Sunday, February 27, 2005

C v E - What's the Fuss?

Creation and evolution. Some folks believe God created the universe a few thousand years ago by speaking certain phrases. Others believe everything is a matter of chance, mutation and a lot of time. These two groups of people like to argue with each other; name calling, anger, misinformation - and the occassional fair and wonderful dialogue. But is it all really worth it? Why do we spend time bantering back and forth on the topic when we could be doing so many other things?

Well, I think it's because we like to argue. Feeling right is a good ego boost. I think it's because we like to persuade, and nothing seems so noble as removing falsehoods from another's worldview. But no matter the intentions, should we continue to debate the topic as intensely as we have? (Note: by "we" I mean those who actually care to become informed and take the debate seriously, and participate in a civil manner. For those who just like to insult the intelligence of others, lie, manipulate data, etc...those folks should get out of any debate and learn how to deal with people.)

(I also mean those other than I, since I feel little need to jump into this particular fray. My wife is an environmental educator, with degrees in biology and fisheries/wildlife management from a large public University. Even she's not terribly interested in the debate. Our priorities lie elsewhere. My post here is to discuss those motivated to actually debate the topic.)

If someone is to debate this topic, there should be sound reasons why. There are a large number of problems in the world that need solving, and C vs. E is not necessarily higher on the list than, say, raising money for AIDS sufferers in Africa, or feeding the homeless in a shelter, etc. Nor, from a Christian point of view, is our mandate to "go forth and preach that God created everything in six days." No, it is to love our God/neighbors/enemies, to take care of the poor, to make disciples of all nations. Preaching the Gospel, helping others. These are to be our priorities.

That being said, there are some profound reasons why the creationist community needs to remain engaged in the discussion. For one thing, evolutionary theory, even if true, cannot explain or answer so many important spiritual/philisophical questions. The problem of suffering cannot be addressed by natural selection with an answer more helpful than "stuff happens. Adapt or be screwed." The creationist can answer this question and more - God created people with free will. Free will means the ability to choose wrongly, and consequences (i.e. evil) enter the picture. There are limits to the practicality of an evolutionary apologetic to answering some of these higher questions. Creationists, with the creator-figure behind them, have a broader perspective on these areas of inquiry.

Second, the evolutionary community needs to be kept honest and tested. There are a number of people (not all evolutionists - not even most, perhaps) who believe so strongly in their atheistic worldview that they are "religiously" dogmatic about evolution. This is never good for science. Any theory needs to be tested, and one as complex as evolution needs to be tested greatly. For science to advance, challenges are needed.

Third, God wants us to seek the truth. Nobody should believe a lie. In a matter as contentious as this one, we should make every effort to honestly promote truth seeking, dogma questioning, and evidence interpreting.

Finally, there are worldview concerns at stake. Evolutionary theory leads, ultimately, without God, to a deterministic universe void of meaning. Free will turns out to be an illusion, and nothing is ultimately significant. Creationism holds that we are created for a purpose. These two views of reality are starkly different. As billions of people seek answers relating to meaning pretty much throughout their lives, arguments arising from this debate can be incredibly useful.

Now, I know there are hybrid views (i.e. God used evolution) that attempt to bridge the problem. Take the apparent empirical advantage of evolution and tie it to the apparent spiritual/meaning advantage of creation. I don't see this view argued as strongly as the extreme positionss, but as long as the C v E debate is taking place, such hybrids will also offer different answers. Regardless of the position, seeking the truth, seeking meaning, and seeking knowledge are all good things. Of these, seeking truth is the most important. But seeking meaning is probably the most universal. To the extent the C v E debate can provide clarity and answers, it is important enough to continue holding.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Can I get a(n eye)witness?

In yesterday's post, I talked about how there is substantial evidence that the texts from which we derive our current New Testament translations are relatively numerous, sufficiently consistent, and comparatively close to the time at which the events they describe took place. All of this is well and good, but if they were written by people who had not the first clue about what really went on in the life of Jesus, the NT would be worthless.

So let's take a look at the authors themselves. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus', and in a position to see as much of Christ's ministry as anyone else. Mark was a disciple of Peter's, and therefore had a first-hand eyewitness from whom to glean information. Luke was the Apostle Paul's "beloved physician" and, by historical standards, a first-rate historian. In fact, there have been at least "84 facts in the last 16 chapters of Acts [also written by Luke] that have been confirmed by historical and archaeological research" (1) John, the author of the last Gospel, was another of Jesus' disciples, and one of His three closest at that. These were either eyewitnesses, or had first-hand access to eyewitnesses.

Other NT books were also written by people who would have been "in the know": Peter (I - II Peter), John (Revelation, I-III John, in addition to the Gospel), James (James), and Jude (Jude). These latter two were most likely brothers of Jesus Himself (2). Paul was a contemporary of the other Apostles, and his letters were accepted as accurate and authoritative by the other first-century churches. In short, the NT was written by people in a position to know.

What is more, these books were written closely enough to the events they describe that if they were not accurate, they would have been exposed as fraudulent by those who were enemies of this new sect.

And finally, some critics claim that the authors of the Gospels (and many other NT books) were not who they claimed to be; instead, the argument is that these were "pen names" used to lend credibility to the accounts. However, these criticisms come of late. The early church is virtually unanimous in ascribing these books to those authors the orthodox tradition holds wrote them. In lieu of evidence that men like Iraneus, Papias, Polycarp and Clement were frauds themselves, it is much more likely that those closest in time to the writings would know best who the authors were. To cast aspersions on their integrity because they may have been "biased" is silly. Everyone has biases; you need more evidence than that to dismiss their claims.

There is much more written in "defense" of the authorship of the NT books, but this summary is a good starting point. I'll be taking a break from the series tomorrow to answer the Vox Apologia question, and perhaps take a shot at XBIP's symposium for the week.

God bless.
****
(1)Geisler, Norman and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill (2004).

(2)Alexander, David and Pat Alexander (ed.) Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible. Eerdman's Publishing, Grand Rapids MI (1983).

I also used as a reference, though didn't quote anything additional from, The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Answering Not-crunchy's call

Not-crunchy is a blog maintained by a soon-to-be environmental lawyer. I was pointed to her blog by Amy and have enjoyed Not-crunchy's blog quite a bit.

Apparently, I'm not the only evangelical who's "discovered" Not-crunchy lately, as last evening she posted some questions to all of us evangelicals in an attempt to get to know us better.

The questions, though, are not easy, and come up quite often in my discussions with non-Christians and liberal Christians alike. I have been given permission to answer the questions here instead of in her comment section, and judging by my verbosity of late (see my post of earlier today) I'm sure readers of her comments section are grateful. While these answers are for her, specifically, I'm hoping that others may find these thoughts helpful.

As Not-crunchy is sincere in asking, I'd also encourage other evangelicals to provide their $.02 worth. After all, we're supposed to be "ready to give an answer" for our faith.

Question 1: Do you believe that I am going to hell because I do not accept the divinity of Christ?

Thanks for starting off with an easy one:-) I do not ever believe that any one given person is destined to Hell. Where you spend the eternity that follows this life is between you and God. I can no more say that you are going to Hell than I can say you are going to Heaven.

I can say I believe in Hell as I believe in Heaven. Both are real places. Both will house a certain population for eternity. I also believe that the decision on where one spends eternity is made in this life, and is based on acceptance or rejection of God's grace, received by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

I can also say I think it is better to believe a hard truth than an easy lie. I don't particularly care for the thought that some folks will spend an eternity away from God. The Bible doesn't make Hell seem appealing. But I have yet to see compelling evidence that Hell doesn't exist, or that Jesus was wrong about it. Ergo, I think it incumbent on me (and likeminded others) to at least raise the warning. After all, if I love others, I don't want to see them harmed, right? It seems to me that those who believe in Hell, yet don't warn people that it's in the realm of possibility that some people may end up there, are cruel beyond understanding.

I also don't think that those who end up in Heaven are better than those who end up in Hell. All of us have the same standing before God: sinners and rebels. When the standard is perfection, we all fall short. We all, though, have the opportunity to accept His grace, which allows us to experience relationship with Him. Forever.

Question 2: Do you believe that every word of the Bible is true? What about the parts that contradict one another?

Funny you should ask. I'm starting a series on the reliability of scripture. I haven't gotten to alleged contradictions, but since you brought it up now...

I believe every word of the Bible is true, at least as recorded in the original manuscripts. I also believe the accuracy of our current translations - when compared to the original manuscripts - is very high, so yes I guess I believe the modern translations are generally true as well.

However, truth does not equate to literalism. I still take poetry as poetry, history as history, parables as parables and metaphor as metaphor. For instance, do I believe the Good Samaritan actually existed? No. But I believe Jesus told the story to make a point. Take scripture as it's presented, linguistic tricks and figures of speech included.

As to the contradictions, I have yet to see one that cannot be rationally addressed and shown to, just maybe, not be a contradiction at all. Most of the alleged contradictions I've seen are cases of ignoring context, not acknowledging figures of speech/parts of speech, inaccurate interpretation, or just plain trying to make a passage say more than it intends to.

In other words, I haven't seen a "contradiction" that causes problems for my faith.

Question 3: What is your ultimate authority on the fact that the Bible is divinely inspired?

Historical analysis shows the Bible is as trustworthy as other ancient documents in technical terms. Literary analysis indicates the content is more trustworthy than other, legendary materials. External testimony confirms the gist of the Gospel story, and archaeology confirms many of the historical/factual claims in the Bible. However, all this could be true and we could still have a nice fairy tale that happens to take place in the real world.

Ultimately, my faith in scripture is built on many things. First is the academic matter that scripture tends to be held as a fairly good historical record (at the very least of what some folks believed, if not of Jesus' real life.) Few scholars see it as purely fictional propaganda. Second is my own relationship with God. The Holy Spirit does work through us, and I experience God through the Bible. Prophecy fulfillment is a controversial matter, but I generally tend to believe that prophetic matters give credibility to the scriptures.

I could write books on this topic (not that anyone would buy them) and this is merely a start to the discussion.

Question 4: Does God offer only one path to salvation? If so, what about all those people in the non-Christian world? Did God allow their creation so that they can go to hell?

Well, for those who believe the Bible is God's word, the answer has to almost certainly be yes: there is only one path to salvation. Jesus Himself claimed this in John 14:6-7.

I have posted about "those who haven't heard" the Gospel. This is a tough question, and the truth is we don't really "know." My faith is that God is just and will judge appropriately. I cannot let the beliefs/non-beliefs of others dictate what I believe. If it's true, I should believe it regardless of whether someone else has even heard of it. And then I should try to help those who haven't heard, hear.

I believe the Bible when it says there is only one way to salvation, that being through grace received by faith in the atoning sacrifice and lordship of Christ Jesus. If the Bible is true, those who ignore or reject it will have to deal with the consequences of ignoring or rejecting the truth. Much like I will have to deal with the consequences of rejecting Islam if it turns out Muslims are right about their religion.

For what it's worth, I desire that all would know the truth. Better to know the truth than believe a lie. I believe the Biblical view of Hell is correct, but if it's not true I would hope someone would demonstrate that to me. It's not an easy thing, but if it's true I'd rather believe it than not.

I hope this helps. If not, I hope the others responding to your questions help.

God bless!

Older is better

Warning: Long post ahead!

As promised yesterday, I'm kicking off my series on Biblical Reliability today. I'd like to point out, again, that I do not intend to solve the question of whether the Bible is credible, reliable and trustworthy to the extent one can use it as an authoritative work, or even more, believe it is the word of God. The question of scripture's accuracy has been bandied about for, well, as long as the books within the Bible have been in existence. It is beyond my abilities to solve a question that has been discussed by theologians. (This may bring up the question, "why are you doing this then?" - to which I'd respond, "because I want to.")

However, I do hope that the evidence I lay forth does demonstrate that a belief in the authority of the Bible is rational. Additionally, even for those who reject the sum of my arguments as unpersuasive, this should at least help you understand my worldview, which should help your understanding of future blog entries be more accurate. I want my biases and beliefs to be transparent, and Biblical reliability is a foundational element on which my beliefs are built.

There are many arguments used to defend Biblical reliability. I'm choosing to start at the level of the Gospels, and work outward from there, and I'm choosing to begin my examination of the Gospels with the "original" manuscripts themselves. (I put the quotation marks around the word 'original' to reflect that we do not have the original manuscripts, but we do have some that date to very close to the actual events as anything we've seen in the ancient world.) As the song goes, let's start at the very beginning: the oldest copies of the texts themselves.

For the uninitiated, the Gospels (translated, Gospel means "good news") are the Biblical books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These New Testament (NT) books are the primary biographies of Jesus of Nazareth, aka Jesus Christ. While not the only sources of information regarding Jesus, they are the most comprehensive. If one believes in Jesus, it is most likely from these Gospels that one gets a notion of who/what Jesus is. Or at least, what others claimed about Jesus.

So how trustworthy are these biographies? First, we would like to know how trustworthy are the texts, themselves, as historical documents. After all, if they were written as fictional accounts in order to prop up a small sect of religious fanatics in the ancient mid-east, they are worthless for building a worldview.

When looking at the texts, we need to keep in mind that these are considered ancient documents. In judging their quality as historical documents, we must compare them to similarly ancient documents. When historians analyze writings from the ancient world, they look for number of copies, age of the copies relative to the events or people discussed by the text in question, and consistency of the copies themselves.

In these regards, the NT in general, and the Gospels specifically, hold up remarkably well. To the first question, there are over 5,000 manuscripts of the NT in Greek alone, with another 9,000+ in other languages. These manuscripts range from passage fragments to entire books. Some claim the number is as high as 24,000 total partial or complete manuscripts of the NT exist today. Regardless of whether we use the 5,000, 14,000 or 24,000 number, we have a large number of manuscipts from which to base NT translations. This far outstrips any other text contemporary to the NT. The standard comparison is with Homer: we have fewer than 650 known copies of Homer's Iliad. Apart from the 200 pieces of Demosthenes' works, almost all other ancient documents are supported by fewer than 10 manuscripts. In other words, the NT is in a class all its own in terms of number of existing manuscripts. I'd say that is even underselling the quantity of manuscripts.

To the second question, we want to look at the dates of the texts. Intuitively, the sooner a writer records an event, the less likely it is that errors, biases or embellishments will find their way into the texts. Again, the NT is remarkable when measured against this standard. Scholars (excepting the fringe liberal scholars, ala the Jesus Seminar) generally date the entire NT as within the first century A.D. The Gospels themselves are usually dated between 62 A.D. (Mark) to 90 A.D. (John). While there is some quibbling, the usual arguments do not vary much more than 30 years away from these dates. Many of Paul's letters date to the 50's A.D., which is only about 20 or so years from the events themselves. In terms of history, this is amazingly close to the events at hand.

Yes, you may say, but these dates reflect the original manuscripts. We don't have these, so how old are the oldest surviving manuscripts? Good question, and glad I made it up. There are manuscript fragments that date back to within about 25 years of the original. Most NT books are found in fragments dating to the 2nd century A.D. There are even some fragments (disputed, to be sure) that some scholars date to before 50 A.D. Even taking the longest number of about 250 A.D., - and this is granting critics more than the evidence demands - we have a gap of ~220 years from Jesus' life to our oldest manuscripts.

I say that evidence does not demand we grant a date of 250, and this is because we have fragments dating to the early 100's A.D. But even our large allowance is impressive by ancient textual standards. The next smallest span of time between the original and oldest remaining texts is about 500 years (again, the Iliad). Most other ancient writings have gaps twice that long. Again, the NT dwarfs the competition. This is important because historians generally accept many other ancient documents as historical that (a) have fewer existing manuscripts than the NT, and (b) were written further in the past, with a longer time between original composition and our oldest manuscripts.

The final historical test is whether the texts were carried forward faithfully. In a time before printing presses, copying of texts was labor-intensive. Regardless of the number of manuscript copies we have, if the NT texts all differ from each other wildly, they could be deemed less trustworthy than other ancient documents despite "advantages" in number and date.

Yet again, the NT stands tall. It is estimated that there are roughly 200,000 errors across the manuscripts. Seems a large number. However, over 98% are estimated to be variants of spelling or punctuation. None of these changes the meaning of the texts. Of the remaining variations, it is estimated that ~50 have any real significance at all. This is, indeed, a challenge for Biblical translators. But it is a manageable one. There are sufficient manuscripts to resolve the original meaning of almost all passages.

In contrast, the Iliad is judged to be about 95% accurate. Hinduism's Mahabharata is estimated to be about 90% accurate from copy to copy.

So, from a perspective of historical textual criticism, the NT holds up very well. This doesn't prove a darn thing, though, other than that we have some old manuscripts, very consistent in content, and written very close to the time in which the events they describe occurred. Again, this is but one part of a set. I'll continue tomorrow - hopefully with more brevity - with the credibilty and authority of the authors themselves.
***
I am indebted to the following sources for the information in this post:
Geisler, Norman and Frank Turek. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Crossway Books, Wheaton Ill (2004). -- cf. chapter 9.
Ron Rhodes

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Biblical Reliability

As promised, I'm working up a series on Biblical reliability. Why, you may ask, would I do such a thing? For one, I have a great deal of interest in the Bible. My first undergraduate degree included a major in Bible, my father is a Bible-teaching pastor of great talent, and my current church is a Biblically-centered church.

Second, I have some small experience in debating apologetics, and the most frequent topic I've encountered is Biblical reliability and the idea of inerrancy. This seems natural, since as an Evangelical I advocate the authority of scripture. Those whose beliefs differ from mine rightly think it wisest to discuss the foundation of my beliefs. While I will not focus on inerrancy in the series as a whole, I hope to include a post or two on the subject.

Finally, I believe the idea is a good one for a blog. For one thing, arguments tend to be relatively short, and while academics could go on for pages about the technical details and arguments, we lay folk can generally sum them up in a blog post. Then, let the commentary (i.e. the "fun" stuff begin!)

So, now we know the why, let's discuss the goals. I do not anticipate proving to a 100% certainty anything I say in defense of scriptural integrity, reliability or authority. Acceptance of these things generally involves some measure of faith anyway, and since I cannot force anyone to believe it would be folly to try. What I will be laying forth are arguments that I believe justify, in part, the reliability of the Bible.

Biblical reliability and accuracy are but a few parts of a complex whole. The reliability of scripture is one leg on which my faith rests. It is not the table itself, but an important part of it. I don't wish to discuss all the various legs at this time, but the ones I include in this series will be a vital part of why I believe as I do, including why I believe there is a God in the first place. Hopefully I can show the Bible can be, rationally, seen as accurate and therefore can provide justification for the belief God exists. I do not presuppose God's existence in these arguments. Rather, my belief in God results, in part, from accepting these as rational and sound arguments.

I have a couple of other goals. Hopefully, some reader will learn to think about scriptural relevance and import in a new light. I also intend to use this series to focus my own views on the topic. I've found nothing focuses an argument better than hashing it out with friends and strangers. So please bring your thoughts and, with civility, let's discuss.
...

As I noted in yesterday's entry, this series is inspired by Dr. Blomberg's talk this past weekend. While his focus was on the reliability of the Gospels, I will broaden the thought to scripture as a whole. That being said, I will be starting with some of the arguments he raised for accepting as trustworthy the Gospel message. To start the series, I'll outline those arguments here (I'll add additional arguments later on) and get to the nitty-gritty starting tomorrow.

  1. We have reliable copies of the texts

  2. The authors were in a position to report, accurately

  3. The writing was early enough

  4. The writers wanted to record things faithfully/accurately

  5. Oral traditions were accurate

  6. The writing fits the cultural patterns of the day

  7. The material isn't too flattering

  8. The material doesn't attempt to force closure to issues of the day

  9. Non-biblical testimonials generally confirm scriptural accounts

  10. Archaeology generally confirms scriptural accounts

  11. The early church testimony generally confirms orthodox views of scripture


Obviously, more detail can be revealed for each of these items. I'll be starting that tomorrow. See you then!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Good Monday Eve to you!

Vox Apologia is up at Every Thought Captive. Tough topic (Christian thought in the biotech century) for me to blog on, especially with a wedding and quite a bit of homework to handle this weekend. Apparently I wasn't the only one as there was only one entry this week. The next one is at Greatest Pursuits. Check there for topic/instructions for submitting an opinion this week.
...

Dr. Craig Blomberg was in town this past weekend for the Biblical Reliability conference at the U, which I mentioned last week. He gave a talk - his term, as opposed to an exegetical sermon - at my church Sunday on the 12 reasons the Gospels are trustworthy. I'll be taking my notes from the "sermon" and expanding on them over the next couple of weeks, starting tomorrow. I have a pretty solid interest in Biblical reliability apologetics and the defense of scripture (not that God's word needs my help) so I look forward to writing on this. Hopefully I won't make too many theological errors.
...

I attended an interesting wedding Saturday. Every time the minister went to a prayer, she would ask that the attendees join "in praying to whomever you feel comfortable." I felt comfortable praying to God, but I wondered who, exactly, she thought was at the ceremony that would be praying to someone/something else. It saddens me no end there are people out there claiming authority to teach the Gospel, yet compromise on the central tenets of the faith. I'll be praying for this minister, alright, but that she would recover the truth: there is but one God to whom we pray, and leading people astray by implying (or stating) otherwise is a bad idea.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

I need you! (Or at least some of your advice...)

You may notice my various blogrolls slant to the right. And I'm not just talking about Web page real estate. No, for reasons of familiarity, I have added to my blogrolls those sites I find interesting. I do not vouch for their content, or necessarily agree with it, any more than I expect anyone else to vouch for my content when they link to me. I simply find them interesting enough that I visit their blogs every day, or nearly so. Before adding new links, I visit a site for a couple of weeks to get a good feel for their writing. I'm also not always able to add links as quickly as I'd like for reasons of time, but that's another issue.

What I'm finding, though, are that there are really very few "lefty/non-Evangelical" sites that interest me enough to add them to my blog. I've perused some, and found them to be, in the main, well...how to put this without sounding haughty: not my cup of tea. I don't say this simply because of disagreeable viewpoints. On the contrary, I love debate, and find it incredibly refreshing to find an open-minded "other" whose views differ from mine. It is rare, though, to find a site from, say, an atheist that is civil in tone. I'm sure there are some out there; I just haven't found them yet.

Part of this is because I am still relatively new to the blogosphere, and part of it is my natural affiliation with the conservative/Evangelical point of view. Family first, I guess. But I am extremely interested in quality, fair and civil blogs from those holding more divergent opinions and beliefs. I'll keep looking on my own, but if you know of any to recommend, please email me or leave a comment to this post. I promise to keep an open mind when reviewing the material, and will gladly add such sites as I find interesting to my blogroll. Thanks in advance!
...

Ala this post (h/t: the soon-to-be-on-my-blogroll Amy's Humble Musings) please keep me honest. I do not try to disperse false teachings, and while I do have a degree in Bible, I am a human and therefore infallible. I don't suppose for one minute I'll be meeting my maker and hear the words, "you got it all correct!" Criticism offered honestly is very welcome.

Thanks in advance, and for the emails to date, they have been uniformly polite, gracious and gentle - thank you all!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Pointers to the Good Stuff

Not much time today to come up with new material, so I'm pointing to some things I find interesting:

The Christian Carnival is up at Wittenberg Gate with 30 or so entries. A visit is highly recommended.

XBIP's symposium has 7 entries as of this posting. Amy's Humble Musings' entry is enough to make me rethink my "talent" in light of her marvelous way of getting a point across.

I empathize with new bloggers, especially those in the faith, so I appreciate efforts like the New Christian Blog Showcase at Patriot Paradox to introduce us to new blogs.

For those of you in the Twin Cities this weekend, the MacLaurin Institute at the U of M is hosting a Conference on Biblical Reliability with Dr. Craig Blomberg and Dr. Walter Kaiser. I'll be catching as much as I can, working around a family wedding on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Intolerant of Some Tolerance

As I mentioned yesterday, XBIP is soliciting posts for another symposium. The topic is "Diversity and Tolerance." You'd be hard pressed to find other buzzwords for the 21st century that are more ubiquitous than these. Unfortunately, the two words are linked together far too often, and in highly inconsistent ways. Tolerance is a virtue, unless you have to tolerate the beliefs of those who have views opposing your own. Diversity is good, but we don't want too much diversity if it includes ideas of which we're not fond. Conservative Christians see this bias from the left - tolerance for all things anti-prayer! I'm sure many liberals see this from the right - tolerance for all things anti-gay! No wonder we often find ourselves talking past each other.

I think there's a better way, and that is to acknowledge that tolerance has limits. For instance, our society does not tolerate certain behaviors. Serial killers are roundly condemned, for instance. We also do not tolerate, at least not in any widespread way, the idea that children should be exploited or abused. (Yes, I realize there are some - WARNING! Intolerant judgmentalism immediately ahead! - sick and/or evil people out there who tolerate these things. I'm ignoring them to keep the question centered on rational people.) (Oops...I apologize for being intolerant to the irrational.) This type of intolerance is a good thing. Any culture that tolerates certain behaviors, which are destructive, are cultures not long for this world.

We also do not tolerate certain thoughts, although in practice beliefs and ideas are harder to deal with than behaviors. In general, most people agree that beliefs promoting hatred of our fellow man are anathema. (In practice, it's harder to find people that act this view out in every aspect of their own lives.) Intolerance is a good thing when applied judiciously, both to ideas and actions.

Diversity can be good or bad. Celebrating diversity of culture is fine unless you want to include the hateful mantras of Nazi Germany. Diversity of thought is helpful when brainstorming new approaches to solving problems, but not necessarily so when it leads people away from truth in favor of meaningless celebration of differences.

We should tolerate the rights of people to have opposing views, and we should tolerate their freedom to express them within societally accepted methods. However, we should also be intolerant of foolish ideas and dangerous behavior. Diversity should be embraced up to the point where we are asked to accept people whose behavior is different from, and dangerous to, our society.

We do not need to worship diversity in all things. Intolerance is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the crux of the first question in the symposium.
Should diversity and tolerance include compromise from Christians on moral issues, i.e. Same-Sex Marriages, Abortion, Embryonic stem cell research, etc...?

In a word, no. Compromised principles are no longer principles at all. Revelation 2:1-7 proclaims to the church at Ephesus that Christ is pleased when the church is intolerant of wicked men and false prophets. Jesus Himself was not very tolerant about the notion that salvation could come through means other than through Himself (John 14:5-7). We should not compromise our standards or principles to assuage the world.

If we are not to tolerate what we deem to be evil, though, how do we demonstrate that intolerance? This is the, I think, the gist of symposium question 2:
How can we display the love Jesus asks of us to those living in and/or supporting immoral lifestyles?

Indeed, we are to act out our intolerance in love. If we are to love even our enemies then how much more are we to love those who (a) we don't see of as enemies, but (b) have beliefs that differ from our own? I need to love those who disagree with me. This does not mean AT ALL that I agree with opposing views, or do not fight for my principles. What it does mean is that I enter the arena of thought with respect, using civility of tongue and humility of spirit to argue my point as passionately as possible. If I turn people off to my message through mean-spirited behavior, what good are pure motives and sound logic? If you want to hold to truth (as I do) and you want people to listen to you (as we all should if we believe we have a truth that can save souls) then we need to act in such a way as to attract their interest, not turn them off. It is a Phyrric victory that wins you style points before the debate judges but turns off your opponent to an eternally impactful Gospel message.

How do we act lovingly? Leave out the insults. Do not impugn motives needlessly or without evidence. Avoid violence and incitement. Listen to others instead of shouting them down. Let them say what they will, then lovingly show them where they may be in error, not with hopes of embarrassing them, but of bringing them close to the truth. Admit when you make mistakes, and be willing to learn: just because someone disagrees with me does not mean they are wrong in pointing out my own error. I make mistakes, and I need to allow others to show me where. This is for my own good, as well as for opening the door for meaningful dialogue.

Finally, XBIP asks:
Should we work in the legal and political arena to abolish or limit immoral acts from becoming accepted as normal activity?

In a different word, yes. However, even within the political arena, which can be cutthroat by nature, we must act in love and compassion while holding dearly to our principles. We cannot insult those who disagree with us, and must respect (even tolerate) their right to speak of things we see as wrong. Then we must demand that they likewise tolerate our right to speak, and while speaking we must tell the truth in love.

And we must remember that our most important work is done at the relational level, not at the governmental level. We are to make disciples, not law. As citizens of a democratic republic, we have rights and obligations to our nation: where we see benefits for all (and in areas of morality, we should see benefits of acting morally) we need to pronounce this vision. But we are to prioritize loving our neighbors and making disciples.

God demands high standards, and we have no right to compromise those principles. But we also have no right to show animosity towards others. Intolerance of ideas does not mean disrespect or hatred of people. Tolerating the rights of another does not require acceptance of their beliefs. Speak the truth. Hold fast to the truth God's given us. Love all, even when they think differently from you. Enjoy diversity (as all are made in the image of God and all are uniquely covered with His fingerprints) but conform to Christ.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Obligatory Ode

I have a confession to make. I don't really care for Valentine's Day. I realize most people do not see this as "the only day in the year you love someone" but frankly, the idea that we should celebrate love more on one day of the year than the other doesn't appeal to me much. Fortunately, I married someone of like mind on this topic, so we don't have any friction when I don't bring home some gaudy baubble, or take her to an overcrowded/expensive restaraunt.

However, we do make a nod to the social traditions, and I do like to bring my wife flowers on Valentine's Day. I've also bought flowers for my daughters, just to make sure that any boy they consider has a bar set as high as possible. (I'd like to disqualify as many boys as possible 'ere that day comes.) I tell them all how much I love them, and we usually have a nicer than usual dinner.

Once Valentine's Day is past, I look to continue to show love and affection for my family throughout the year. I surprise my wife with poetry and/or flowers at odd times of the year. I play with the girls, and make up stories for them at night. Above all, I show them love by praying with them and teaching them of God. Admittedly, I'm not as good at this as I should be. And there are many times I'm not feeling too loving. Thanks to God that I can rise above that, with His help, and hopefully demonstrate His love when my own fails.

So, while Valentine's Day isn't a huge deal in our home, and while I strive (paradoxically) to make more mini-Valentine's Days throughout the year, I would still like to honor my wife here today. She's a wonder and a joy. I am deeply in love with her, and humbled by her love in return. Thank you dear one, for all you are and do. The only gift God ever gave me that is finer than your companionship is His only Son.
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XBIP has another symposium, this time dealing with questions of tolerance and Pooh. Interesting combination. Check it out and submit your thoughts.

Vox Apologia V is up at Wittenberg Gate. I'll be reading these over the next day or so.

More notes tomorrow...now I'm heading off to rest and recuperate from a mildly annoying virus. Nothing to complain about, and I'd rather it not become something that reaches that level.

God Bless!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Jesus loves the little children

...as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment -- Heb. 9:27

I've imagined, with their help often enough, what possibilities the future holds for my daughters. Princess T, our soon-to-be-five-year-old, wants to be a princess when she grows up. Little Miss, two years younger, wants to be a ballerina. Princess T wants to marry Doody, (the boy whose address shifts every time Princess T finds a new location fascinating enough to put him there) but still live at home and eat with us. Little Miss has shown no designs on marriage, but she worships the ground on which her big sister treads. The wedding plans are not far off.

But there's one thing I haven't thought about until I read Pastor Mark Roberts' blog today. The key phrase, while he is discussing Ash Wednesday:
As I returned to my seat after imposing ashes upon dozens of worshipers, I sat next to my 12-year-old son. I couldn't help but notice the prominent black cross on his forehead, placed there by another leader. All of a sudden it hit me that my dear boy will die someday. Of course I knew this in principle, but I hadn't thought about it in years.

Blink.

< Crickets chirping >

Blink.

Someday, my daughters will die.

< Pull jaw from floor; attempt to keep mouth closed; try again; repeat >

Of course, I too knew this in principle. But it's not something most parents spend much time pondering. I'm thinking of how to discourage the wrong sort of guy from attracting the eye of one of my girls (that guy is pretty much, well, any). I'm thinking of how to leave them well-prepared for life were something to happen to me. I assume (and hope!) I outlive my children. Yet I know nothing of what their lives hold for them.

Sometimes God smacks you upside the head with a reminder of why you are still on this planet. Reading Pastor Roberts' blog today was such a time. I have but a short time in which to impart to my daughters the Gospel, and the power of God to redeem a lost world, and lost souls. I'm reminded to take my charge in this area seriously: And fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord -- Eph. 6:4. I need to bring this message to the world at large, but first I have to live it, and teach it to my family.
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For those parents who do not dwell on these matters, this should be a wake up call. Take the time to seek the truth with your whole mind, and your whole heart. If the Gospel is true, your child's eternal future is at stake. If not for you, then for them, make sure you are right. Teach them the Way; life is too short to bypass the brief chance on earth to make an impact that lasts forever.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Charitable giving - two posts in one day!

XBIP is offering another symposium, and the opportunity to write on yet another topic near/dear to my heart is too good to pass up, even if I've already overrun my daily quota of thinking about things. The topic is charity, and no, despite what my title for this post is, charity is not me writing twice in the same day.

The symposium poses five related questions, which I'll tackle in order. For more background, you can read the column that inspired this symposium here. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the article, as I'm not a Davy Crockett specialist, but I found the article to be intriguing independent of its veracity.

What is your definition of Charity?
I believe charity is, as most people would, giving of your resources to those who need them. Whether these resources are time, money, possessions or something else is irrelevant. To be charity, you need to give something you have to others. Most people would probably say that charity involves giving to those less fortunate than yourself, but I think it is possible that someone less well-off than I am could conceivably give to me as I could give to someone with more than I have.

I will make a distinction between missions and charity though. Charity is designed to meet someone's physical or material needs, while missions are designed to meet spiritual needs. Providing either missions work or charity is an act of love.

What is the responsibility of the Church in regards to Charity?
I believe the church is to be active in charitable endeavors, but that is not the primary driver of the church. Our first priority is to preach the Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20). One's eternal destiny and relationship to God is even more important than one's physical condition here on earth. What are 70 years against an eternity, after all?

However, we are to show love to everyone on a practical-needs level, beyond just the spiritual dimension. Again, though, prioritization is in play. Scripturally, the church is to first look after our own (Gal. 6:10) and then the "world." This is not due to a scriptural superiority complex, but rather to keep the "world" from having to provide for needs we should be able to provide within our own family.

Having met our obligations to care for our family members, we are also to show love to those outside the church. We are more than just members of the church. We are also members of communities, and need to exhibit the love of God to all in need.

What is the responsibility of individuals in regards to Charity?
There are two aspects to this question. First, individuals should not seek charity unless they truly need it. Paul makes this point in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 when he says we should work so that we are not dependent upon others.

The second thing of note is that we, as believers, have the same overall responsibility in this area as the church at large. As members of the family of God, and of communities and societies filled with people who have needs, we need to demonstrate God's love. This command is inclusive of our enemies, by the way, and the beliefs of another should not deny him or her our love (Luke 6:27-36). We can disagree in matters of theology, philosophy, worldview or behavior. What we cannot do, as Christians, is treat anyone out of spite, or deny relief from suffering simply because we don't agree with another individual.

What is the responsibility of the Government in regards to Charity?
Here I'm not so convinced that there is a scriptural role for government. Neither, though, am I of the opinion that scripture denounces such a concept. So, I remain rather agnostic on the matter.

That being said, the Crockett article argues a point I find persuasive. Taking money, via taxes, from people who have little and giving it to others who may have more is certainly problematic. And I certainly believe private charity can be much more effective.

I also suspect that the church, were we to practice universal giving (instead of the 80/20 rule style I think is probably more of what happens) there would be little need for the government to step in. I have no data to back this up, but I wonder if, instead of carping about high taxes, we'd be better off making government charity less necessary by taking on more of the burden within the church. Again, I don't have data to back this up, and I certainly don't want to come across as belittling any church's demonstrations of God's love. Many, many good things are done, and much sacrificial giving is taking place, within the church. I just don't think it's heresy to ask if maybe there are some areas where the body could do more.

What can we as Christians do in this regard to help unite the country?
Pray. Speak peace in a loving way instead of insults in an angry way. Hold true to principles and speak the truth, but do not disparage those who think differently from us. Oh, and pray some more.

God bless!

Nothing against the boomers...

I'm not anti-boomer. In fact, as the son of two baby boomers, and the son-in-law of two others, I'm rather fond of many in the group. That generation holds many positions of leadership in both my church and my community, and in many things that is good. I've learned much from boomer authors, thinkers and teachers.

However.

I'm beginning to think (okay, still thinking something I started long ago) that many problems facing this country are direct results of the philosophy of the boomers. Are they training the next generation how to take their place as leaders in this country?

Apparently not always. Exhibit A. Exhibit B. My generation and the next are filled with people who don't know how to be adults. Personal responsibility is giving way to "I'll blame society for telling me I should be married instead of taking responsibility for a failed marriage myself." The marketplace is rejecting young adults who thought jobs would be easy, and easy to find.

Self esteem is a wonderful thing, but should not be gained at the expense of experience. Failure isn't pleasant, but it presents an opportunity to grow. Responsibility is a serious matter, and blaming others leads to the inability to succeed at anything.

I'm sure this'll come off as blathering, and to some this may not seem to be a big deal. Maybe this is something that people talk about with every generational transition within a society. But as I see it, soon the boomers will be retiring (don't get me started on the boomer issues with Social Security, from which I expect to see not one red cent upon my retirement) and the next generations will need to start stepping up. Do I doubt our ability to lead, to thrive, and to grow this nation? No. But I do fear the number of us able to do so well is far too low. And we need to ensure we've learned our lessons from past mistakes, so the generations we leave are better prepared than are we.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Miscellaneous blog-related commentary

Looks like the MSM is starting to notice the popularity of blogging, at least here in the Twin Cities. Aside from a local paper's (seeming) running squabble with the Power Line guys, we have a Pioneer Press article talking about a few bloggers and Kare 11 news has teased an Extra segment for this Wednesday's 10:00 news focusing on bloggers. So far I'm not seeing a lot of in-depth understanding of the vagaries of the blogosphere, but at least it's something.
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Speaking of blogs (how very metablog of me) I'm updating my blog roll with some more blogs I've come to read regularly. I highly recommend them all.
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I've been perusing the entries to the Vox Apologia IV this morning. I recommend them all, but I especially commend Mr. Dumpling's entry.

I do have a few quibbles at various points with most of the entries. For instance, many of the "those who haven't heard cannot be saved" entries do not touch on the pre-NT saints in the Bible. By that logic, David, the man after God's own heart, would be condemned for eternity since he hadn't heard the Gospel - which is understandable since the incarnation/crucifixion/resurrection occured long after David died. If it's possible for the OT saints to find Heaven sans the NT, it should be possible for folks nowadays. Anyone has any thoughts on that, I'll be opening up my comments section for (hopefully polite) feedback.
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Challies.com is giving away a couple of books each month. This month, the books are Reformation Study Bible (ESV) and The Holiness of God, autographed by author R.C. Sproul. Feel free to enter and poke around the site.
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Next week's Vox Apologia is at Wittenberg Gate and the topic is: The Three Governments: Family, Church and State.
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Hope your day is blessed!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Got Contentment?

Best. Weekend. Ever. Or so says Princess T. We attended a Go Fish concert Saturday, which was the highlight, of course. Any day that starts with swim lessons - read: semi-organized "play in the water" time - and a trip to Burger King, though, is already a hard day to top. Throw in a concert chock full of kid-friendly songs and someone dressed up as a cow, and you're nigh on perfection. Four-year-olds are somewhat charming that way.

Sunday was also good, when we stopped for cookies on the way home from church. We baked brownies for our family Super Bowl treat, and enjoyed a Peanuts movie. It doesn't get better than that for your typical preschooler.

Then came Monday. We've had a discussion or two (or ten) today on contentedness. Namely, there were a number of times today when she would ask for something, we'd provide it, and she would insist she wanted something else too. Or, something "better." She asked for a blanket, for instance, then demanded a different blanket when the one we gave her wasn't "good enough." Perhaps we set the bar too high with this weekend!

But no, I don't think that's it. I think it's human nature; the grass is always greener, and usually softer too, we think. No weeds over the fence, just putting surfaces that feel luxurious on the bare feet. Nobody wants to work their own yard, but would rather seek what others have. The problem is, every yard (to stretch the metaphor rather uncomfortably) has weeds. Or worse, moles digging up the yard from underneath, unseen by the neighbors.

I'm reminded of a Twilight Zone episode where a man went to an agency promising him he could trade his life (dull and all that) for another man's life. Basically, he would trade places with someone else, physical appearance and all. Nobody would be the wiser. He chose to trade lives with a man wealthy and exciting - fast cars, large house, beautiful wife. While wondering why a man with such a life would be willing to swap places with a nobody, he enjoyed the luxuries he could never afford in the old life. When his "wife" gave him some wine by the pool, though, he discovered why the "rich man" was willing to trade with a loser: the wife poisoned him so she could spend his money with her boyfriend.

God gave us rules for a reason. They are for our own good, even when they seem nonsensical to us. Contentedness is a low-stress way to live our lives, and it is a trait we hope to instill our daughters. Yeah, we love to give them joy and some material things. Trips to a restaurant or a concert are good things when enjoyed in moderation. But as Go Fish sings in their Ten Commandment Boogie:
if your friend has something you think is cool
Don't ever wish that it was yours - and that's the final rule in...
The ten commandment boogie

Princess T will learn that following these rules leads to a more peaceful life. Hopefully, she'll keep reminding me as well.
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Vox Apologia IV is up. Good question this week (what happens to those who've never heard the Gospel?) Check out the entries for some interesting answers.

God bless!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Salvation & Those Who Haven't Heard

Before I get too far into this post, intended for the Vox Apologia IV, I would like to offer a disclaimer. Nothing in what I write here is to diminish in any way our duties as Christians to tell others about Christ. Whether or not it is possible for those who haven't heard the New Testament Gospel to be saved, we are commanded to tell others about Jesus, and to make disciples of "all nations" (Matt. 28:16-20). The eternal destiny of others is not for us to decide, but we are to declare the good news that Jesus died, and was raised again - that sin may be defeated, and the door may be opened to an eternity with our Creator in Heaven.

But this Vox's question is a good one: What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel? It's a question I hear many times, and have seen answered many times, yet no ultimate resolution seems possible until, well, we die and find out. That's a somewhat unsatisfactory answer for many, so I'll outline my thoughts on the matter, recognizing that until I meet Him face to face my beliefs in this area may be in error (I Cor. 13:11-12).

First, it is obvious that many people over the course of history have never heard the Gospel, heard of the Bible, or heard the name Jesus Christ. The reasons for this are legion, and really, quite irrelevant. In God's sovereign plan, some people just do not hear about the NT Gospel that we evangelicals revere as God's word (though do not worship in place of God.)

Second, salvation for those who have heard is through accepting God's grace through faith in His promise of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus (John 8:21-24 & II Thess.1:3-10 - in context, this passage talks about those who've heard the testimony of Paul et al, a.k.a. the Gospel).

So this leaves those who haven't heard. (Only took me, what, four paragraphs of hedging to getting around to answering the question, eh? I may have a future in politics.) Truthfully, I don't know how, or even if, the "unevangelised" are saved by God. But I do know this:

  1. God is perfectly just, and will judge perfectly (Gen. 18:25)

  2. God is merciful, and has provided evidence of Himself beyond the Bible (Rom. 1:20)

  3. Many OT saints were saved before Jesus' death even occurred, ergo it must be possible that through some means God can save those who died before hearing the Gospel message (Matt. 8:11, Heb. 9:15)

  4. We also know that those who came before the incarnation were able to have faith sufficient for obedience and "a better resurrection" (Heb. 11, especially verse 35)

  5. So, those who haven't heard have enough evidence on which to form their worldview according to God's desire, and those who haven't heard have the opportunity for grasping salvation despite not having heard of Christ, ala the OT faithful.


So what do I take away from this? I take some large amount of comfort that God has a way to deal with those who haven't heard of Him in a fair and just way. I do not have to worry that God cannot save those who I've failed to reach, nor do I have to worry that God is planning to condemn them capriciously because circumstance has left them without a copy of the NIV. My only concern is to do my best to ensure the number of those who haven't heard the Gospel is as low as possible, and then let our perfect, just and merciful God take care of the rest.

There are numerous other views, of course, and I expect many disagreements. Email me with questions or comments. I'll use any feedback I receive in a follow-up post in the near future.

Have a good weekend, and God bless!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Miscellany

Good news!
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More good news, though prayers for the Pope's recovery are, I'm sure, still welcome.
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We have Awana tonight, and Princess T is excited about her progress in memorizing her Bible verse de jour. Or, de la semaine, I guess. My French is extremely limited as I was one of those Spanish-taking students in school. Now, of course, that I'm "in the real world" I'm finding less time available for studying new languages, which should be a lesson to those of you still in High School (or lower grades): studying is easier now than it will be when you're older simply because life's demands are a bit more stringent, timewise, on the fully employed.
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The Dawn Treader has a good post on apologetics ala blog. I especially appreciate his goals in dealing with non-believers:

My goals are very simple when engaging with non-Christian reader/commenters. One, treat them with respect. I want them to have at least one good encounter with a Christian while talking about substantive issues. Two, be humble and admit when my argument stinks. I have put out some stinky arguments … and been rightly smacked. Three, be willing to admit when the other guy makes a good point. Four, try to part as friends and agree to disagree if you have to. The goal is to present truth with gentleness and respect … not to out debate and defeat the other guy. (NOTE: This is much easier to do in person than with blogging. In fact, it is terribly difficult to do in blogging. So much communication is through body language and expressions. Words on a post can be wrongly interpreted quite easily. I don't know the answer other than … use a lot of emoticons :-) They help ;-) ) Five, have a learning posture. Learn from the skeptics who comment on your blog. I have learned a ton from the ones who are kind enough to comment on The Dawn Treader. What amazing insight they have given me into how they think and how they perceive Christianity. They raise good issues all the time. Six, pray for your commenters by name. It helps you gain perspective and keeps you from viewing them as the enemy. They are NOT the enemy.

In many ways, these have been my informal goals in debating the non-theist, and I have noticed some of the same things (e.g. wrongly-interpreted posts!) I hope to make them more formal and explicit practices as this blog matures.
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The Evangelical Blog Awards are here (well, actually at the Evangelical Underground). Peruse the list and see if you don't find some talent in this particular sub-set of the 'sphere that enlightens you. I'm hoping to find some new blogs to check out from such lists, so if you know of others, email me please!

God bless!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A bad idea...

I must make clear, before starting this, that I do respect Ted Kennedy's position (ala Romans 13:7) in leadership. I pray for those in government no matter what their party affiliation or ideology. And when I critique, I critique (hopefully) political positions and not the folks holding said positions.

That being said, Senator Kennedy's latest remarks demanding we pull our troops out of Iraq exhibit a scary disconnect from reality. The remarks are either based on a naive belief that the U.S. military's presence is the driving factor behind the terrorists (unlike the MSM, I refuse to call those thugs insurgents), or an ill-founded trust in the wonders of diplomacy over military might in every situation.

True, there are times diplomacy works very well. This isn't one of them. Were the U.S. to up and leave Iraq, it would be like handing the keys to a Ferrari to a 15 year old who's just received his permit, and wishing him "good luck" as you direct him into a demolition derby. Sure, he may be able to survive for a while, but to ensure success it'd be a better idea to get rid of the remaining cars trying to destroy him before putting him behind the wheel.

Pulling the military out of Iraq before the Iraqi government has a chance to build up security and military forces sufficient to maintain order would, despite the best efforts of very smart and courageous Iraqis, leave that country vulnerable to a focused terror campaign aimed at throwing the nation into chaos.

While this thought probably appeals to the terrorists, it should not appeal to U.S. Senators. Truthfully, I don't think Senator Kennedy wants Iraq to fall into anarchy, or to become a totalitarian state on par with Hussein's regime. Hopefully I'm not being naive myself. But his appeal to a quick exit of our troops, while desirable at first glance, would be an unmitigated disaster upon a modicum of reflection.

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I know a number of folks think evangelicals, like myself, don't like Catholics. That's not true, although I do disagree with some points in orthodox Catholic theology. At the moment, though, the Pope's health would seem to indicate a time of prayer is needed, with theology differences on the back burner for a bit.

God bless you this evening, and His will be done.