The Reformers and Natural Law

My thinking continues to grow in regards to how natural law thinking impacts our world and the Christian faith. Here is a quote from War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective. The first section of this book focuses on just-war tradition and the philosopher and includes a good discussion of natural law.

To the surprise of many, the notion of natural law is resolutely affirmed in the writings of the Protestant Reformers, who thought deeply about issues of government, legitimate authority, civil society, and the common good, and not merely about matters of faith, the church, and ecclesiastical culture. However deeply entrenched a present-day bias against natural-law thinking would seem to be among Protestant thinkers, it cannot be attributed to the sixteenth-century Reformers themselves. While it is undeniable that they sought to champion a particular understanding  of grace and faith that in their estimation was utterly lacking, their emphasis was not to the exclusion of modes of moral reasoning that were rooted in natural-law thinking.

Showing Compassion in the Nasty Public World

Good Samaritan

I am a pastor with nine kids and a flock of about 14 households to care for, which includes over sixty people. I have made many excuses over the years for not being involved with or caring for people outside my family and church.  But the world doesn’t just need fathers at home and fathers in the church the world needs fathers in the city gates. Our communities need men who care about the community, who will preach to her, live truth in front of her, call her leaders to walk in the truth, care for her physical needs, and love her. But too many Christians, especially conservative ones, are rarely involved in their community. Pastor Tim Bayly’s chapter “City Fathers” in his book Daddy Tried was convicting on this issue. Here is a section where he sweeps away the excuses we make for not caring for those in our community.

In His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus introduced to a godly city father. I’m sure you know the story. The man really loved his fellow man, the man who as a good father, even to a stranger in his community, was the man who helped him. And I’m sure you remember the uncaring men who did not stop to help their brother in need. What sorts of excuses might we make if we came across a man left for dead by thieves today.

-Uh, right Jesus; we should love our neighbor as ourselves. But you know, right now I’m working on loving myself. And you know, it’s hard work! I grew up in a broken home…

-You know what Jesus? My parents never took me to church or Sunday school. I grew up in a single parent home. Men came and went every couple of months and “God” was  curse word, so I am trying to change all that in my home. We have family devotions every morning, we’re part of a family-centered church and we homeschool. I run my own business, so between family dinner and homeschooling and co-op and flute and piano lesson and gymnastics and soccer and church and my business, I pretty much fall into bed every night…

-We’re committed to having as many children as the Lord chooses to bless us with, so my wife doesn’t have a minute to call her own. We’ve seven kids in ten years-it’s been forever since she and I got away along together. I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor. But honestly, where’s the time…

-Part of the reason we live out here in the country is so we can get away from the world’s bad influences. Some of the people around here are meth addicts and I really don’t want them in our home. I don’t want them around my wife or children. I’m afraid if I stopped at their house to meet them, someone might light a cigarette and the whole place would blow up. You know?…

-Listen Jesus. You know what? I don’t think my so called “neighbor” is that lousy bum out walking in the traffic island in the middle of the intersection trying to make people sorry for him with that sign asking for money. He can work just as good as me. Why doesn’t he? You know he’s gonna spend the money on booze or drugs. He’s not my neighbor….

-I’ve thought carefully about the whole thing, Jesus. Poverty is not an economic problem. It’s a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. Real poverty isn’t hunger or thirst or limited medical care. It’s dying without faith in Jesus Christ. We need to give our attention to the first things. We’ve gotta be Gospel-centered. We can’t spend our time arranging deck chairs on the Titanic when souls are dying and going to Hell…

-Jesus, think of all the so-called Christians who have turned away from witnessing to the Gospel, instead talking about social justice, healing the planet, sustainability, and global warming. Is that what this is all about? Are You just telling me to engage in more liberal do-goodsim?…

You see how many ways we justify our cold hearts? We love ourselves quite well, thank you. Meanwhile, we’re absolutely convinced we have no money or time or energy to love any outsider. We think most of Christian living is simply keeping our marriage and home intact.

Jesus wants us to understand that being a neighbor to a man in need is not a duty, but a privilege. Instead of trying to limit our compassion, we’re to live by faith trusting God to give us everything we need as we look for opportunities so serve, love, and show compassion in the nasty public world outside our clean homes and churches.

It’s our privilege to take responsibility for others, especially others from the wrong side of the tracks, others lacking visas, others who worship a false god, others whose problems are overwhelming to us and will likely bankrupt us if we stop to ask how we may help. This is our privilege.

This is what God did for us. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we would be called children of God; and such we are. (I Jn 3:1)

Our Father is unbelievably  liberal with His love, isn’t He? If we are commanded to be like Him, why are we so conservative? When He has been so tender can compassionate, sending His only begotten Son to die for sinful man, how can we be so stingy? Why are we so tight-fisted?

Look, the world doesn’t have enough bandwidth on the web or ink and paper to print all the excuses we self-professed Christian men use to justify ourselves in our lovelessness. Can we not commit ourselves to hear Jesus’s story and to learn what He intended to teach us by our hero, the Good Samaritan?

This chapter was painful to read. We, conservative Christians who love our money and peace and privacy and theology,  make these excuses. We wrap our coldness up in Bible verses and pious phrases. The reality is we don’t want to get dirty with the world. We don’t want the beaten man’s blood on our nice clean clothes. How can we change this brothers? How can we get our families to care, to truly love, those in our community?  I continue to evaluate what the church, her pastors, and her people are called to do out in the “nasty public world.” One thing I am convinced of is that we need to find ways to love our neighbors and to practice justice and mercy in the city gate. If we do not our witness will be weak and God will not be glorified.

The Blow Back Theory


One of the more common theories that you hear among libertarians and other progressives is that the reason terrorist attacks happen is because of our military presence and operations in other countries. Now in and of itself that is neither here nor there. It is like saying the ice on the road caused the wreck. The statement itself does include a moral element per se. But often the underlying assumption behind this statement is that the terrorists are justified or semi-justified in attacks like Nice because of our military presence.  Even Christians tend to justify or soften the condemnation of various terrorists acts based on this line of reasoning.

But, even assuming the American military was purposely targeting civilians in a non-military zone and then killing them through acts of violence done by secret soldiers planted in that city for the express purpose of killing civilians, that does not justify the terrorists doing the same thing. There is a just way to wage war. And ISIS is not doing that. There is no justification for Nice or Paris. It was wicked and should be condemned as such.

I live in West Virginia. Imagine if a military unit from Ohio decided to set up a military or psuedo-military installation in our state. What would be the just options after all peaceful efforts at negotiation were exhausted? There are two and only two. Attack the military installation that they put in place in West Virginia or go and attack their military installations in Ohio. This would be the courageous and just thing to do. It would not be courageous or just for West Virginia to send citizens to Cincinnati and begin picking off children with a sniper rifle. That would be wicked.

This is not a justification of American foreign policy. It is terrible and we have meddled in far too many countries. We should pull out and let the nations deal with their issues. I do not think we should have military bases all over the world. Nor is this to say that the American military has not done some wicked things in her history.

But that in no way justifies ISIS and the barbaric, terrorists acts they commit against civilians. When Christians imply that it does they are buying into the idea that victims have free reign to do as they please. If you have been victimized then you are no longer bound by a moral code. This is a dark lie from the pit and does tremendous harm. If ISIS really had courage and cared about their region and people they would amass an army and seek to drive out the invaders or whatever they call us or they would negotiate for peace, which would include us leaving their countries or region.  That is just and right.

We can condemn American foreign policy and at the same time condemn the ISIS attacks. When Christians condemn the former and not the latter they show themselves to be postmodern in their thinking instead of biblical.

Book Review: Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadMinistries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road by Timothy Keller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solid introduction to mercy ministry. I read the 2nd Edition, not sure what has changed since then. His first section on principles was really good. He lays out the foundation for mercy ministry in Christ’s mercy shown to us. He does a good job of trying to tight rope freely giving and also not enabling sin. He overshoots in some situations. For example, his equating of word ministry and deed ministry was a stretch (chapter 7). He views mercy ministry at a higher level than I do. Also his discussion of the rich living moderately to provide for others was good, but not real clear. What is a moderate lifestyle? His emphasis on caring for your family first comes through in several places, which was good to see as this is often ignored by those interested in mercy ministry.

His second section on practice was hampered by the fact that he operates from a large church paradigm. Most churches, even of two to three hundred people, would have a hard time doing what he describes. He is too program driven and not organic enough. Also there is an assumption that the state should do a lot of mercy ministry and the church should supplement where the state or other agencies are failing. This assumption is faulty. His point that magistrates are to extend mercy to the poor is a good one, but requires a lot unpacking in our current cultural climate where program after program has been implemented by the government to care for the poor. I appreciated the emphasis on mercy ministry being something the whole congregation does. But he left deacons out almost entirely. Why? It was an odd exclusion. How deacons can promote and facilitate mercy ministry along with the congregation would have been helpful. The five invitational questions in chapter 10 were good. Finally, his emphasis in the latter chapters on systemic injustice was squishy in places and raised a few red flags.

A good book, that can help a person think through the issues, as long as they able to filter our some false ideas and translate the principles to their church setting.

My Rating System
1 Star-Terrible book and dangerous. Burn it in the streets.

2 Stars-Really bad book, would not recommend, probably has some dangerous ideas in it. Few books I read are 1 or 2 stars because I am careful about what I read.

3 Stars-Either I disagree with it at too many points to recommend it or it is just not a good book on the subject or for the genre. Would not read it again, reference it, or recommend it. But it is not necessarily dangerous except as a time waster.

4 Stars-Solid book on the subject or for the genre. I would recommend this book to others and would probably read it again or reference it. Most books fall in this category because I try not to read books I don’t think will be good. There is a quite a variety here. 3.6 is quite different from 4.5.

5 Stars-Excellent book. Classic in the genre or top of the line for the subject. I might also put a book in here that impacted me personally at the time I read it. I would highly recommend this book, even if I do not agree with all that it says. Few books fall in this category. Over time I have put less in this category.

View all my reviews

Evidence and Justice

From Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth’s A Justice Primer:

Guilt needs to be established prior to the verdict being delivered. Careful attention to the evidence must be given before a sentenced is made. Judges make judgments, but just judges always regard the law first, and the rules of evidence are a part of the law. It is all too common for people to rush to judgment when they are in no position to know or evaluate all the evidence. A personal hunch in not capable of delivering justice and it is fully capable of doing an injustice. 

Newspaper reports, Internet blather and other types of rumor mills are not reliable evidence. It is possible to be in possession of two percent of the evidence but to assume that you are in possession of it all. For genuine justice to be rendered, all the available evidence, the right kind of evidence, the proper interpretation of the evidence and wise judges are all necessary. Our brains want to fill in missing information and will frequently do so rather than acknowledge that we simply do not  know. We often assume actions, motives, and reasons not in evidence. Reading between the lines is dangerous and prone to produce injustice.

Moreover, repeating bad evidence is not evidence. The fact that two people are “convinced” that someone is guilty does not make that person guilty, and his is no guiltier if ten people are “convinced” and post it on Facebook, and get twenty-seven “likes.” Quantity cannot substitute for quality. To assert that a certain person, organization or company is “guilty” or “evil” does not make it so. Neither does the repetition of such statements prove the guilt of the accused. However, it might well indict the repeater of unsubstantiated reports for false witness.