Paul's Passing Thoughts

TANC Conference 2019 Primer – Guest Writer John Immel’s Conference Introduction

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on August 14, 2019

The following article was written by John Immel originally in December of 2013.  This article lays the groundwork for the topic of John’s sessions in this year’s TANC conference. 


“…man can only be moral when man abandons ALL self-value. You are not even John Calvin’s worm: a maggot under the feet of a Holy God. You are nothing…”

Al Mohler and the Irony of a Neo-Calvinist

Nelson Mandela died recently.

It is inconceivable that people haven’t heard that Nelson Mandela passed away because if you are alive and in the United States, it should be almost impossible to miss the lovefest pouring out from the American media for the one-time President of South Africa.

Of course, whenever the American media starts having orgasms over a public figure, my BS meter starts pinging in the back of my mind. If for no other reason, the only people the American media venerates are political leftists. When CNN, NBC, CBS, ESPN, and the Ethernet equivalent outlets are heralding someone’s “great accomplishments,” chances are high that the person leans politically closer to Lenin than say Limbaugh, closer to Pol Pot than say Palin.

As an American, I knew the required parts of the Mandela mythos and South African politics: Mandela as the second coming, apartheid, and the evils of the racist white man. I learned the important stuff from the highly instructive morality play called Lethal Weapon 2 with Joe Pesci and Danny Glover. “You’re blek. He’s blek”

And the all-time best movie line:

Evil white dude: “Diplomatic immunity!”

Bang!

Roger Murtaugh: “It’s just been revoked!”

(By the way, if you freeze the movie just after the gunshot, when the evil, racist white guy is holding up his diplomatic creds, you can see that the bullet goes through the creds before it goes through the guy’s head.)

Anyway, so as I was saying, I knew all the politically correct parts of the Mandela lore, or at least all the parts that resident white people are supposed to know and not challenge, ever: only white guys are racist. And lest we forget, white guys are evil racists, so of course whatever Nelson Mandela actually DID in his life should never be challenged.

Ergo and so forth, being appropriately subdued by white guilt, I was going to let the mythology go unchallenged. I got the message from the social cops: Move along, nothing to see here. No spiritual tyranny to address. Right?

That was until my friend and partner in Neo-Calvinist eye poking Paul Dohse wrote this article: Albert Mohler, Nelson Mandela, and the Crusade for a New Calvinist Host.

In the article, Paul asks an innocuous question that got me to pondering. Why is Al Mohler weighing in on the Nelson Mandela dealeo? Paul has his own take. I’ll let you take a peek at what he said.

But indeed, why was Al Mohler getting on the national Mandela bandwagon? What does a preacher from Louisville, Kentucky have to do with the price of beans in South Afri—oops, China?

I decided to take a quick gander at Al Mohler’s full article. And I must confess after reading it twice, I still wasn’t sure what Al was trying to do. He had some classic Mohler-esque argumentative non sequiturs and the ever present obsession with a “fallen world” that so many Calvinists tout without a blush of shame. There was this one sentence that made my eyes narrow:

It is unlikely that anyone is going to try to help them [Americans] think about these questions and to think about them as Christians.

Did he say “help” people think?

You people in the Southern Baptist Convention need Al Mohler’s “help” to think?

That would explain a lot, I guess. But . . . >shrug< . . . if SBC folks are gonna feed off the Al Mohler intellectual teats, then they are welcome to their cognitive indigestion.

Ehem . . .

Considering most everyone else was slobbering over Mandela, I will say that I was impressed by Mohler’s “honest” treatment of Mandela’s life. Mandela was a Marxist terrorist and Mohler got that part of his life right. Well, he got the terrorist part right (sort of), but he didn’t cover the Marxists part in any detail. (This is a crucial distinction.) However, he treated the terrorist part with such . . . ease (?), such caution, such moderation that for a minute I wasn’t sure this was THE Dr. R. Albert Mohler. Dr. Al tends to be a pretty emphatic soul, so I what caught my attention was his moderation as he gave the overview of Mandela’s terrorist life and the subsequent Christian lesson.

Where was the Mohler-esque outrage we are treated to when he is riding his Moral Majority high horse?

For example, note the contrast between the Mandela article and Al Mohler’s uncharitable (?) condemnation of yoga practitioners. (Read my article) His Neo-Calvinist indignation was in full tilt boogie over yoga. He didn’t advocate “moral complication” for those dastardly women daring to teach demonic doctrine. You would have thought the yoga insurgents were storming the chancel. So strident was his condemnation that I dubbed him Almohlerishi Antiyoga. So on one hand, Mandela is a terrorist with a “morally complicated” character and on the other hand, we have full condemnation of yoginis bending and breathing their way to enlightenment.

What am I missing? Did the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi declare Yoga Jihad or something? Is there a devious plot to bend and breathe and hug the world in to submission?

(Picture Al Mohler, CJ Mahaney, Mark Dever, and John Piper skipping down the Yellow Brick Road saying, “Dandelions, tiger lilies and Care Bears . . . oh my!”)

Where does this sense of proportion come from?

Is the Moral Majority outrage-o-meter broken?

I read through the Mandela article a few more times still pondering Al Mohler’s walk down Moral Equivalency lane and my attention finally focused on a name that makes two cameo appearances: Reinhold Niebuhr.

And then my mind traveled back to when I was writing one of a bazillion papers for my Systematic and Historical Theology degree. And like a ghost haunting the library stacks, the voice of that tortured, nagging, self-righteous, cynic whispered the name of his book: The Irony of American History.

Uh . . . do you, dear reader, see the similarities between Niebuhr’s book title and Mohler’s article title?

If I were Archimedes, I would have shouted Eureka!

Just so you Reformed Theology guys know, that would be like shouting “John Calvin!” when you have a new thought.

Oh wait, you don’t have new thoughts.

Ehem . . .

Anyway, of course, you see the inspiration for Al Mohler’s article. And after a few hours refreshing my memory on what that tortured, nagging, self-righteous cynic wrote in his book The Irony of American History, I had a pretty good idea what Al Mohler was really saying. And it isn’t really about Nelson Mandela. The Mandela mythos is merely the opportunity to affirm something much more insidious.

Since you, dear reader, can Google Reinhold Niebuhr and get 609,000 results in .029 seconds I won’t rehash the basics of his life. He is famous for the Serenity Prayer, has a dozen or so books to his credits, and (most important) he went to that bastion of Calvinist indoctrination Yale Divinity School. Well, that factoid isn’t really important in the cosmic sense but is merely trivia that I choose to point out because that is where my grandfather Ivan Immel went to Divinity School.

Those years ago when I was doing my degree work, I read Niebuhr like most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed theology students. I was looking for a pithy statement to quote so I could pad my bibliography. Critical review was limited by my academic expediency. It didn’t help that I was a terrible student and (more important) didn’t have a sufficient grasp of the evolutions of Western thought to understand what Reinhold Niebuhr really had to say. Today I am not a much better student, but my grasp of Western thought has improved over the last decade. And more important, I understand how the branches of Western philosophy (and theology) are wrecking the single greatest political achievement the human race has ever seen.

So this time when I picked up Niebuhr’s work, The Irony of American History and Moral Man and Immoral Society, the real roots of his ideas screamed off the page. Reinhold Niebuhr is a Kantian. Well, he is first and foremost a Calvinist (with a mix of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Hegel for seasoning), but the practical extension of his theology is the heartbeat of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy.

Of course, there is no contradiction in holding both of these philosophical fathers in harmony. Indeed, Kant is not possible without Calvin’s metastasized rehash of Augustinian doctrine. I submit that without the roughly 150 years of Calvin’s ideas saturating the whole of European philosophy in general (and Germany/Prussia in particular), Kant would have remained a fussy little man in Konigsberg, virtually unheard of in the broader world.

If the surviving dominate theology of the Reformation had been say . . . Menno Simon’s doctrine instead of Calvin, Kant’s phenomenal and noumenal world would have been unintelligible (well, more unintelligible than they already are), but more important, Kant’s altruistic ethics would have died a blessedly fast death from neglect. And trust me: the world would have been saved untold bloodshed. But that didn’t happen. Calvin’s Institutes dominated the whole of post reformation theology; it is the epicenter from which almost every Protestant fight originates because that is the fruit of its tree. So the intellectual landscape was ripe for Immanuel Kant’s “rational” philosophy, and his ethics in particular.

The impact of altruism on the world, on America, and on Christianity specifically could be a lifetime study. The first half of that life would be spent explaining to everyone what altruism is: what it really is and what it really means. It is so much a part of our vocabulary, so implicit to our everyday actions, so endemic to our ethical worldview that altruism almost permeates our skin. The second half of that life would be spent chronicling the causal relationship between altruism’s ethical demands and every government atrocity committed in the name of is alleged virtue.

I don’t have a lifetime. I have a few paragraphs. So here it is in brief. Kantian ethics prescribe that man’s highest moral action is self-sacrifice. Now when I write those words, many of you, dear readers, will nod sagely to accept the premise all the while wiping out of your mind all the “selfish” things you bootleg into your ethical world. After all, man can’t be TOTALLY selfish. It is not possible to live, without SOME things for yourself. Right?

Wrong.

This is exactly what Kant meant: the Self-Sacrifice is total. Even the desire to breathe, to eat, to hold pleasure from swallowing is an act of unrepentant ego. In Augustinian doctrine, such action was a manifestation of human sin against a Holy God. In Calvin, such action is a manifestation of man’s highest depravity. But in both of their doctrine, man could at least try (I use that word loosely) to take action that garnered blessing in the afterlife. Or maybe better said, man could want the blessing of the afterlife and still be moral. So he could sustain some “selfish” motive and—somehow—dodge the pervasive depravity of his existence. But by the time Kant is done with the self-sacrifice ethic, he raised the moral bar such that he obliterated the whole of human values. Altruism says that any action or motive no matter how small, how trivial, how insignificant, even when done for the blessing in the afterlife annihilates ethical values as such. Altruism says that man can gain NO benefit from the values he seeks: That the beneficiary of all values MUST be someone else.

So all those caveats and addendums you smuggle into the moral speakeasy so you can take satisfaction for… anything…all of those are evil, an evil of the first order.

Why?

Merely because you are man: man can only be moral when man abandons ALL self-value. You are not even John Calvin’s worm: a maggot under the feet of a Holy God. You are nothing because you are an ego. Indeed, the only truly moral man was the man who abandons the pursuit of value qua values. Man’s highest ethical action was his “duty” (an action done at the behest of others without a shred or a shadow of personal satisfaction) to abandon the sum of his existence in behalf of others. The only way to be truly moral was to be truly value-less. And this could not be a passive existence. Altruism requires action to man’s detriment. To “live” this moral state, man must cut his own throat to fulfill the moral imperative. In effect, Kant walked into the Holy of Holies, kicked the High Priest out, and handed the knife to the lamb on the altar and said, “It is your duty to sacrifice yourself.”

Of course, after a thousand years of turning an icon of Roman execution into an archetype of “virtue,” a thousand years of Augustine’s cancerous doctrines echoing the same sentiments and 150 years of Calvin’s metastasized version of the same doctrine swimming through the minds of Christianity, Kant’s “rational” ethics seemed to affirm and confirm God’s highest revelation. Christianity surrendered to Kant’s philosophy without so much as a belch of protest, elevating death as the highest ideal of human existence. So from the 18th century to the present day, the cult of death called Christianity has been nailed into the minds of humanity.

And lieber Gott im Himmel, how the blood has flowed: blood, blood, blood, and more blood.

Since I’m no longer that doe-eyed and naïve theology student, only interested in stroking the professor’s ego so I can be inducted into the theologically elite club, I now read theologians with vast amounts of critical review at the forefront of my mind. Actually, I was never the slavish, sycophant, bobble-headed theology student, which is why Dr. Carpenter walked out of Advanced Systematics class when he saw me take a seat, and exactly why Sovereign Grace Ministries ran me out of church on a rail.

And now I have the tools to recognize the roots of Niebuhr’s sociopolitical disaster. I knew from the first page of The Irony of American History that Niebuhr is a rabid Kantian. (1) Altruism dominates the whole of Niebuhr’s worldview, and most of his alleged American “ironies” can be directly traced to his endless altruistic manipulations. Moral Man and Immoral Society is entirely predicated on the Altruistic ethic. To Niebuhr, man’s highest and greatest sin was the existence of ego or the existence of self. Here is how Niebuhr articulates the doctrine of original sin: “This doctrine [original sin] asserts the obvious fact that all men are persistently inclined to regard themselves more highly and are more assiduously concerned with their own interests than any “objective” view of their importance would warrant.” [Emphasis mine]

This is not what Augustine specifically taught, but this is what Augustine’s doctrine looks like after a Kantian gets hold of the dogma. So it followed in Niebuhr’s mind that the root of all social injustice was a failure of the individual to identify the needs of others, which means money. Individuals must give their money to those who need it. And by logical extension, this means that nations of prosperous people had a moral responsibility to the needs of other nations.

Just so you know social justice is a euphemism for the redistribution of wealth. Whenever you hear a preacher pounding the pulpit for social justice, he is really saying that you must be compelled to give your money to those who do not have your money. Don’t confuse social justice with an act of benevolence. What that preacher means to say is that if you have one dollar more than anyone else on the planet, YOU are guilty of a CRIME. It doesn’t matter how you got that dollar. It doesn’t matter that you worked to create that dollar. It doesn’t matter if the other people are rotters and thieves and bums. If you have a disproportionate number of dollars, (one dollar) in comparison to anyone else in “need,” you are guilty of a CRIME. And crimes are punished by government.

With this in mind, you can begin to fathom the hatred Niebuhr held for America, the single most prosperous nation ever in the history of the world, and the scorn he held for America’s citizens whose achievements set the standards of innovation and relieved human suffering more than any other people . . . ever. So The Irony of American History has nothing to do with American irony but is rather tour de force in Niebuhr’s tortured, nagging, self-righteous cynicism. And Moral Man and Immoral Society has nothing to do with a study in ethics and politics but is rather a contemptuous treatise in how to offer Christians a justification to use government force to eradicate private property.

The only irony in either book is watching a Calvinist/Kantian who has the nerve to lay claim to moral “certainty” for everyone else’s failure to measure up to his ethical bar.

I know I’m treading on sacred ground by criticizing Niebuhr because he is something of a theological hero, venerated in seminaries across the country. Niebuhr’s popular influence grew through WWII as he decried America’s “isolationism” to encourage her to enter the war and then further as he condemned America’s action in the Korean War and Vietnam for American “Imperialism” and then further expanded through the Cold War for his mutual criticism of the United States and the Soviet Union. It is said that his works have influenced American foreign policy, and since Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama name him as among their favorite theologians, I have no doubt that the rumors are true.

Preachers and theologians like it when one of their own (someone in full doctrinal solidarity) rises to the status of notable public spokesman, because it vicariously validates their life. It doesn’t matter how many times a preacher tells you from the pulpit how self-LESS he is, how much of a moral martyr he is, how altruistic he is, he is acutely aware that he will fritter away his life in obscurity. And he HATES that. So when a preacher starts being quoted by public figures, all those guys living in the shadows of irrelevancy, they are thrilled because they think that notoriety—somehow—validates their life.

And this is doubly true in the academic world. Professors hate the fact that they will write a textbook that a few dozen people on the planet will actually read. And they have no end of animosity for a bunch of uneducated good old boys Texas preachers on television soaking up accolades. So since very, very few American theologians have ever risen to notable heights, Niebuhr has achieved unique status in the pointy headed academic pantheon. Not that it would have taken much to stand out in American theological academia through the late 19th and early 20th century. Since the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, America’s “intellectual” leadership has been slavishly committed to German philosophers and theologians. (With a Dane and a French guy or two added to the mix.) My understanding of the tides of American theology from 1925 forward is a little thin, but I suspect that Niebuhr’s strident cynicism cut through the European Me-Too- Me-Too-ism of his contemporaries, so he sounded like a fresh voice.

Not that Niebuhr was a fresh voice. He didn’t have anything new to say. He was little more than a warmed-over Jonathan Edwards. And just like Edwards, Niebuhr played on some of man’s deep-seated, superstitious fears to manipulate their intellectual loyalties. By necessity, Calvinism dies a social death about every four generations, because without civil authority to compel people to believe the doctrine, eventually everyone runs into Johnny C’s intellectual cul-de-sac and finally arrives at the only logical conclusion: “Who cares?” Without fear and force, Calvinism fades into the cultural background until the people have forgotten why their parents ran kicking and screaming from the chancel and one more preacher figures out how to sell medieval doctrines in contemporary words. Niebuhr was one such man.

Since Niebuhr started his sociopolitical rants with a definitively religious presumption like the “Fall of Man,” he probably sounded like a stark contrast to his secular philosophical contemporaries. Niebuhr took on ideologies like John Dewey’s fully disastrous body of thought called Pragmatism. Niebuhr wasn’t particularly successful at rebutting Dewey. If he had been, Dewey’s Pragmatism wouldn’t have succeeded in dominating American education for the last one hundred years.

Intellectual influence is very different from intellectual success. So while Niebuhr was influential, he wasn’t particularly successful at defeating the pragmatists. And neither was he successful at defeating his other targets of opportunity: the communists and the social gospel-ers. I submit that his argumentative impotence comes from the single glaring fact that he conceded the premise of his adversaries. Every single one of his noted ideological foes are, at their roots, Kantians.

Dewey’s Pragmatism is an epistemological consequence of Kant’s noumenal and phenomenal world. The communists got their ideology from Marx and Hegel, who got their metaphysics and epistemology from Kant. The Social Gospel crowd is a “Christian” derivative of Marx who insists that justice is a government-enforced redistribution of wealth. And they ALL agree that Man is metaphysically corrupt and epistemologically incompetent. And they ALL agree that man’s highest ethical action is . . . (you guessed it) self-sacrifice. (2)

Niebuhr accepts his enemies’ premise so his counterargument was little more than a discussion of means and methods, but the philosophical endgame was the same. Man’s existence is condemned. (Full stop) Now let’s figure out how to slice up the sacrifice for the greatest “good.” So even though the tamed cynic loved to judge his opponents’ rationalizations for their political “idealism,” Niebuhr held the same premise—man is existentially corrupt.

Here in is the real irony: Niebuhr had no chance to succeed in his stated crusade. Like Don Quixote jousting the windmill of human ego, Niebuhr never once realized that he and the commies and the social gospel-ers and the pragmatists were all riding on the same nag.

Oh, the irony of the cynical ramblings of Reinhold Niebuhr.

<snicker>

But Niebuhr did have one opponent that he was very successful at beating: the United States of America. He was particularly successful at taking on America’s “moral” history. This success is tied to two interrelated facts. First, altruism and the roots of American government are philosophical antipodes. Second, America has had ZERO intellectual leadership interested in defending her root moral virtues. Indeed, since American intelligentsia swims in an ocean of altruism, it almost seems absurd to speak of America’s moral virtues. America has become synonymous with excess and greed and exploitation. Who would have the courage to defend such a monstrosity?

It is easy to win an argument in a vacuum. This is of course why most major Neo-Calvinist ministries block comments on their blogs. No one can argue back. In Niebuhr’s case, he didn’t have to block comments; virtually no one was willing to offer a substantive, unapologetic rebuttal defending the moral virtue of American individualism. So historically, Niebuhr was one more Kantian voice singing from the same sheet of music. American “idealism” was really delusion, and how dare the people of America fail to sacrifice themselves for the greater worldly good.

And Niebuhr’s singular tool of assault against America and her greatest virtue is a stark raving mad dash into moral equivalency.

Now we get to the nub of the matter.

Niebuhr winds through his arguments like a wolf circling his prey. He is slow and subtle and cautious. So if you are not paying attention, you won’t notice that he is getting closer and closer to his central thesis: Man’s inexorable selfishness is the heart of injustice. Therefore, man needs to be forced into moral action.

Generations of European Christians accepted the premise of human depravity as self-evident, as have all sociopolitical organizations founded on the metaphysical premise that man is a “sinner” who inhabits a “fallen” world. But Niebuhr’s target audience was 19th and 20th century Americans, who, even while attending church and listening to doctrines that condemned their existence, were LIVING through the greatest expansion of liberty and knowledge and prosperity the world had ever seen. The idealism that Niebuhr tried so hard to condemn was no mere Pollyanna-ism. Man had proof that life was filled with opportunities, that the future could be bright because the future could be built. It was a conclusion born from seeing the world’s harsh and brutal environment mastered and ordered and pacified.

The Medieval age had no such contrast. Their worldview of gargoyles and superstition and brutality was all anyone had ever known, so there was an internal logic to the churches’ ban on reason and science. All the world knew was faith and force and the poverty those twin destroyers bring. But the 17th century was the beginning of the Enlightenment and the full immersion of Aristotelian thought into the minds of men. And by the time history arrives in the 19th century, man was without excuse. For the first time in world history, man could SEE a vision of life that held endless possibilities; it seemed that man was on the verge of solving the world’s problems. And the shining light on the hill, the amazing beacon of hope, was the United States of America.

It is important that you, dear reader, understand the sense of life that permeated the American spirit through those years. We have become complacent to the human advances because they are so common. But a mere hundred years ago, every day man woke to a new miracle: the polio vaccine, the iron horse, the mass produced car. The list of innovation and prosperity would be too great to write down.

Man woke up seven days a week and saw man’s ability triumph. He went to church one day a week to be told that he was a sinner, life was hopeless, and man’s highest ethical ideal was death. But men KNEW there was a disconnect; something was wrong with the picture. Church doctrine condemned the whole of man’s existence. But man’s existence was very obviously not the impotent, ulcerous, cancerous sore described by the preacher. And because of that blessedly prescient American government doctrine called the separation of Church and State, people could openly reject the theology that had been the source of human misery for millennia.

And object they did.

Thus rose the religious intellectual boogieman called Modernity whose handmaiden of evil was Reason: a dastardly creature that had the temerity to reject age old doctrines. Reason was to blame for driving medieval doctrines from men’s minds and unseating the Church from its “rightful” place as governing authority over men’s bodies and souls.

It was to this audience that Niebuhr spoke. And this audience would never, in a million years, allow a government to dictate GOOD. This audience rejected man’s inexorable selfishness as the heart of injustice that therefore needed to be forced into moral action. This audience had seen the virtue of a government whose sole and limited function was the defense of the individual in the pursuit of his life, liberty, and happiness. This audience could see the living contrast between the American form of government and the despotism that had dominated the whole of Europe. Indeed, anywhere medieval doctrines had dominated American life, they could see the manifestations: slavery, poverty, and war.

So Niebuhr knew—just like all mystic despots know—you can’t persuade a confident man, a man of ability, that he needs to be “saved” (from himself or that others need to be saved from him) unless you first persuade him that his virtues are really vice, unless you persuade him that the source of his liberty, ability, and prosperity is really the deepest metaphysical evil. And a nation of those self-same confident individuals succeeding with a government built on the premise of self-appointment and limited government would never abandon the roots of their liberty. The only way to defeat such a nation was to create the moral equation: American egoism equals total moral injustice. The singular method to defeat America was to condemn the root of its very existence: its founding strength MUST become its undermining weakness.

So to an America who chose not to get into World War I and II Niebuhr preached against “isolationism” because it was selfish of America to abandon the “world community” in the name of its own “self-interest.” And then in a twist of irony, Niebuhr preached against American “imperialism” when she got involved with that same “world community” to intervene in Korea and Vietnam. The root of both arguments is that America has no moral right to act in its own self-interest. And each egoistic, each selfish exploitation of the under privileged, each dollar earned in the name of capitalism, each failure to live up to the high moral standard of altruism is proof positive that the United States is fundamentally corrupt.

For all of America’s idealism, it is really no different than the Soviet Union, Niebuhr argues in his typically convoluted reasoning. Yes, yes, yes, those communist are guilty of all manner misguided notions, but America is equally misguided. Nay, America is even more misguided because it has all of this prosperity, and it has the nerve to do so little. He concedes that Soviet leadership uses force to create the Workers’ Paradise, but how is that any better than America’s use of “economic” force to exploit the proletariat? All nations use force in service to their egoistic foreign policy. All nations do greater evil than individuals. All nations are sinners. This is the way of the modern world: a choice between “idealistic,” self-deluded ideologies and “realistic” theology. America is self-deluded in its selfishness. It is sinning in its sinfulness. It is yet one more irony of human history. The world is a fallen place. How dare Americans live with their naiveté? How dare Americans remain immature and uncaring for the whole of the “world community?”

Thus goes the circling and circling of the Niebuhr-esque argumentation. It wears the reader down to despair. It drives them to the only “reasonable” conclusion: There is really no difference between the Soviet Union and America. There are no truly moral choices among men or among nations. There is only the choice of evils.

Sounds reasonable, right? That sounds virtuous, right? Sounds equal, right? Sounds spiritual, right?

Wrong!

The idea that the Soviet Union and America are on the same moral level is the highest rational atrocity. It is a moral bait and switch of disastrous proportions.

Altruism preaches sacrifice, and sacrifice is exactly what the Soviet Union demanded. The result was blood, blood, blood, and more blood. The leaders of the Marxist revolution turned Russia into a slaughterhouse. Stalin is reported to have killed upwards of 50 million people and that does not count the state-created Ukrainian famine. Whatever America’s faults, her revolution bears no resemblance to ANY Marxist revolution. There are no killing fields, no concentration camps, no charnel houses of mutilation. And the only time America has even gotten close to a public policy of oppression, it takes thirty minutes of research to realize the advocates and instigators are universally political leftists or Christian theocrats advocating the primacy of the State in defiance of the U.S. Constitution.

Christians need to wake up and smell the sacrifice. When preachers thump the pulpit proclaiming the irony of American history, daring to create a moral equivalency between the outcomes of American individualism and the greatest thugs on the planet, you MUST understand the evil underneath their vile hearts. These preachers like to pretend they are paragons of moral virtue, but this is all an ugly, ugly fraud.

Altruism’s logical end is moral equivalency.

There is no such thing as a truly selfless man. Man must breathe and eat which means he must choose WHAT to breathe and WHAT to eat, which means he must choose between values to live. To abandon values is to abandon life. The action of living is driven by a desire, a will, a purpose to live. Without this driving desire, man would lay down and die. But an ethical standard that demands man abandon values means altruism demands man’s death. Of course, this is totally impracticable. It has no coefficient in reality. And eventually, man arrives at the end of the cul-de-sac and realizes he is condemned no matter what he does. A moral life is not livable, so there is only one conclusion: Morality is man’s enemy. Therefore, value judgments are irrelevant.

The only thing left to human existence is moral equivalency, which really means there is no moral standard.

So it doesn’t matter that Joseph Stalin wiped out millions of people. That is really no different than America’s long list of “social injustice.” And besides, Stalin’s actions were done in service to the “need” of the working class. The fact that he used force to achieve those altruistic ends is merely the hard choice between evils: the egoism of the individual or the egoism of the collective.

Who then can do the moral calculus? Who then can solve the problems of human existence?

Certainly not the Enlightenment rationalists, answers Niebuhr. Certainly not technology says Niebuhr. Certainly not the idealists—the communists or the pragmatists—says Niebuhr. And with absolute certitude, Niebuhr snarls with vitriol, it will not be the United States with all of her ego-driven quest for material wealth and individual liberty. The world is morally complicated and our only salvation will come some other day in some other time, after God judges the world.

And this was Niebuhr’s ultimate conclusion. Man is doomed no matter what he does: His natural impulses make egoism inescapable, and his egoism demands government to enforce “societal cohesion.” Ergo, someone has to make the hard decision on how to do the greatest good. These men are historically necessary. They do the “hard” thing. They do the immoral thing to produce the greatest collective morality. And since no one can be moral . . . well, let’s not focus on the means. Let’s not focus on the evils these historically necessary men commit. Evil is an inescapable part of human existence.

Who are we to judge? Will it not be God who judges in the final analysis? God alone can save us from ourselves, and he saves us through the atonement accomplished by the Son, Jesus Christ. There is salvation in no other name, no matter how honored on earth.

Those of you who read the Mohler article should hear the familiar whispers. You should now see the very subtle underlying theme in the Mandela article. Molher executes the Niebuhr technique with skill like a wolf circling his prey, cautiously walking closer and closer to the central premise: Even our great men are still cesspools of evil. The only lesson to be learned is that Man is doomed to be “morally complicated.”

Let us take a look at the technique so you can see it in action.

Mohler said:

While we’re thinking about terrorism, we probably also ought to think about someone from our own nation’s history, like George Washington. Had the American Revolution turned out differently, George Washington would in all likelihood have been hung as a traitor. He would also have been accused of being what we now call a terrorist.

All this is not to give moral absolution to terrorists, so long as they win and eventually have political victory. It is, however, to remind ourselves that in the process of politics in a fallen world, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

In the United States, we speak about the efforts that led to the overthrow of the British colonization as our national revolution, the birth of a nation. The British called it treason.

Now let’s evaluate so we can see if there is in fact an equivalency between Mandela and Washington.

The Brits maybe have had many epithets for George Washington, but most certainly “terrorist” was not one of them.

Our contemporary political leaders have done the American people a monstrous disservice by introducing the “war on terrorism” into our public minds. This is little more than a contrived political convention to turn acts of war by militant Islamists into little more than illegitimate, fringe, criminal acts of aggression. It is a deliberate effort to sell fraud to the American people.

It is impossible to wage a war against terror because terror is an emotional state. Actions of war might create terror, but the emotional state is not the primary goal. The goal of war is to destroy an adversary. Militant Islam has made it very clear their goal is the destruction of the Great Satan. World domination has been the sole stated goal of militant Islam since its inception and only willful blindness to the facts of reality can account for so many people going along with America’s current foreign policy. The political end game is very simple: our ruling class does not want the responsibility of the very oath of office to which they swore loyalty. They have absolved themselves of the responsibility to identify the ideological source of “terrorizing” actions. It lets the ruling class pick and choose who they will use force against without ever identifying the ideologies who have declared war on the United States. It is politically expedient for them to declare general hostilities against the amorphous “terrorists” while never ever addressing the sponsor states and supporter ideologies funneling money into proxy wars. And most importantly, it allows the political class to re-craft the U.S. Constitution in service to domestic policy that enslaves U.S. citizens. But this is a separate discussion.

But what is on point with this discussion is the substantive difference between the two concepts. Treason and terrorism are not corollaries. Just because someone abandons political loyalties and declares war on a hostile government doesn’t specifically mean their acts of warfare are by definition terrorism.

War is terrible, even terrifying, but since this bears repeating, I will say it again. It is impossible to wage a war against “terror” because terror is an emotional state. The use of atrocity to undermine an enemy’s will to fight may be an effective tool for victory, but this is no different than the whole purpose of war. The purpose of war is to kill people and break things to achieve a singular political end: “Who rules?”

Does Imperial Japan rule or the United States of America? Does National Socialist Germany rule or is it the United States of America? Does Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rule or is it the free people of Cambodia? Does Islam rule by Sharia Law or does the United States govern itself by limited government?

When the central question of war is asked like this, it becomes apparent that WHO rules is directly tied to HOW they will rule. And the HOW is inexorably rooted in philosophy. The reverse progression goes like this: Man’s public policy is directly tied to his ethics. Man’s ethics are directly tied to his epistemology. Man’s epistemology is directly tied to his metaphysics. If we start at Niebuhr’s beginning, the progression looks like this. Man is metaphysically corrupt. (He is a sinner.) His epistemology is egoistic and therefore unable to grasp the broader world. He is therefore blind to the “needs” of others, so he is incapable of ethical action. But man will not willfully sacrifice himself, so man needs the hand of government to compel him to selfless action.

All tyrannical ideologies follow this philosophical justification. All tyrannies presume that man is property of the state in service to fulfilling their ideological definition of GOOD. This means that all statist governments—communist, socialist, fascist, tribalist, monarchy, and theocracy—are tyrannies. There is no such thing as a benevolent tyranny . . . not even in Church.

This is why I said that altruism is the philosophical antipode of American self-governance. Altruism eradicates man’s moral claim to himself. If man does not belong to himself, then he is by default someone else’s property which is why all statist governments get their moral justification from altruism.

With this background, you, dear reader, can see the stark contrast between Nelson Mandela and George Washington.

It is true that George Washington as a British subject committed treason. Treason means the abandonment of political loyalty. But the key question is what KIND of government did George Washington abandon? The answer is important. The British Government was a monarchy. The supremacy of the crown had its theological justification tracing back to the disastrous “Christian” doctrine called the Divine Right of Kings. The doctrine absolved the king of moral failing and made the whole of a man’s life property of the King’s domain. Man’s political loyalties were to whoever wore the crown. Monarchy then is merely a variation of state-ism.

Statist governments are illegitimate governments because they enslave man to the state. It was to this root premise that George Washington was committing “treason.” He was abandoning political loyalty to the philosophical premise that the crown could “own” men. George Washington’s “treason” was entirely moral, as was the war he waged in service to overthrowing British tyranny. The ONLY legitimate government derives its just power from the consent of the governed. The state is NOT sovereign. It is the people who are sovereign who then grant LIMITED powers to the government. In the fullest definition, individual men are the property of themselves and the state is the servant whose sole charge is defense.

All other governments are illegitimate. No state has the “right” to oppress or the right to enslave, and it is therefore moral to wage war against any group of thugs who claim such authority. It matters not that they wear a crown, or a miter and simar, or stand behind a Plexiglas podium, or declare their loyalty to the Marxist workers’ paradise, or have an address in the District of Columbia. And our Founding Fathers knew the importance of this moral foundation. It is for this reason that they penned the following words.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. [Emphasis mine]

And now the difference between the “revolutionary” Mandela and the “revolutionary” Washington becomes stark. Mandela was an avowed, committed, unrepentant Marxist, a friend of Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, and an antagonist of the United States of America.

Marxist revolutions are perpetrated by the intellectual elite on behalf of the “common” man, in one “resolute and unscrupulous thrust of power” against the materialistic bourgeois to create a “classless” society where those who create—according to their ability—are compelled to provide for others—according to their need. Or maybe I should say this more simply: the intellectuals divide society between slaves and slave masters, but the master is need . . . and need alone. This “working man’s paradise” is created in the name of the highest moral aspiration: the “greater good,” “brotherly love,” and the “true soul of man.” But no matter the moral justification, the end is statism: man is property of the state.

George Washington (and the rest of the Founding Fathers) fought for a wholly unique political ideal: government as protector of the individual in his pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. This is the only legitimate, the only moral form of government on the planet. And it is fully moral to wage war against tyranny to establish this political ideal.

By contrast, Mandela may have ostensibly been fighting for “freedom,” but he was only fighting for the (black) poor to be able to enslave the (white) rich. However, the Mandela revolution (the African National Congress) and the South African government were both statist governments. The fact that Mandela was fighting for blacks only makes his form of Marxist government based on tribe, and tribalism is merely a primitive form of statism.

This does not justify apartheid by any stretch. Apartheid is exactly what happens when unions gain control of government force. Apartheid was, among other things, public policy enacted to pacify South African unions by preventing blacks from entering the work force. (By the way, this is exactly the origin of unions in the United States.)

But don’t get distracted by the racism because this is exactly what Molher did. He focused on the fight for “racial equality” in Mandela’s life and ignored his ideology. It is noble to fight for racial equality but for that fight to be true virtue the outcome must be liberty for all: and that includes the white man. But that was only one facet of Mandela’s efforts. Molher also ignored the ideology inspiring Washington’s actions because this is the only way to create a moral equivalency.

Now watch what happens to the Mohler article when there is no moral equivalency between these two “revolutionaries.”

Go back and read the article. This time ignore the Menachem Begin non sense: it is a red herring. And then reject the moral equivalency between Mandela and Washington.

What then can be said about Mandela? That he went to jail for leading a Marxist revolution? How many Marxist revolutions does this world need to have before people finally see it is a political disaster? What is praiseworthy about the inevitable Marxist political purging and death squads and killing fields and “necklacing”? (3) That Mandela was one more Marxist ideologue who railed against the wealth of the west, but lived out his life in the luxury that can only be achieved by capitalism?

Can you say that the Mandela legacy fought racism? Only if you ignore the subsequent South African history of counter racism.

What does it do to Mohler’s equivocation: “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”? The answer is simple: he is wrong. By objective standard, a true freedom fighter is easy to identify. George Washington is not “morally complicated” but rather morally praiseworthy because he was a true freedom fighter.

And this is the whole crux of the issue. The moment political leftist theologians are confronted with men who are morally praiseworthy, their commitment to “politics in a fallen world” takes a mortal wound. If men can act with moral clarity, then their ability to demagogue human incompetence vanishes.

This is exactly the insidious undercurrent in Mohler’s article. This article is not really about Nelson Mandela. Mandela is merely the occasion for Al Mohler to reveal his root presumptions about his political thought.

Have you ever wondered how so many preachers end up excusing tyranny? You ever wonder how they will have a conniption fit when little Albert pops out of the pants and into the church secretary, but they barely raise a peep of protest over violations of American civil liberties? Ever wonder why preachers will write articles giving Marxist thugs a pass but will spew all manner of condemnation on a bunch of women bending and breathing their way to better health?

You ever wonder how Neo-Calvinist preachers can speak sagely of the ”Christian” doctrine of the equality of all men and ignore the historic reality that (Calvinist) Christianity has been at the forefront of slavery and political inequality since its inception? Ever wonder how Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation is held up as orthodoxy but preachers ignore with impunity Luther’s, On the Jews and Their Lies?

You ever wonder why, with almost one hundred percent consistency, the New Calvinist leadership has sided with CJ Mahaney against those who have suffered under his leadership deficiencies?

Here is the answer from Al Mohler’s article.

And yet, when we look at his legacy in terms of the overthrow of apartheid, we recall the fact that Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most influential theologians in America at the middle of the 20th century, argued that there are times in which certain men, certain historical figures, appear to be historically necessary, even if they are far from historically perfect. That seems so often to be the case in a fallen world. In a sinful world, a world in which every dimension is marked by sin, the most effective political leaders are those who have the strongest convictions; but often those strong convictions and ambitions are met by a somewhat less than stellar character.

Translation?

The only choice man has is a choice of evils. Even our most “effective political leaders” have “somewhat less than stellar character.” But humanity needs these historically necessary men, the men who will do the hard thing, even the immoral thing, for the greatest good of humanity. We can be “honest” about who they are, but in the final analysis, we cannot really judge. This is a fallen world after all. Who among us is without sin?

And so goes the logic to its inevitable end. As long as the man in question is “historically necessary”—someone who achieves altruistic ends—it does not matter that he stuffs people in ovens or sends them to the gas chamber. It does not matter the nature of his political atrocity because no man can be moral. His strong political convictions are not to be judged because the irony of history is that man is doomed to suffer their less than stellar character.

I guarantee you that when Al Mohler and CJ Mahaney are sitting around shooting the breeze talking about CJ’s many leadership deficiencies, Dr. Al nods sagely and tells CJ that he is one of history’s necessary men. That CJ’s tenacious commitment to pure Christian doctrine is the only thing that matters; that the collateral damage done in the after math of his leaderships deficiencies to molested young children are the consequence of sinners living in a “fallen world.”

<shiver>

. . .

. . .

You, dear reader, should now see that the only irony in history is a bunch of altruistic Neo-Calvinist preachers trying to help Christians think about political philosophy.

~ John

Holy Schmoly…Who Needs Holiness When You Have Authority?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 5, 2018

afshin-ziafat

Originally published January 5, 2017

Afshin Ziafat holds the title of “lead” pastor and “elder” of Providence Church in Frisco, TX. He was part of a panel discussion along with Conrad Mbewe, John Folmar, and moderated by Kevin DeYoung at the 2016 Cross Conference in Indianapolis, IN. The clip below is an excerpt from that discussion. It happens pretty early on. There are several examples I could have used, but this particular exchange really caught my attention.

Here is a transcript of the above video clip.

KEVIN DEYOUNG: So let’s talk about some of these terms that are often given to describe church. This is sort of Ecclesiology, the study of Church 101. So sometimes there is a reference made to the four attributes of the church. One, holy, catholic, apostolic church. So just jump in who wants to just, 30 seconds, what does it mean, “one church”?

JOHN FOLMAR: Unified in the gospel. United to Christ by the power of the Spirit, and thus united to one another.

DEYOUNG: Okay. So Ephesians 4, there is one spirit, one body, one Lord, one baptism. What about “holy”? Afshin?

AFSHIN ZIAFAT: Um, I’m not sure exactly what you’re wanting from that.

STOP RIGHT THERE! HUH?

I’m not the smartest person in the world, and granted, as I go back and read the transcript, DeYoung doesn’t do a very good job at articulating what he’s asking, but even I understand the question. DeYoung wants to know what it means when we say the church is holy.

Yet here is a man who is supposed to have an academic and theological pedigree which supposedly qualifies him to sit on this panel of “experts”.  Here is a man who is supposedly responsible for the “sheperding” of hundreds if not thousands of people every week.  Here is a man to whom a room full of young people are looking for guidance and direction, a man whom people are supposed to submit to his “authority”.  And yet Ziafat says he’s not sure what DeYoung is wanting?  Does he mean he does not know what it means to say the church is “holy”, or does he not even know the definition of holy?  I am beyond incredulous!

Like I said, I am not the smartest person in the world- I didn’t go to seminary, and I am not the pastor of a church of thousands. I did however give a session on the definition of holiness back at the 2014 TANC conference. Perhaps Mr. Ziafat might find it useful. Here are the links to those sessions.

TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 1
TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 2
TANC 2014 – Andy Young, Session 3

Now let’s look at the remainder of the transcript:

(ZIAFAT CONTINUING) But I would say just, you know, the fact that, if I may couple with what [FOLMAR] just said, the need for you to be in the church to be shepherded, because, as I see, you know, one catholic church, but yet there’s a need for the local church that you are involved in actually being cared for. Because from the very beginning God is known as a shepherd and His people the sheep of His pasture and Jesus taught His disciples how to shepherd and Peter tells fellow elders that you are to shepherd the flock of God among you. So all that to say, I would tell [the audience] that if they are not in a local church, that’s God’s setup for how He as the shepherd is gonna shepherd them through under-shepherds. And so I think that they need to be in that local church.

Ziafat never answers the question with respect to holiness. Instead he does what politicians do when there is a question they don’t want to answer. They try to distract you by rambling on and on over talking points that you would want to hear, hoping to impress you with their verbosity, all the while saying nothing of any substance (something at which politicians are very adept).

But notice what he does choose to talk about: the authority of the church in the lives of Christians. “…the need for you to be in the church to be shepherded…”, “…need for…actually being cared for…”, a local church is how God is “gonna shepherd them through under-shepherds…”, “…they need to be in that local church.” Authority, authority, authority.

I am not the only one who notices that Ziafat doesn’t answer the question. DeYoung realized it too. But rather than put him on the spot, he bails him out by actually answering the question for him. I mean, these guys have to stick together, right?

DEYOUNG: Right, for the accountability, for, you know, if the leaders of the church are accountable before God for their people you need to have some kind of membership, or to whom or for whom are they accountable, and that holy aspect is called out ones out from the world into this fellowship, shepherded, guided…

This is just one example of how these guys perceive themselves and you. You need to be shepherded for your own good. I am reminded once again of what John Immel said at the 2012 TANC conference regarding the metaphysical assumptions of reformed theology – man is fundamentally incompetent to be able to comprehend truth and know good; he therefore needs have good dictated to him; that dictated good is accomplished by the institutional church through divine mediators who presume to stand in God’s stead. And this is all done under the pretense of being done for your own good, since you poor schlubs don’t know any better.

This was the tenor of this entire panel discussion, that we should just be so thankful that we have these “godly” men to guide us poor incompetent masses though our ignorance, and we should just listen to them so that we don’t screw up our lives. I find such arrogance and condescension appalling, especially since these men are such intellectual pinheads who couldn’t come up with an original thought among the four of them to save their lives. They are simply regurgitating what they themselves have been taught. That much is obvious from this example.

~ Andy

The Philosophy of the Reformation and Its Historical Impact, by John Immel – Part 1

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2012 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on December 14, 2017

Taken from John Immel’s first session at the 2012 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
Published with permission
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 3
Click here to read Part 4

I was listening to the radio and a song by one of our modern philosophers came on.

Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler, lead singer, Aerosmith

“There’s something wrong with the world today.
I don’t know what it is.
Something is wrong with our eyes.
We’re seeing things in a different way.
And God knows it ain’t His.
It sure ain’t no surprise.”

This is from a song by Aerosmith, “Living on the Edge.” The song’s refrain says over and over that we can’t help from falling.

It is true: there is something world with the world today. But I contend that it is not inevitable that we fall.

Throughout my life I have been involved in various flavors of Christianity, and I continually found myself running up against the same interaction over and over and over. And, of course, for the longest time the easy criticism was, “It’s you. You’re the problem.” There are a lot of doctrines within Christianity that affirm that – yeah, it’s probably you. If there is a problem, you are probably the problem.

But then I began to realize that the same problem exists whether I’m involved in the social dynamic or not.

How is that possible? How is it possible that I can go from denomination to denomination to denomination – from Word of Faith to Charismatic to Baptist to Methodist – and it didn’t matter?

After much thinking I arrived at what I believe is the root of all failed human actions.

The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3:1-3

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

The words “logic” or “logically” in this context refers to the consistent progression of a given set of ideas. That does not mean the ideas are logical in the sense that it is accurate thinking. I am talking about how Idea “A” through Idea “Z” go together to create an entire perspective. What I realized was that when the same people take the same action, they will produce the same outcome.

Let me break this down by section.

Verse 1 says: assumptions + logic = action.
Verse 2 says: faulty logic or erroneous rationalizations = ideas that flow from one to the next to the next.
Verse 3 concludes: mass action + destructive outcomes = common premise.

Something is wrong with the world today, but I submit that the error is imbedded in common faulty root assumptions. When I surveyed history and I saw men taking the exact same steps, coming to the exact same conclusions generation after generation, millennia after millennia, I realized they all held similar root assumption about man and about life.

Typically, when I start talking like this is people say something like: “Well, people just need Jesus.” What they mean to say is that ideas are irrelevant unless the mystical solution of “Jesus” is applied to the problem. But that can’t be right because other people might say: “Well, people just need Buddha,” and still others might say, “Well, if Islam ruled the world, all the problems would go away.”

And here is why “people just need Jesus,” is no answer to the world’s problems: bromides are not solutions. Bromides never address the forces driving the problem.

The problem with faith is people tend to take their own faith very personally and very seriously . . . and very uncritically. They tend to assume that faith equals a license to subjectivity; that they are entitled to believe whatever they happen to believe just because they believe it.

So the challenge that I have forever run up against is that when I start talking about digging into the roots of our assumptions, the reaction is, “You know what? That’s complicated. That requires me to think. And I don’t really care to do that too terribly much.”

I am sympathetic on many levels to that frustration. We would like to say to ourselves, “The declaration of God’s love is so simple. Why on earth does this have to be complicated?” I understand that frustration. It seems that if something is so simple, the process of believing should be left to that simplicity. But here is the challenge – I contend that theological bumper stickers are not simple because thinking is at no point simple.

Let us use the following metaphor to try to illustrate this complexity. Throwing a ball seems like a very rudimentary process. You let it go. It goes from point “A” to point “B”. Yet no matter how many times you throw a ball from point A to point B, it consistently drops to the earth. Now consider the question, why does the ball always hit the ground? Some very smart people put together the physics of throwing a ball.

D = (Vo ˟ sinθ ˟ t) + (½A ˟ t2) + h

where:
D = distance
Vo = initial velocity
θ = initial arc angle
t = time
A = acceleration
h = initial height

Since I am no math wizard, I could not begin to explain to you the details of this equation. But that’s okay. I don’t have to. What I want you to understand is that a child throwing a football on the beach is engaging in the above formula. This formula details the level of complexity that is involved in throwing a ball from point “A” to point “B” even though a child can perform the action.

Now back to the issue at hand: thinking about what we believe and why.

Thinking is hard because thinking is also complex. It is just as complex as, if not more so, than throwing a ball because thinking is the mechanics of human action. This is where we get our energy to act in life. From the time when we are old enough to recognize our own consciousness to start motivating ourselves through life, the thing that dominates us every waking moment of our lives are the thoughts that we specifically put into action.

Here is the beauty of my metaphor – ideas are just as calculable as the mechanics in throwing the ball.

People want simplicity but it is in the details that we find the root problems. You may read articles on discernment blogs discussing the issue of “New Calvinism” or a resurgence of Calvinism and Reformed theology. Most people will conclude that denouncing the doctrines of those movements is grand conspiracy. The real solution is if a few “misled” souls would just get on the right path then all will be well with the church.

But the reality is conspiracy as an explanation does not satisfy the discussion of New Calvinism any more than liberation theology describes why America is treading down the path of Marxism, or why Marxism has dominated the whole of the western world, or why Islam is on the rise throughout the globe.

boris-badenovPeople prefer conspiracies. “Christians” would rather hear people say it is the Illuminati or the Bilderbergers or some dastardly mastermind twirling his mustache in a hideaway, spending lots of money to compel people to do things and take mass action. People prefer conspiracy and world masterminds because that is easy. Conspiracies are easy. Thinking is hard.

I contend that the issue driving the world towards the edge is ideas, and ideas are hard. Ideas demand that individuals invest a stunning amount of personal discipline. You must bring your “A” game every minute of every day to be about ideas.

Consider once again the metaphor of throwing a ball. There is a specific problem with that metaphor. It is the issue of gravity. When you throw a ball, of course, the ball at the end of its trajectory hits the ground. It is the existence of gravity within that equation which leads people to believe that the ball must hit the ground every time it is thrown. Because of that gravity, my metaphor tends to break down because in the grand scheme of ideas, I am overtly saying that we can control what we think. If we can understand the progression and the mechanics of our thinking, then we can arrive at a different outcome. But historically, the inevitability of the “gravity” of human action is the observation that man tends down the path of his own self-destruction over and over and over. It is this very observation which has been used as a case in point to say that man is in effect “depraved.”

So how do I remedy the weakness of my metaphor? How do I integrate the immutability of “gravity” with the power of choice and the ability of man to set his own course?

The answer is, change the beginning assumption.

The formula for throwing a ball assumes that you are in an environment affected by gravity. The formula for throwing a ball assumes that your desired outcome is to propel the ball from point “A” to point “B.” Yet with the right amount of velocity, acceleration, and arc, it would be possible to put a ball into orbit or escape gravity altogether. Therein lies the consistency with the metaphor.

I contend that when you challenge the assumptions that have dominated the whole of the western world, you can arrive at a new set of assumptions, and those assumptions can defy the “gravity” that has driven men down to self-destruction.

puritan-whippingSo now let’s discuss Calvinism, New Calvinism, and Reformation theology. The question is: why within this emergent movement do we see such consistent actions, such consistent outcomes, such consistent stories of oppression and domination and coercion? Why, from one congregation to the next, do you see the exact same outcomes?

To answer these questions, we must first find the assumptions, and that means we are going to have to take on ideas. It takes enormous effort to fully evaluate the content of ideas. This is the process of education and expertise. One must be specifically aware of one’s own thoughts. This is intentional consciousness. From the time, you are old enough to say, “I want a cookie,” to the day you read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,” and every day after and in between, when you crack open a book and you read an equation and you determine to understand what the variables within that equation mean . . . all of these are examples of intentional consciousness.

It takes enormous discipline to order one’s thinking, to evaluate the progression from “A” to “Z.” It takes enormous effort to arrive at real logic, or non-contradictory thinking. Real reason is the determination to understand the over-arching mechanics of your own individual consciousness. By order I mean non-contradictory logic. It is what happens when you can follow the progression of thought from “A” to “B” to “C” to “D,” and you do not find any inconsistencies in that progression. Such a process takes enormous self-definition, that is, an absolute trust in one’s own rational faculties. And this requires self-esteem.

Bookmark the concept self-esteem.

My root assumption is that man is rationally competent. This assumption defies almost all historic Christian doctrine. Now the term “self-esteem” in American culture has been so utterly corrupted that I hesitate to use it, but it still captures what I’m after; an identification of the effectiveness of self. But you cannot get to self-esteem by someone holding your hand, patting you on the back, and telling you that you are okay. You can only get to self-esteem by doing the work, overcoming challenges, and succeeding.

The definition of human consciousness and self-esteem comes from the ability to successfully prevail over challenges. By contrast “New Calvinism” or Reformed theology is designed to undermine this ability at the root. It is designed to undermine man at his most fundamental level. It is designed to eradicate his specific ethical egoistic self. Most people don’t understand that every argument you encounter in Calvinist doctrinal debate, whether it is the distinction between sanctification and justification, or whether it is your moral right to keep the substance of what you have, are all moral arguments designed to de-legitimize your self-esteem. The doctrines fueling the argument are designed to condemn you at your root: to prevent you from having the right to your own self and your moral responsibility for the sum and substance of your own life.

What I am describing is the study of philosophy. In the western world since Immanuel Kant, philosophy has been utterly corrupted, and thus most people have a negative impression of philosophy. And Christians are particularly fond of flipping the page over to Paul’s consternation with what he called “vain philosophies” in order to de-legitimize discussing ideas. But regardless of how you feel, since philosophies exist, you need figure out how to deal with “vain philosophies.” So despite Paul’s anxiety over “vain” philosophies, it follows that understanding good philosophies is important.

Here’s the reality: the ideas we encounter are no accident, and the outcomes are not happenstance. The source of all world evil can be found in evil ideas, or evil philosophies. The outcomes of those ideas have been displayed over and over and over, so we know they are evil. Christians are then confronted with this reality: if the world remains evil then the solutions we have been offering do not work. So one more sermon, one more frothing-at-the-mouth preacher, one more guy pounding his ESV will not fix the problem.

Instead we must have the courage to think, or maybe better said: rethink. Unless people are willing to turn on their minds and challenge their deepest-held beliefs, finding the solution is impossible. Nothing will change. It won’t matter how much we dissect sanctification and justification or the centrality of the cross. It won’t matter how many scriptures we stack up in service to pet doctrines. It won’t matter how much we rail against misplaced church government (Is it presbytery? Is it democracy? Is it papacy? et al). That has already been done over and over and over, council after council, synod after synod, inter-Nicene fight after inter-Nicene fight. For the first time in history, men must rethink the historical fight from its roots.

05f15a210000044d-3418861-misery_scenes_after_the_liberation_of_belsen_in_april_1945_the_p-a-34_1453911882121Mystic despots have always ruled over the masses with portents and disasters for those who dared to live life beyond the mediocre. Tyrants can only succeed when men refuse to think. Autocrats rely on being able to compel outcomes because no one opposes their arguments. This is the challenge that I have as a man who is passionate about thinking: to inspire people to engage in understanding and scrutinizing the complex ideas that drive tyranny.

So here’s my challenge: do not be seduced into believing that righteousness is retreat from the world. Do not be seduced into believing that spirituality is defined by weakness and that timid caution for fear of committing potential error is a reason to be quiet. Do not be intimidated by vague, hazy threats of failure. Do not let yourself believe that faith is a license to irrationality. Do not mistake the simple nature of God’s love as a justification for simple-mindedness. Do not deceive yourself with the polite notion that you are above the fray, that your right to believe is sufficient to the cause of righteousness. There is no more stunning conceit. Do not pretend that your unwillingness to argue is the validation of truth.

Know this: virtue in a vacuum is like the proverbial sound in the forest – irrelevant without a witness. Character is no private deed. To retreat is nothing more than a man closing his eyes and shutting his mouth to injustice. Virtues are not estimates to be wafted gently against evil. Virtues are not to be withheld from view in the name of grace. Virtues are not to be politely swallowed in humble realization that we are all just sinners anyway. Love is not a moral blank check against the endless tide of indulgent action. Love is not blind to the cause and effect of reality. Love is not indifference to plunder and injustice and servitude.

The time is now, you men of private virtue, to emerge from your fortress of solitude and demonstrate that you are worthy of a life that bears your name. The time is now, you men of private virtue, to answer Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and all the nihilists that insist we are living on the edge and we cannot help but fall.   It is time for you men of private virtue to take up the cause of human existence and think.

~ John Immel


Click here to read Part 2
Click here to read Part 3
Click here to read Part 4

Pagan Thinkers Inspiration Found In Augustinian Aesthetics

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 23, 2017

As John Immel so successfully detailed for us in past TANC conferences, Augustinian orthodoxy (and ultimately authentic reformation Protestantism)  is a fusion of Christianity and ancient pagan philosophy. The theological pedigree can be traced from men like Thales and Pythagoras to Plato to Plotinus. So then it should come as no surprise that medeival cathedral builders paid homage to these pagan thinkers in the construction of their cathedrals since they were so influential in shaping the orthodoxy.

God’s Acknowledgment of “Self” and the Full Circle of the Ten Commandments.

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 12, 2017

Originally Published May 25, 2016

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” ~ Exodus 3:14

When Jehovah (I Am) identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He did more than just tell Moses His name. God made a philosophical statement about reality. God acknowledged His own existence, and in so doing He declared His intrinsic rights because of that existence. Furthermore, by acknowledging His own existence, God also recognized man’s existence. I believe this is at the heart of what the Bible means when it says that man was made in God’s image. We have a right to “self” because God has a right to “self”.   And for us to acknowledge our own right to “self” demands that we by extension must acknowledge others’ right to “self”, just as God acknowledges ours.

Do not misunderstand what I mean by “right to self”. I do not mean “self-ishness”, which the Bible clearly decries. “Selfishness” means to love oneself MORE than another. On the other hand, the Bible never teaches us to love others more than ourselves. Said another way, the Bible doesn’t teach that we should love ourselves LESS than others. It says we are to love others AS MUCH AS we love ourselves. Herein is the way in which we acknowledge another’s right to “self”, we treat others as WE would want to be treated. We see our own value as an individual and in so doing recognize that others have that same value. That value includes one’s right to existence and the means necessary to sustain that existence. The United States’ Declaration of Independence embodied that idea in this way:

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”

“That all men are created equal” is to recognize that all men have the same basic right to “self” and to existence, and that equality of individualism is preserved in the rights to seek those things which would secure that existence. No one ever has the right to violate another’s right to “self”, EVEN GOD!

In a conversation with a close friend the other day, I posed the question, “why is stealing wrong?” My friend replied that stealing is wrong because God said so; it’s in the Ten Commandments. Stealing is wrong because God said, “Thou shalt not steal.” I then followed up with the next question, “Why did God say stealing is wrong?” For this my friend had no answer. All he could say was, “I don’t know, I never thought about it before.”

You see for my friend, as it is with most people (particularly Christians), that God “said it” was enough for him. It was nothing more than an appeal to authority. An authority says this or that, so we must do it or not do it. This is the same reasoning that led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews while millions of others gave their tacit approval. People’s behaviors are the product of their assumptions, to paraphrase John Immel. No matter how irrational the behavior may seem, if you find the assumption you will find the reason for the action.

So why DID God say that stealing is wrong? It is a simple question, and once challenged to think, my friend finally did ask it of me. Stealing is wrong because it is a violation of “self”, of the individual. Our possessions are the products of our labors which are an investment of ourselves. Your labor is an exchange of value. You enter into that exchange with an employer who trades you wages for your investment of yourself. Those wages then in turn are exchanged for those things that are necessary to further your existence – food, clothing, shelter, etc. – and if there is any surplus, luxuries – car, mobile phone, flat screen TV, etc. So in reality, everything you produce – labor, wages, food, clothing, car, TV, etc. – is a product of you as an individual. For someone to steal those things from you is to violate “you” (self) because those things represent what the individual produced as a function of “self”. You have a right to them because you produced them because you have a right to “self”.

Contrary to what people/Christians are taught, the Bible is not a theological book. It is a philosophical book. And the Ten Commandments in particular are not simply an authoritative codification of do’s and don’ts. It is a philosophical statement from God to man about the value of the individual. It is a statement about how God values Himself, and it is a statement about how God values man. Conversely it is a statement of how man is to value God and how man is to value man. God’s very first statement to man is an appeal to God’s own sense of “self” and value. God as an individual. “I am God. I exist. I have value.” Therefore, the way we show God that we value Him is to have no other gods before Him! We do not make vain attempts to conceptualize God’s sense of “self” by making an image to represent that. We do not mock God’s name because His name is intrinsically tied to who He is. To violate God’s name is to violate who He is.

Man, too, has value as “self”. Therefore, we honor our parents, we don’t murder, we don’t commit adultery, we don’t steal, we don’t lie, and we don’t covet, not because God said so, but because we acknowledge that this would violate another person’s right to “self”. This is the basis for morality. It can be said then that the definition of morality is anything that does not violate God or man as “self”.

God’s command to not covet seems all-encompassing. The last commandment perfectly reduces everything down to the root motivation for all violations of “self”. And that is self-ISHNESS. A desire to usurp for oneself that which rightfully belongs to another. And as we have said before, that is a desire caused by Sin. The Bible describes Sin as an entity that seeks to control others. It seeks to master and enslave. It seeks to violate another for it’s own benefit, to wield control over another.

The New Testament offers another perspective on covetousness.

“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” ~ Ephesians 5:5

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” ~ Colossians 3:5

The apostle Paul had a unique insight among the other apostles in that he was a certified expert on Jewish law. This perspective gave him an ability to draw parallels between Old Testament and New Testament concepts that the others did not. Peter even declared that many of the things which Paul taught were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).   In these two passages in particular, Paul sees covetousness as being nothing more than idolatry. I’m not exactly sure how he gets there since he doesn’t elaborate on it.

Still, it is an interesting piece to the puzzle. Consider that one of the Ten Commandments speaks to idolatry. When one thinks of graven images, one usually thinks of idolatry. But Paul seems to suggest that idolatry involves more than just “idol worship”. It is a violation of God as “self”. Covetousness is a violation of man as “self”. What Paul has done here is to show the intrinsic relationship between the two. To violate man is to violate God, and to violate God is to violate man. Do not misunderstand, I am in no way suggesting that man IS God. But I do want to point out that there is a mutual recognition between God and man with respect to existence.

So to violate the tenth commandment is to violate the first, and thus we have come full circle. The Ten Commandments then are not statutes in and of themselves. It is not a means for God to show us “filthy rotten sinners” just how “holy He is” and how “sinful we are.”  It is a full-orbed treatise on morality and existence. It is not a law for authority’s sake. It is God instructing us on reality. What we see in the Bible is that LOVE is the motivating factor in all of this. To love someone is to ascribe value to them. Perhaps this is the relationship between idolatry and covetousness. To idolize something is to objectify it, to assign value based on its desirableness to oneself instead of an individual’s intrinsic value as another individual.

Whatever the case may be, when we show love to God and others, we have thus fulfilled the whole law because in this way we demonstrate a like view of both man and God, and we see reality the way God sees it.

Andy

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