August 2007


An Iowa judge has ruled that Polk County’s marriage laws are unconstitutional because they forbid same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Judges forcing same-sex marriage on the citizens is becoming so common. Hopefully the judges decision will be overturned on appeal.

The Gallup Poll released its 2007 polling data back in June regarding Americans’ views on 16 different moral issues: homosexual relations, the death penalty, premarital sex, unwed motherhood, abortion, divorce, doctor-assistance suicide, suicide, embryonic stem cell research, cloning humans, cloning animals, gambling, polygamy, extra-marital affairs, wearing fur, and medical testing using animals.


The poll is interesting on several counts. What do Americans see as morally wrong? In order of most wrong to least wrong:


  1. Extra-marital affairs (91% disapprove)
  2. Polygamy (90%)
  3. Cloning humans (86%)
  4. Suicide (78%)
  5. Cloning animals (59%)
  6. Abortion (51%)
  7. Homosexual relations (49%)
  8. Doctor assisted suicide (44%)
  9. Unwed motherhood (42%)
  10. Premarital sex (38%)
  11. Wearing fur (38%)
  12. Medical testing using animals (37%)
  13. Gambling (32%)
  14. Embryonic stem cell research (30%)
  15. Death penalty (27%)
  16. Divorce (26%)


What is morally acceptable? In order of most accepted to least accepted:


  1. Death penalty (66% accept)
  2. Divorce (65%)
  3. Embryonic stem cell research (64%)
  4. Gambling (63%)
  5. Medical testing using animals (59%)
  6. Premarital sex (59%)
  7. Wearing fur (58%)
  8. Unwed motherhood (54%)
  9. Doctor assisted suicide (49%)
  10. Homosexual relations (47%)
  11. Abortion (40%)
  12. Cloning animals (36%)
  13. Suicide (16%)
  14. Cloning humans (11%)
  15. Polygamy (8%)
  16. Extra-marital affairs (6%)


What surprised me

I was surprised to discover that while 78% of people oppose suicide, only 44% oppose doctor-assisted suicide. The only difference between the two is that in the former instance the person kills themselves without the aid of another person, whereas in the latter instance they seek a doctor’s help. But in both instances you have a person who chooses to end their life. So why the big gap in moral condemnation?


I was surprised that 6 in 10 people oppose cloning animals. I’m not sure what they find objectionable about that. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that 86% oppose human cloning, but the fact that there was only a gap of 27% between animal and human cloning tells me that American’s have an inflated view of animal value. This is especially the case given the fact that more Americans oppose animal cloning than they do abortion, homosexuality, and doctor assisted suicide!


Significant changes in opinion


The most significant change in opinion has been Americans’ increasing acceptance of homosexual relations and embryonic stem cell research. The former increased from 40% acceptance in 2001 to 47% acceptance today. The latter increased from 52% in 2002 to 67% today. We’ve got our work cut out for us in persuading the American public on these two issues. The tide of public opinion is working against us.


Where are we divided?


The data reveals that Americans are most polarized on homosexual relations, abortion, doctor assisted suicide, and unwed motherhood. The relatively even split of opinion means if we can make a persuasive case in the public square, we stand a chance of our views quickly gaining a majority status, thus effecting the realm of both morality and politics.


Abortion and embryonic stem cell research moral disconnect


The fact that there is a 21% difference between those who see abortion as morally wrong and embryonic stem cell research as morally wrong tells me that the public does not understand the logic of the pro-life position. If they did, they would see that the issue of abortion and the issue of embryonic stem cell research are morally tied at the hip. The fact that 1 in 5 do not see this tells me that we have to do a better job of explaining the pro-life logic, and specifically applying it to other areas of bioethics such as embryonic stem cell research.

William Lane Craig has a really good response to those who ask how a just and loving God could command the Israelites to kill every Canaanite (including children). In the same article he makes some poignant distinctions between the Jewish conquest of Canaan and Islamic jihad.

“The classic Christian worldview affirms that a supremely powerful and personal God created the world ex nihilo (from nothing) and maintains it; humans may attain knowledge of God through Scripture, sensory perception and introspection; human beings are moral agents subject to God-given immutable moral laws that are as fixed and universal as are physical ones; and human beings are sinful, fallen and in rebellion against God, but they reflect a distorted image of God and are divine right-bearers.


“In contrast, the secular worldview (also called naturalism) denies the existence of God or his personal character; considers creation the result of random events and a battle of the fitters persevering out of biologic selfishness; believes knowledge is limited to sensory perception; believes human beings create their moral order for convenience and enforce it solely through public coercion; and consider human beings different from, but not necessarily more important than, creation except to the extent that our sentience or affinity for the arts distinguishes us.”[1]



[1]Nathan Adams IV, Ph.D, J.D., “An Unnatural Assault on Natural Law” in Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, Charles Colson and Nigel Cameron, eds. (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2004), 165-6.

I have never really discussed my website on this blog before, so for those of you who are not aware of it, I am co-founder and contributing author to The Institute for Biblical Studies. We recently passed the 1/4 million visitors mark! If you haven’t checked out the site before, I invite you to do so. Tell your friends about it too.

The Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform has a way of bringing the abortion issue home: put pictures of aborted babies on the side of trucks accompanied with the word “choice,” and drive them throughout the town of Calgary.

Not everyone is happy with the display of these graphic, but truthful images. Celia Posyniak, executive director of a local abortion clinic said, “I just think in Canadian society, it’s really a rude, crude display. It shows a lack of manners.” If the display of abortion photos is crude, then how much cruder is the abortion itself? If it is a lack of manners to show pictures of what an abortion does, then how much less manners does one have who obtains and performs an abortion? I always find it interesting how pro-abortion advocates find pictures of what an abortion does so offensive, but do not find abortions offensive themselves. They object to showing pictures of what abortion does, but do not object to abortions themselves. Why? Most object to showing the pictures because they don’t want the public to see what abortion really looks like. They don’t want the public to see how developmentally advanced aborted babies really are. They know that when people see the horror of abortion, public support for abortion will fade. I agree. That’s why the public needs to see these graphic images.

A Dutch Catholic priest, Tiny Muskens, argues that Christians should begin calling God, “Allah.” Why? To ease Christian-Muslim tensions. What might God think about this? According to Muskens God is above such bickering over what He is called.

 

Muskens was a missionary in Indonesia for 30 years, and points out how Christians in Indonesia call God “Allah.” In their language, that is the generic reference for God, equivalent to the English “God.” If they can do it, and no one has a problem with it, why can’t we do the same as well?

 

I think Muskens’s suggestion is misguided for three reasons. First, I don’t think one can make a Biblical case that God is unconcerned with what we call Him. He has chosen to reveal Himself to us with certain names and titles. We cannot just ignore those, or interchange them with some other name if it suits our fancy to do so. For example, we can’t call Him “Xenon” because we think that’s a cool name. That is disrespectful to the God who has revealed Himself, and His name, to man.

 

Having said that, I understand that the English word “God” is just an English translation of the Hebrew elohim. There is nothing special about the English word “God.” We could just as well use the French word Dieu, or the Italian Dio, or the German Gott…and would do so if we spoke French, Italian, or German, because that is the equivalent word for elohim in those languages. But we do not speak those languages. Likewise, we do not speak Arabic, or live in countries where Muslim influence has made it so that the only term that exists for God in the native language is “Allah.” So there is no reason for us to use “Allah” to refer to God.

 

Second, I think Muskens’s suggestion would have the opposite effect He envisions. It is one thing for Christians to call God “Allah” in a nation whose language has no other name for God, but it a whole other matter for those who have an alternative name to begin using “Allah” to identify their God. In the former case the usage is necessary; in the latter it is not. Most Christians are Trinitarian. The triune God of Christianity is repugnant to Muslims. To call that God by the same name as the Muslim God when it is not necessary to do so, is likely to be seen as blasphemous, for it would associate Allah with a false God. That will hardly help Muslim-Christian relations!

 

Thirdly, even if Muslims would not be offended by our change from “God” to “Allah”, what makes us think this change would ease Muslims-Christian tensions? Does Muskens think Muslims won’t be privy to the fact that the change in terminology has nothing to do with a change in our beliefs? Their problem with Christians is not that we do not call God “Allah”, but that we do not follow Islam. Calling the Christian God “Allah” will do nothing to change that fact, and thus it can do nothing to ease Muslim-Christian tensions.

 

One final thing to consider…. Why is it that Christians need to change the word we use to refer to the Supreme Deity? Why isn’t Muskens calling on Muslims to start calling Allah, “God”? I would venture to say it is because he knows they would never do so. They would likely see it as an affront to Islam, and may resort to violence and killing like they did in the case of the Danish cartoons. It’s much easier and safer to tell Christians to change their language. Muskens knows Christians are tolerant, even of those who disrespect their religion.

Last Thursday six Democratic presidential hopefuls attended a forum focusing on gay issues, sponsored by a gay rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, and hosted by Logo, a gay TV channel.

There were a couple of statements that stood out to me. The always astute John Edwards said we have to speak out about intolerance lest it becomes “OK for the Republicans in their politics to divide America and use hate-mongering to separate us.” To accuse Republicans of dividing America when there are two political parties that are divided on issues is a little ironic. And talk about hate-mongering: he is guilty of fostering hatred toward Republicans by accusing them of hate-mongering. He is separating Americans by dividing non-Republicans from Republicans.

New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, indicated that he thinks the nation is headed toward marriage equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals (same-sex marriage), but thinks that “what is achievable” right now “is civil unions with full marriage rights.” In other words, what is achievable right now is to give homosexuals all the rights that belong to traditional marriage, but just call it something else. Eventually, once the public gets used to the legal recognition of homosexual couples, the name will be changed from civil unions to marriage. This approach is so deceptive. Civil unions of this sort are de facto marriage—marriage by another name. The fight over marriage is not about who gets to use the word marriage, but the legal recognition of homosexual couples.

Even though people like Richardson support giving homosexuals all the benefits of marriage, some homosexuals still aren’t happy. Human Rights Campaign president, Joe Solmonese said, “The overwhelming majority of the candidates do not support marriage equality. While we heard very strong commitments to civil unions and equality in federal rights and benefits, their reasons for opposing equality in civil marriage tonight became even less clear.” These types of statements make it clear that the fight for same-sex marriage is not about the benefits, but social approval. The fact of the matter is that if they were only interested in being treated equally, they would be satisfied with civil unions. But they aren’t. They want their relationships to be viewed as equal to heterosexual relationships. They want the same sort of public approval afforded to heterosexual couples, and nothing short of calling their legally recognized relationships “marriage” will achieve this.

In one sense I agree with Solmonese. He has every right to question why people are willing to give homosexuals all the same benefits of marriage, but not call it marriage. This is like saying “You can be employed at the same place we’re employed, work just like we work, make the same money we make, get the same health insurance we get, but you will not have a ‘job.’ ” That makes no sense.

When it comes to the gift of prophecy, a common attitude is that those who exercise the gift may get it wrong from time to time, and that’s just the nature of the game. We learn to use the gift by trial and error. We are humans, and we make mistakes. Sometimes we are “on”, and sometimes we “miss it.” So the story goes.

I find this view of the prophetic gift to be in stark contrast to the OT portrayal of prophecy. If a man claimed to speak for God, and what he said did not come to pass, the man was considered a false prophet and was to be punished with death (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). We read of Samuel that “none of his prophecies fell to the ground unfulfilled. All Israel from Dan to Beer Sheba realized that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord” (1Sam 3:19-20 NET). What confirmed Samuel as a prophet was his 100% success rate in the use of his prophetic gift.

Prophets had to get it right 100% of the time. There was no room for trial and error. Indeed, why should there have been? Prophecy is God’s revelatory communication to man via man. God never “misses it,” so how could it be that someone with the gift of prophecy could miss it?

One might respond that there could be a problem with the transmission: God tells man what to say, but man misunderstands what God has spoken. But how could this be? It presumes that God tries: God tries to communicate His message to man, but fails to do so (due to some spiritual defect in the medium). Does that describe the God of the Bible? No. God does not try. If God wants to communicate something to someone, He will succeed in doing so. Indeed, the human medium cannot possibly miss what God is communicating. He may choose to ignore it; he may choose not to pass it on to the intended recipients; but he cannot miss it. In Scripture, God spoke to both believers and unbelievers alike, and neither group ever had any question as to who was speaking to them, or what was being spoken. If God desires to speak He will make Himself and His message clear.

Someone else may respond that people “miss it” because they mistakenly identify their own thoughts or impressions as God’s. This falls prey to the same problem as the suggestion above. It presupposes that God delivers His message to us in a way that is not clear, so that it is difficult to discern God’s voice from our own internal voice: Sometimes we properly identify God’s voice, and sometimes we mistake it for our own. Where in Scripture do we see this kind of ambiguity in the way God speaks to those He wishes to communicate with? Not even the pagans doubted that God was speaking to them when He spoke to them. There was nothing to discern because it was quite evident that it was God. There was no mistaking it. Prophesying is not a skill someone learns. There is no learning how to discern the difference between our thoughts and God’s words. God simply chooses to reveal a message to an individual, and that individual passes it on to others. All that is required is obedience to deliver the message God has clearly communicated.

To think that those who make prophecies today have the liberty to get it wrong from time to time, one must presuppose that the nature of prophecy has changed from the OT to the NT. But why think this? Is there some text that tells us the nature of prophecy has changed? Do we see a difference in the content of prophecies between the OT and NT? No. Then why conclude that whereas those exercising the prophetic gift in the OT had to get it right 100% of the time, today there is room for error?

This brings me to my next point: the content of most modern-day prophecies do not resemble the prophetic gift as portrayed in Scripture.

Is it really prophecy?

The content of what pass for prophecies these days does not bear the marks of Biblical prophecy. The vast majority of prophecies do not predict anything, or say things that only God could know. They are usually just words of encouragement, that apart from the introduction “Thus sayeth the Lord,” sound indistinguishable from a mini sermon.

Prophecy is predictive in nature. If it wasn’t, the test YHWH gave the Israelites to judge a prophetic utterance ceases to make sense. According to YHWH, the Israelites could discern a true prophecy from a false one by observing if the prophecy “came to pass” (Deut 18:22). Something cannot come to pass if it did not pertain to the future. We read that none of Samuel’s prophecies went unfulfilled. A prophecy that has nothing to do with the future cannot be fulfilled. OT prophecy was all about the future.

Did this change in the NT? No. There are two examples in the NT where the gift of prophecy was operative, and on both occasions the content of the prophecy was predictive in nature: Agabus predicted a great famine (Acts 11:28) and Paul’s arrest at Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-11). On what basis, then, do we have for thinking that prophecies can be mere words of encouragement? I would not want to rule that out in principle, but examples of such should be the exception to the rule. In our practice today, however, they are the rule (in my experience).

If a prophetic utterance is the word of God, it should tell us something about the future; most purported prophetic utterances do not tell us anything about the future, therefore they are probably not prophetic words from God. The simple fact of the matter is that it is easy to think of encouraging words to prefix “Thus sayeth the Lord” to. It’s not so easy to predict the future.

Conclusion

Based on what prophecy is—God’s revelatory communication to man—it stands to reason that no matter what covenant one is under, someone with a genuine gift of prophecy could never be mistaken in what they prophecy.

If someone has the gift of prophecy, God speaks to them. Since God is never wrong, and always clear in what He intends to communicate, the prophetic medium should always be “on.” If they miss it, they should not be trusted as an oracle of the Lord.

I think the reason people “miss it” today is because they do not really have the gift of prophecy. While well-intentioned, they are misinterpreting personal ideas/impressions/feelings (self-talk) as words from God, and attaching to them divine authority. Since we do not require that prophecies predict anything, it is virtually impossible to test these so-called prophecies (how can a word of encouragement be wrong?). And since we do not require that those who speak on behalf of God be right 100% of the time, we have no way of knowing when someone who claims to speak for God is truly speaking for God, and when s/he is improperly invoking divine authority for personal ideas.

Paul told us to judge prophecy (1Cor 14:29). We can only do so if we employ the Biblical criteria for prophecies: (1) they come to pass; (2) the person uttering them is a reliable spokesman for God, evidenced by the fact that s/he has never been mistaken in what s/he has prophesied.

What do you think?

In our culture it is considered impolite, if not intolerant to disagree with someone else’s religious or moral ideas. Personally, I feel uncomfortable when speaking to someone who is asserting religious or moral ideas I find to be flawed, because I want to voice my concerns with their thinking, but do not want to appear rude or argumentative. How do we disagree without sounding disagreeable?

One way is to make your disagreement known is to ask, “Why do you believe that?” (this is a variation of Stand to Reason’s Columbo Tactic). There are three benefits to this approach. First, the mere posing of the question alerts the individual that you question their truth-claim, but does so in a non-threatening, non-contentious manner. Second, asking questions about their beliefs will likely be perceived as flattering, because it is an invitation for them to speak their mind, rather than listen to you speak yours. Thirdly, it forces them to shoulder the burden of proof for their claim.

Upon hearing their reasons (if any are even given) and manner of reasoning, you can ask further questions to expose faulty premises or flawed logic. The ultimate goal is to get them to question the veracity of their beliefs. Once they see the problem in their thinking, offer what you believe to be true about the matter, and offer for their consideration the reasons you hold to that belief.

I think it goes without saying that speeding is the breaking of a civil law, not a moral law, and yet Paul and Peter both taught that Christians have a moral obligation to obey the civil laws of the land:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 13:2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment. 13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. (Romans 13:1-2, 5)


Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme 2:14 or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. 2:15 For God wants you to silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. (I Peter 2:13-15)

Neither text says it is morally wrong to disobey civil laws, but is this implied? Yes? No?


What about speeding? It is the breaking of a civil law. If these passages imply that breaking a civil law is a moral failure, that would mean that speeding is morally wrong. But I find it hard to believe that it could be a moral issue, because the speed at which one travels is not a moral matter. Disobedience to established authorities, however, is a moral matter. So could it be that speeding is immoral, not because one is speeding, but because one is disobeying God-established civil authority?


What about this take on the issue? A chunk of the concern that motivated Peter and Paul to pen those words was the preservation of the reputation of Christians as law-abiding citizens, not enemies of the state. If Christians were disregarding the laws of the land, they would be marked out as troublemakers and would be persecuted against. To avoid that, the apostles taught strict adherence to civil law. Given the prevalence of speeding in all segments of our society, do you think Christians who speed would give a bad reputation to Christians as Christians? Would the name of Christ be tarnished because I am going 77 in a 65?

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