day that ... foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them" (Obadiah 1:11).
The argument seems to be that failure to exercise one's "moral responsibility" to vote for Trump renders one like the evil nation of Edom who was compared to the vicious and cruel Babylonians.

Further evidence that Dr. Grudem is arguing for moral obligation in voting for Trump is how he ends the essay.
But the most likely result of not voting for Trump is that you will be abandoning thousands of unborn babies who will be put to death under Hillary Clinton's Supreme Court, thousands of Christians who will be excluded from their lifelong occupations, thousands of the poor who will never again be able to find high-paying jobs in an economy crushed by government hostility toward business, thousands of inner-city children who will never be able to get a good education, thousands of the sick and elderly who will never get adequate medical treatment when the government is the nation's only healthcare provider, thousands of people who will be killed by an unchecked ISIS, and millions of Jews in Israel who will find themselves alone and surrounded by hostile enemies.  And you will be contributing to a permanent loss of the American system of government due to a final victory of unaccountable judicial tyranny. (Bold-face added)
The guilt is piled high against those who dare to vote any other way except for Trump!  Here we are a long way away from the beginning of Dr. Grudem's essay where he called for "patience" and "respect" as "thoughtful citizens" "calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences."  With such a long litany of evils--all the death and destruction--that one will be committing for failing to vote for Trump how could one come to any other conclusion except that voting for Trump is morally obligatory.

So what's the point?  Simply this: If Dr. Grudem is going to lay the moral obligation of voting for Donald Trump upon all Christians he is going to have to provide a sufficient biblical theological rationale for so doing.  Failure to do this will mean that Dr. Grudem is coming dangerously close to "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15.9).

The Use of Scripture

Dr. Grudem has been a strong and tireless supporter of the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture in his various writings.  It is no surprise, then, that he would seek the wisdom of the Word of God to be applied to the political decision-making process.  As noted above Dr. Grudem appeals to Jeremiah 29.7; James 4.17; and Obadiah 11 to anchor his reasoning and exhortations in the sacred text.  

Regarding the first two passages, I agree that Christians should "seek the welfare of the city" and that it is sin when one fails to do the thing which one knows he or she ought to do.  My concern is not with the meaning of the texts but in their application.  For Dr. Grudem it appears that only voting for Trump is a path of seeking the welfare of the city.  Also, failure to vote for Trump is to know the right thing to do but refuse to do it.  Now this reasoning only works if, at a minimum, Dr. Grudem's analysis of Trump's character as a politician and Trump's policies are what Dr. Grudem believes them to be.  As will be seen below there are reasons to be skeptical of this.  

But is it true that only be voting for Trump an evangelical Christian can seek the welfare of the city?  Might there not be other avenues available in this election for Christians to seek the welfare of the city?  A failure to vote for Trump does not automatically entail that one is violating Jeremiah 29.7.  Furthermore, a failure to vote for Trump is a violation of James 4.17 only if Dr. Grudem's analysis of Trump is correct.  Other intelligent Christians have come to differing conclusions about Trump's character and potential policies.  Are they really sinning against the knowledge that they have of the right thing to do?

We need to remember the importance of humility in our applications of Scripture.  One of Dr. Grudem's professors and a fellow-theologian, John Frame, has written:

It is also the case, as we mentioned before, that many issues of the modern day are not specifically discussed in scripture. If we cannot fax the apostles to learn their view of baptism, much less can we determine directly what they would say about nuclear weaponry, the government role in welfare, the medical use of life-support equipment. Here too, there are biblical principles which apply; but the argument can be complicated. It is not as if the apostles were readily available for interviews.

In facing our epistemological disadvantages, the first thing to be said is that God understands. He is the Lord of history. His providence has planned and controlled it. It is no accident that we are in the present epistemological situation. That situation, uncomfortable as it may be at times, suits God’s purposes perfectly, and we must be thankful for it. We should not murmur or complain, as Israel in the wilderness. When someone calls and asks me a hard question, say, about whether they should remove life support systems from a dying relative, I usually begin by saying that these are, after all, hard questions, and that God understands how hard they are for us. We cannot fax the apostles, but He doesn’t expect us to. He has left us with Scripture and the Spirit’s illumination, and He has determined that that is enough. We may fumble around in searching for answers. We may make decisions which we regret later on, because we hadn’t at first considered all the relevant principles and facts. But God understands that! He doesn’t expect us to be perfect theologians. He is not waiting up in heaven with a club to hit us over the head when we make an exegetical mistake.

In such situations, it is helpful to remember that we are justified by faith, not by works, nor, therefore, by ethical accuracy. That comfort does not, of course, excuse us from hard thinking. If God has justified us, we will want to please him, and we will make intellectual and other efforts to do what he wants. But the sincerity of such efforts is not measured by the perfection of the results. We may try very hard to apply biblical principles and come up with an answer that later proves inadequate. Yet God will still honor the attempt. He knows the heart, and he takes into consideration the obstacles (including epistemological) that we must overcome.  Between the Apostles and the Parousia: Bearing the Burderns of Change and Knowledge

What about Obadiah 11--is a Christian who doesn't vote for Trump either because of confusion (i.e., "I'm not sure I can in good conscience vote for this man due to his character and policies.") or because of conviction (i.e., "As a Christian who has looked at this man and his policies I will not vote him so that I might be faithful to God.") really "standing aloof" in violation of Obadiah 11?  Dr. Grudem and I are agreed that any proper handling handling of the Biblical text must be contextual in nature.  We ought not to pull a phrase or verse out of a larger literary context.  Here is the larger context of Obadiah 11--verses 10-14:

10Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever.  11On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem—you too were as one of them.  12Do not gloat over your brother’s day, the day of misfortune.  And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in their destruction; yes, do not boast in the day of their distress.  13Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their disaster.  Yes, you, do not gloat over their calamity in the day of their disaster.  14Do not stand at the fork of the road to cut down their fugitives; and do not imprison their survivors in the day of their distress.
Evangelical biblical scholar Willem VanGemeren explains the meaning of this judgment oracle upon Edom:

This short prophecy is directed specifically against Edom for their pride and hatred of their "brother" Jacob (v. 10; see Amos 1:11).  The Edomites boasted about the trouble that had come upon the people of Judah (vv. 11-12).  They collaborated with the Babylonians by entrapping the Judeans at intersections.  They openly rejoiced in Judah's trouble and encouraged the Babylonians.  Great was their hatred of Judah and even greater their joy when Jerusalem was razed and desecrated by the Babylonian troops.  They had no regard for the miserable lives of the Jews.  The fall of Jerusalem was the fulfillment of their national dream: the end of Israel.
VanGemeren goes on to note:

The prophecy, however, should not be restricted to Edom, because Edom is representative of all nations hostile to the Lord and to the establishment of his kingdom on earth (Isa. 34:1-2, 6; Joel 3:19; Amos 9:12).  Notice how Obadiah expanded the original vision concerning Edom's fall to include all nations... (here VanGemeren quotes vv. 15-16 with its mention of "all nations.")  Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1990), 143. 
In light of this contextual reading of Obadiah, is it really the case that a Christian who refuses to vote for Trump due to confusion or conviction is collaborating with anti-God forces to hinder God's kingdom?  I think not.  I believe that Dr. Grudem has been too hasty to pull a few phrases from Obadiah and misapply them to his Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with his political analysis.

The Use of Logic

Dr. Grudem writes in his defense of voting for Trump:

If this election is close (which seems likely), then if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win.  Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?  
The first to notice is Dr. Grudem's remark about "directly" helping Hillary Clinton by voting for a write-in candidate.  This is false.  At best this would be "indirectly" helping Clinton.  To "directly" help Clinton one would need to vote for her.  Now for some this may seem like a pedantic and overly subtle point.  My concern is that Dr. Grudem has been teaching ethics for 39 years and surely understands the nuances of ethical analysis which involve such distinctions.  Why does he overstate the case?

In terms of the logic of voting or not voting for a candidate I find the logical analysis of Reformed evangelical theologian and philosopher James Anderson much more convincing:

One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

In the first place, the claim itself is inaccurate. If there are only two candidates, A and B, and Oscar doesn’t vote for A, that could mean one of two things:

(1) Oscar votes for B rather than A.

(2) Oscar votes for neither A nor B.

Clearly these aren’t equivalent, because (1) hinders A’s chances of winning more than (2) does.

But it’s worse than that: the reasoning here is incoherent, because if a non-vote for A is a vote for B, then by parity of reasoning a non-vote for B is a vote for A, from which it follows that not voting for either candidate is voting for both candidates. On the most charitable interpretation, that simply means not voting at all would be neutral with respect to the candidates: it wouldn’t favor either of them. On a less charitable interpretation, it’s just a nonsensical conclusion.

Perhaps there are some good reasons for conservatives to cast their vote for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016, but this isn’t one of them.

Addendum: I should add that the same incoherence afflicts another popular argument, namely, that not voting would “allow Hillary to win”. If a non-vote for A would allow B to win, then equally a non-vote for B would allow A to win, in which case not voting for either candidate would allow both candidates to win, which is absurd. (Actually, the conclusion in this case could be interpreted somewhat more charitably: not voting would allow either candidate to win. But again this just highlights the neutrality of a non-vote.) A Non-Vote Is Not a Vote

Trusting Trump: Should We?

Much of Dr. Grudem's essay is taken up with comparing the potential outcomes of a Clinton and Trump presidency.  Dr. Grudem seems to have a very trusting attitude toward Trump.  There are indications that he may not be telling the truth.  For example, Dr. Grudem speaks of Trump's "remarkable children."  But Donald Trump Jr. seems to think that his father will change the way he governs from what he has stated on social issues:

“I’m totally for it,” Trump Jr. says of gay marriage. “One of my best friends growing up was gay. ... It’s never been an issue for me. ... I think there was a time in my life, probably in college, that I wished every guy was gay, because it just meant more women for me! ‘I don’t know why you guys have a problem with this thing! I think it’d be great! I wish everyone was gay!’ ... That’s always the way I thought about it. ... I have no issue with it. If I have to suffer through marriage, why shouldn’t they?”

He goes on to express his views on abortion, which diverge from those of the average conservative: “Honestly, for me, abortion, I don’t get it. I don’t even understand how it’s a political issue. I don’t understand how there is one issue for voters for that. I don’t understand how you can tell someone what they can or can’t do. And I’m sort of the same way with [gay marriage]. ... I can’t buy into the abortion argument. I wish the Republicans would drop it as part of their platform.”

It’s no secret that his father, Donald Trump, Sr., has different views on these issues. Don Jr. explains, “In terms of my father’s political views ... in the grand scheme of things, there’s probably other things he’d be concerned about first, given the state of the world and our economy, etc., etc. ... I think part of it, and perhaps the shame of being a conservative, is you almost have to have those kind of stances to win any kind of primary. And then you have to basically sell out and become a moderate in the middle, just like you have to do if you’re on the liberal side of the political spectrum.”  Donald Trump, Jr. Opens Up About Gay Marriage, Women's Right, and His Love of Hunting

Why does Dr. Grudem believe Donald Trump?  Steve Hays makes an interesting conjecture:

I think Grudem's problem is that he's guileless, and so he projects his guilelessness onto Trump. Some people are too good to understand evil people. Their virtue blinds them to evil people. They can't relate to evil people. They can't see past the mask. They can't work themselves into that devious mindset. Ironically, Grudem is too ingenuous to recognize what a conman Trump is. That's too alien to Grudem's own character. Unfortunately, that makes him a easy mark for imposters like Trump. Patsies for Trump

More could be said about Dr. Grudem's defense of Trump but others have done some of this heavy lifting (see below).  My main concerns revolve around Dr. Grudem raising the bar too high by making voting for Donald Trump morally obligatory and heaping guilt upon those who choose otherwise. Dr. Grudem's use of Scripture and logic is faulty. Furthermore, there are reasons to be suspicious of Donald Trump's conservative claims. 

Steve Hays' piece--Patsies for Trump-- is an important point by point response to Dr. Grudem's essay.

Evangelical philosopher John Mark Reynolds' essay A Good Man Justifies a Wicked Deed: Grudem on Trump

Andy Naselli has a good piece on voting one's conscience.  There is also a brief response to Grudem's essay: Can You Vote for Donald Trump with a Clear Conscience?

Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo's essay provides an important perspective on character: The Problem of Character: Why Conservatives Must Reject Donald Trump

Matthew J. Franck has an important piece on voting one's conscience: A Vote's Consequences and a Voter's Conscience 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Some Recent Comments on Inerrancy

Last November (2013) the theme for the Evangelical Theological Society was given over to the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture.  The recent issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society contains a few pieces from the November meeting.

Robert Yarbrough delivered his presidential address entitled, "The Future of Cognitive Reverence for the Bible" (JETS 57/1: 2014, 5-18).  Yarbrough's essay is worth reading in full but I wanted to highlight just a few items.  I especially appreciated his definition of "cognitive reverence":
"I call this 'cognitive reverence' in that is privileges Scripture over human reason, experience, and tradition, without in any way denying that reason, experience, and tradition are necessary and welcome factors in how we go about understanding Scripture." (p. 8)
This is exactly the right stance for evangelicals to take in regards to the Bible.  If we affirm that the Bible is God's revelation to humanity then "cognitive reverence" is precisely the correct way to approach the Bible.  I have often thought in terms of "epistemic priority" that should be granted to the Scriptures but Yarbrough's "cognitive reverence" has a nice nuance.  "Reverence" is due to the living God and Yarbrough's phrase reminds us of this.

Yarbrough concludes his essay in this manner:
"I do not deny that we need continual refinement in our views.  Challenges and opportunities arise constantly.  The Chicago statements on inerrancy and hermeneutics, while compelling, can be improved upon.  But I think Jesus' response to the devil is suggestive for our response to calls to lighten up on our high view of the Bible.  'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matt 4:4 ESV).  Jesus regarded Scripture as words from God's mouth.  That should be understood analogically, of course, and not crudely literally, but the integral link between God and divine enscripturated speech remains.
"I am optimistic that Jesus' approach to the Tanach, already revered as holy in his day, retains value for Jesus' followers as they approach the whole canon of writings acknowledged in the Bible of the church.  Let me put that more strongly: in light of Jesus' dogged recourse to written Scripture from his temptation to his scriptural words from the cross, how is something like inerrancy not an entailment of discipleship?  Kevin Vanhoozer poses the question this way: 'how can we follow Jesus if we cannot follow with the utmost trust the words that oriented his own life?'"  (p. 17, emphasis added) 

Nahum: Good Theology from a Book of God's Judgment

In a recent post--Nahum: The Word of God or the Imagination of Man?--I looked at an essay which, in the final analysis, denigrates the vision of God contained in the book of Nahum.  Another essay by Aron Pinker--Nahum's Theological Perspectives Jewish Bible Quarterly 32 (2004), 148-157--provides a good counter-point as he accurately unfolds the deep theology of Nahum.

Pinker begins by stating the purpose of his paper:
The purpose of this paper is to show that Nahum's small book contains an unusually rich theological perspective, and a prophetic message of eternal validity, which is in line with the best prophetic traditions. (p. 149)
Pinker lists out and briefly explains sixteen "specific beliefs that can be discerned in the Book of Nahum."  I will list out these sixteen statement and add a few extra quotations from Pinker for some of them.

1.  God demands universal adherence to His moral code.
God's jealousy presupposes an accepted moral fabric.  It is the basis for man's hope that a just cause would be recognized.  Moreover, God's jealousy implies the existence of a purpose.  The achievement of this purpose involves His chosen people.  Those who pose a threat to His people become His enemies, because they obstruct the attainment of His purpose.
2.  God punishes transgressions.
An avenging God gives hope and comfort that justice will be done.
3.  God is "temperamentally" involved.
God possesses anger (1:2), which is a consequence of the discrepancy between the reality of the human condition and God's expectation from man.  God is not apathetic, nor is He distanced and uninterested.  Being in possession of anger means that He is involved, interested, and near to man and historical events.
4.  Trangressors of God's moral code are His enemies.

5.  God bears a grudge.
God's bearing a grudge guarantees that every act has to be accounted for.
6.  God is slow to anger.
Time allowed for the sinner to reform is usually also an extension of the suffering of the righteous... How the Lord harmonizes between "being slow to anger" and "timely justice" is not altogether clear... While Nahum describes a "furious" and "avenging" God, it is clear that this is a state reached only after all the "patience" has been exhausted.
7.  God is great in power.

8.  God does not remit all punishment.

9.  God's majesty is exhibited in nature's reaction to His appearance.
His appearance causes a cataclysm of nature, indicating His supremacy over the forces of nature and His ability to reverse long-standing features (1:4-6).  This is the basis for his argument that God can undo the Assyrian Empire, a lasting phenomenon of might and subjugation.
10.  God is good.

11. Belief in God is a source of strength in time of duress.

12.  Deliverance as a consequence of the other's punishment.

13.  God's verdict can not countervailed.

14.  There is a moral code by which God judges nations.

15.  God is in charge.

16.  Restoration of the special relationship with God
When the messenger brings the tidings of peace (2:1), Nahum urges Judah joyfully to celebrate its feasts and fulfill its vows.  The directive implies a new start without any resentments or recriminations.  Such "new beginnings" are possible with the Lord.
After listing and discussing these sixteen beliefs Pinker has these apt words:
Nahum's book appears to be imbued with a strong sense of God's sovereignty and clearly portrays His lordship over history.  This serves as the principal element of Nahum's comforting message, transcending the specific historical situation that was the cause for its announcement.  Nahum's eternal message is one of hope, which gives comfort to anyone oppressed by seemingly invulnerable tyranny.  He clearly presents the normative theological position held by the biblical prophets: The Lord is powerful, applies His power to counter evil and protect the righteous.  There is nothing shallow in Nahum's theological perspectives.  His theocentric view of history would not have permitted a position of an opportunistic national propagandist.  For it was clear to him that Judah's salvation is not one that it deserves but rather is a consequence of Assyria's fall.  Nahum rejoices, firstly, because the sanctuary will be cleansed and sacrifices brought (2:1), enabling a recovery of religious norms.  (p. 155)
This is a good and proper perspective on the book of Nahum.  May we listen afresh to God's word--yes, even Nahum--with faith, humility, and worship.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Nahum: The Word of God or the Imagination of Man?

Approaching Scripture as the word of God--the way Jesus did--has consequences for what kind of conclusions one will come to when seeking to understand the text.  Conversely, viewing the text as simply the word of man--generated and driven by man's religious impulses--will also have consequences.

The book of Nahum is a good test case in this regard.  Nahum presents us with a vision of God as avenging Judge who prophesies the coming destruction of Nineveh in graphic terms.  There are those who think Nahum's vision of God's retributive justice is unbecoming and unworthy of the God of love displayed elsewhere in Scripture.  A good example of this view of Nahum as reflecting merely human religiousity is David G. Garber, Jr. and his essay "Facing Traumatizing Texts: Reading Nahum's Nationalistic Rage" Review and Expositor 105 (Spring, 2008), 285-294.  

Throughout his essay Garber repeatedly uses inflammatory rhetoric to describe the book of Nahum.  He calls it a "fantasy of vengenace," "a diatribe and vengeance fantasy," and "a vitriolic vengeance fantasy" (pp. 286, 287, 290).  Occasionally Garber does state an insightful truth, such as when he writes:
The awesome terror of God's avenging power is both frightening and reassuring to the oppressed.  It is frightening, because it is a reminder that Yahweh is a God with whom one cannot trifle, but it is also reassuring, because it affirms that the oppressor will not have the last word. (p. 288)
This is a genuine biblical perspective but it is ultimately drowned out by Garber's perspective elsewhere in the article.  For example, Garber states:
In Nahum, shalom (peace or wholeness) for the Judean will only result from the realization of violent vengeance.  The pronouncement of "good news" serves as an introduction to a vitriolic vengeance fantasy as the prophet imagines the city of Nineveh suffering military defeat from the hands of YHWH. (pp. 289-290)
Aside from the rhetoric of "a vitriolic vengeance fantasy" already noted, the key phrase in this quotation is--"as the prophet imagines."  The operating assumption here is that the destructive imagery of the book is a result of Nahum's imagination.  It is not seen to be a divine revelation given from Yahweh to Nahum that reveals the truth about God himself.

This is not simply a "slip of the pen" for it is the perspective Garber continues to push in the concluding section of the essay.  Garber begins his conclusion with these words:
The book of Nahum reminds us of the deeply ingrained human longing for vengeance. (p. 291)
The question must be asked: Is it only "the deeply ingrained human longing for vengeance" or is it not also a manifestation and revelation of God's holy and jealousy character?  Later Garber writes:
Perhaps the vitriolic rhetoric in the book of Nahum, and in the collective, xenophobic response of some to the terrorist attacks on September 11, could best be explained as attempts to reassert corporate life in the face of tragedies that force humanity to face the inevitability of its own mortality. (p. 291)
Again, there is nothing here about God revealing his character.  The rhetoric of the book is simply a human attempt to come to grips with national tragedy.  Garber goes further.  He moves to a place where we are called upon to reject the vision of God as vengeful.  Here is Garber in his own words:
Finally, one must wrestle with the image of God presented in the text.  A jealous, powerful, and violent deity is not one to whom many Christians wish to cling.  Christians are much more comfortable with the God who is slow to anger than the God who avenges.  We would much rather read of God's mercy exhibited to the foreigners in Jonah 3 and 4, than God's wrath executed on the Assyrian King in Nahum 2 and 3.  
Up to this point in this quotation it is merely descriptive but the next sentences of Garber move to a prescriptive perspective...
This, I think, is certainly appropriate.  But while we remain steadfast against this image of a violent and wrathful deity, we must also recognize the reason such fantasies exist in the first place. (pp. 292-293--bold-face added)
Here Garber pits himself against the God of Nahum.  This God of vengeance is not worthy of Garber's worship and adoration; he is someone to be opposed.  The book of Nahum is not, therefore, the revelation of God's holy character.  Rather, Nahum is only the expression of man's attempts to deal with pain.  Garber is clear about this when he writes, "Rather, we must continue to read the text and respect the representation of pain that it expresses." (p. 293)

For Garber, the book of Nahum is man's best attempt to deal with pain and crisis.  Garber doesn't like the God of Nahum and urges that the portrait of God as wrathful be opposed.  This is Garber's opinion.  There is only one problem--this is the not the view of Jesus Christ (Matthew 5.17-18)!  Jesus never treated the Scriptures like Garber treats them.  As a follower of Christ ... well, I'm going to follow Christ's viewpoint.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Not Voting for Trump: The Consequences for Logic and Conscience

Two recent pieces regarding the implications for not voting for Trump (if one is a Republican and would normally vote for the Republican candidate) are helpful in spelling out the logical consequences and the effects on one's conscience.

James Anderson has written a short but tightly argued piece entitled A Non-Vote Is Not a Vote.

Here is Anderson's post:
One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

In the first place, the claim itself is inaccurate. If there are only two candidates, A and B, and Oscar doesn’t vote for A, that could mean one of two things:

(1) Oscar votes for B rather than A.

(2) Oscar votes for neither A nor B.

Clearly these aren’t equivalent, because (1) hinders A’s chances of winning more than (2) does.

But it’s worse than that: the reasoning here is incoherent, because if a non-vote for A is a vote for B, then by parity of reasoning a non-vote for B is a vote for A, from which it follows that not voting for either candidate is voting for both candidates. On the most charitable interpretation, that simply means not voting at all would be neutral with respect to the candidates: it wouldn’t favor either of them. On a less charitable interpretation, it’s just a nonsensical conclusion.

Perhaps there are some good reasons for conservatives to cast their vote for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016, but this isn’t one of them.

Addendum: I should add that the same incoherence afflicts another popular argument, namely, that not voting would “allow Hillary to win”. If a non-vote for A would allow B to win, then equally a non-vote for B would allow A to win, in which case not voting for either candidate would allow both candidates to win, which is absurd. (Actually, the conclusion in this case could be interpreted somewhat more charitably: not voting would allow either candidate to win. But again this just highlights the neutrality of a non-vote.)
The second essay comes from Matthew J. Franck--A Vote's Consequences and a Voter's Conscience.

A few selections from Franck's essay:
 Recently, while I was having lunch with some young colleagues at the Witherspoon Institute, one of them asked me a pointed question. “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?”

It was an earnest question, and I gave an honest answer. But then I felt obliged to object to the question, and I want to elaborate upon my objections here. I will not repeat my honest answer, for reasons I hope will become plain.


But the secrecy and the rough simultaneity of our ballot-casting are just what enable people to frame the question my colleague asked me. The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting as though everything hung on that one vote each of us casts. This invitation, to vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone, is what I refuse to accept.

The reason I decline the invitation is not just that the weight is not on my shoulders. It is that this is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting. I don’t intend to plunge into the philosophical debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics, which is not in my field anyway. I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

I have good friends thinking this way right now. Although, as fellow conservatives, we think very alike on nearly everything in political life, the national disaster of the choice between Trump and Clinton has produced diametrically opposed conclusions. One close friend says that the harm Hillary Clinton would do, building on Barack Obama’s eight years, would be so incalculably awful that the risk of an inept, foolish, and thuggish Donald Trump presidency is worth taking in order to prevent Clinton’s victory. Therefore, he is inclined to hold his nose and vote for Trump, believing that abstention or a “thrown away” vote on a third alternative with no chance to win would be morally indistinguishable from a vote for Clinton. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

Another close friend draws the opposite conclusion, recoiling so powerfully from Trump’s politics of arrogance, folly, and contempt for others that this Republican of many years announces he will pull the lever for Clinton, preferring an enemy he can imagine fighting and partly constraining (and even agreeing with on occasion) to a “leader” who may grievously wound the party, the conservative cause, and the country itself. For this friend, any vote not cast for Clinton is “objectively” a vote for Trump and thus a kind of moral calamity. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

My fond regard for these two good and thoughtful friends, lifelong conservatives both, is not diminished by our disagreements. And I do disagree with both of them. For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.
 Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic. Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.

As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

 After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life, Death & Growing Old (part four): Suicide

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Life, Death & Growing Old

·      Suicide

Philosophical Considerations

1.     Defining “suicide”:

a.     Standard definition: “A suicidal act involves the intentional termination of one’s own life.”

                                               i.     This definition is too broad

                                              ii.     Does not match our intuitions about various cases

“When an ethical term is being defined, a proposed definition should explain the ordinary language intuitions of people of good will regarding clear and borderline cases of what to count as acts of suicide.”[1]

b.     Which of the following cases are suicides—and why?[2]

                                               i.     An elderly man, despairing of life, leaves a note behind and jumps off a bridge.

                                              ii.     A soldier captured in war takes a capsule in order to avoid a torturous death and to hide secrets from the enemy.

                                            iii.     A truck driver, foreseeing his own death, drives off a bridge in order to avoid hitting children playing in the road.

                                            iv.     A hospitalized cancer patient with six months to live shoots himself in order to save his family from unneeded psychological and financial suffering.

                                              v.     A terminally ill patient, realizing death is imminent, requests that she not be resuscitated again if another heart failure occurs.

                                            vi.     A Jehovah’s Witness refuses a simple blood transfusion for religious reasons and subsequently dies for lack blood.

c.      Key concepts to consider:

                                               i.     Intention: what is a person trying to do?

·      Truck driver example (iii.)

a.    Seeking to sacrificially preserve life

b.     Truck driver did not desire to die but permitted his death to save lives.

                                              ii.     Coercion: the decision to terminate one’s life is done under a coercive duress of another or others.

* Soldier situation above (ii.)—“If the soldier were not under coercion but terminated his life anyway, this would most likely be classified as a suicide.  Thus if an act is coerced, it probably does not count as a suicide.”[3]

                                            iii.     Others-directed: the act of terminating one’s life is not done from a self-directed motive but, rather, from an other’s-directed motivation.

1.     Seems relevant for cases (ii.) and (iii.) above.

2.     What about case (iv.) above?  J. P. Moreland argues:

“Some philosophers add the stipulation that other-directed acts are suicidal if they are done for animals or nonpersonal states of affairs (e.g., wealth).  Thus case four is an act of self-destruction for others (a cancer patient shoots himself to save others economic and psychological distress) and should be classified as a suicide because it is not done to save the lives of others, but to realize a nonpersonal state of affairs.”[4]

3.     The Jehovah’s Witness/blood transfusion case (vi.) could be seen not as a suicide but as a sacrificial act of martyrdom.  Moreland adds:

“An important issue in this case is whether the Jehovah’s Witness interpretation of Scripture is accurate.  Most biblical scholars do not think so and thus would have a factual problem with case six.”[5]
                                            iv.     Direct and active means: the person has a direct and active hand in bringing about their death

1.     The cancer patient shooting himself (case iv.) would be considered suicide.

2.     Case (v.)—a terminally ill patient with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order would not be considered suicide.  Form of “passive euthanasia” which seems ethically allowable.

d.     Moreland’s definition:

“An act is suicide if and only if a person intentionally and/or directly causes his or her own death as an ultimate end in itself or as a means to another and (e.g., pain relief), through acting (e.g., taking a pill) or refraining from acting (e.g., refusing to eat) when that act is not coerced and is not done sacrificially for the lives of other persons or in obedience to God.”[6]

Biblical Considerations

2.     Some general biblical principles[7]

a.     Suicide is sin against God as the Creator and sustainer of life.  It rejects God’s sovereignty and usurps his prerogative in regard to life and death (Job 12.10).

b.     Suicide disregards the image of God and the sanctity of human life (Genesis 1.26-27; 9.5-6).

c.      Suicide is poor stewardship of one’s body (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).

d.     Suicide demonstrates misdirected love and is injurious to others (Matthew 22.36-39; Ephesians 5.29).

3.     Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment—“ You shall not murder” (Exodus 20.13; Deuteronomy 5.17).

a.     Suicide is a form of homicide.

b.     Scripture does present exceptions to the general prohibition of killing; might suicide fit under these exceptions?

                                               i.     Capital punishment (Genesis 9.6)

                                              ii.     Just war (Genesis 14.1-16)[8]

                                            iii.     Defending one’s own or another’s life (Exodus 22.2-3)

“The common denominator that connects the three exceptional situations—capital punishment, war, and defense of life—is that they all spring directly out of profound respect for the sixth commandment itself.  All of them reflect the positive side of the sixth commandment: the sanctity of human life and the duty to preserve and protect it.”[9]

                                            iv.     Suicide does not advance the good purpose of the sixth commandment.

4.     Biblical examples of suicide:

a.     Abimelech (Judges 9.52-54)

b.     Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31.3-6; 1 Chronicles 10.3-5)

c.      Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17.23)

d.     Zimri (1 Kings 16.18-19)

e.     Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27.3-5)

f.      Note: Some add Samson to this list (Judges 16.25-31) but others do not.[10]

5.     Scriptural perspectives to consider:

a.     “Scripture does not say explicitly that suicide is wrong, but it places the act in a context of shame and defeat.”[11]

b.     “The stories were meant to be instructive to future generations, portraying biblical suicides not as examples to be followed but rather as cautionary warnings of how not to go.”[12]

c.      Some experienced such frustrations and pain that they asked God to take their lives; Scripture implies that these requests were not godly.  God did not grant these requests.[13]

                                               i.     Moses (Numbers 11.12-15)

                                              ii.     Elijah (1 Kings 19.4)

                                            iii.     Jonah (Jonah 4.1-11)

d.     Job’s extreme adversity made him hate his life but he did not take his life

                                               i.     Job 2.9-10

                                              ii.     Job 3.1-26 (cf. 6.8-9; 10.1-22)—Job laments the day of his birth and wishes for death

Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice greatly, and exult when they find the grave.  –Job 3.21-23

                                            iii.     “In his suffering he desired to die at times, yet as a godly man Job refused to bring about death by his own hand.”[14]

6.     Suffering together… not suicide.

a.     Life is going to include suffering: Romans 5.3-5; 8.18-25; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; 12.7-10; James 1.2-4

b.     We live in community and need to share each other’s suffering: Galatians 6.2; Ephesians 4.28; Colossians 3.12-15; 1 Thessalonians 5.14; Hebrews 13.1-3

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6.2

“We should try to understand the extremes of sadness, confusion, suffering, and defeat that lead people to want to take their own lives.  People who contemplate suicide are in special need of the compassion of the body of Christ and the grace of the cross.  Our first approach should not be to judge, but to point to a better way, as God himself did with his weary prophets.  God never forsakes his children.  He never leads them to a situation where sinful self-destruction is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13).”[15]

7.     Suicide is sin… but not unforgivable!

a.     Objection: “Suicide does not allow one to repent of their sin of self-murder therefore they are lost.”

                                               i.     “Many Christians have died sudden deaths without having repented of all their sins.”  --Dietrich Bonhoeffer[16]

                                              ii.     “Contrary to what Christians have often believed, such rational suicide does not necessarily damn one.  The suicide dies, so to speak, in the moment of sinning, without opportunity to repent.  But then, so may I be killed instantly in a car accident while plotting revenge against an enemy of mine.  God judges persons, not individual deeds, and the moment in one’s life when a sinful deed occurs does not determine one’s fate.”  --Gilbert Meilaender[17]

b.     “Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?”  Theologian Sam Storms answers:

“People often answer “yes” to this question because suicide leaves no room for repentance; a person enters eternity with unconfessed and therefore unforgiven sin. But nowhere does the Bible say that suicide is an unforgiveable or unpardonable sin. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that all sin—past, present, and future—is forgiven through faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One’s eternal destiny is sealed and set at the moment of justifying faith. Our depth of intimacy, fellowship, and joy is certainly affected adversely when we fail to confess and repent of daily sin. But our eternal destiny has already and forever been determined. We must recognize the distinction between eternal forgiveness that is ours the moment we embrace Jesus in faith, and that temporal forgiveness we receive on a daily basis that enables us to experience the happiness of intimacy with the Father.”[18]

·      Importance of the doctrine of justification by faith: Romans 5.1-2

     [1] J. P. Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options” Bibliotheca Sacra 148 (April-June 1991), 216.
     [2] The following list comes from Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 216.
     [3] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217.
     [4] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217—bold-face added.
     [5] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217.  For a brief analysis of the Jehovah’s Witness teaching on blood transfusions see Brian J. Wright, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions: Their Use of Scripture in Their Blood Doctrine” Christian Research Journal vol. 37, no. 5.  Online:
     [6] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 218.
     [7] These are taken from David W. Jones “Suicide in Christian Perspective” The Southeastern Center for Pastoral Leadership & Preaching—Equip Workshop: Death, Dying, & Funerals (March 25, 2015).  Online:
     [8] For a brief discussion of Just War Theory see my notes posted at: 
     [9] VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions, 199.
     [10] Yael Shemesh has Samson on his list of suicides in the Bible (“Suicides in the Bible,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 37[2009], 157) but John Frame places Samson’s death in the larger category of laying down one’s life for others.  “When he pulled down the temple of Dagon, killing many Philistines, he accomplished God’s judgment and empowered the people of God.  In this one case, God answered affirmatively a prayer for death (v. 30).  There was indeed something shameful about Samson’s death, as in the cases of Saul and Judas, for Samson was often disobedient to God’s will.  But his last moments were full of faith.  In a small way, he anticipated Jesus, gaining God’s victory by dying for his friends.”  The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 739.
     [11] John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 738.
     [12] Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 5.
     [13] Albert Hsu has a larger list: “Interestingly enough, the Bible also records stories of at least seven people who despaired of life but did not go the way of suicide.  These include Rebekah (Genesis 27:46), Rachel (Genesis 30:1), Moses (Numbers 11:10-15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), Job (Job 6:8-13; 10:1-22), Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8) and the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).  These are positive role models for us, in contrast to those who chose death instead of life.  ‘Given the clear example throughout the Bible of men and women who thought about killing themselves and chose not to, we should follow their example.’”  Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 5 (bold-face added)—Hsu quotes Donal O’Mathuna, “But the Bible Doesn’t Say They Were Wrong Does It?” in Suicide: A Christian Response, ed. Timothy J. Demy and Gary P. Stewart (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1998), 362, 366.
     [14] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 202.
     [15] John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 738.
     [16] Quoted in Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 4. 
     [17] Quoted in Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 4.
     [18] Sam Storms, “Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?” Gospel Coalition Website (June 17, 2015).  Online: