Grudem: Politics not really according to the Bible

Wayne Grudem: Politics according to the BibleA few months ago I had some quite positive things to say about Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible – although I had not read the book, and still have not. Already in my comments on that post I was less positive, and suggested that

this is by no means a book I could recommend.

I would now like to reaffirm that in stronger terms, in the light of Mako Nagasawa’s post Wayne Grudem’s Misuse of Scripture in “Politics According to the Bible”. Nagasawa claims, and provides good evidence to demonstrate, that

Grudem’s biblical foundations are deeply faulty, and … many Christians who read him are being led to very wrong conclusions and opinions.

The main criticism is of Grudem’s conclusion that the Bible affirms

the right of the individual to acquire as much wealth and private property as possible by all lawful and moral means.

Nagasawa argues that Grudem has misused the Old Testament passages on which he bases this conclusion. Indeed he writes that

Leviticus 25 demonstrates that God’s vision for biblical Israel was virtually the opposite that Wayne Grudem has for America. …

For people to have the unlimited ability to accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children is precisely the opposite of what Leviticus 25 says.

Nagasawa clearly demonstrates this point, and shows that this material from the Law of Moses cannot be used to support Grudem’s conclusions. Ancient Israel was nothing like the conservative vision for 21st century America.

Now, as Nagasawa recognises, there are serious issues with using these instructions for a theocratic state to support any kind of political vision for today, whether more like Grudem’s or Nagasawa’s. The more appropriate Old Testament material for us to consider today is about how individuals among God’s people were politically active in states which did not worship Yahweh. But when we look at the most prominent such individual, Joseph, and at how his government nationalised the livestock and the land in Egypt (Genesis 47:13-26), we find more support for Nagasawa’s position than for Grudem’s.

Politics in the Bible, Wayne Grudem, and NIV 2011

Long term readers of Gentle Wisdom will know that I am no admirer of Wayne Grudem. I have not always been negative about him. But I have been critical of his complementarian position restricting women in ministry. I have pointed out how he has persistently made errors of fact in his biblical arguments for that position. I have rejected his doctrine of functional subordination within the Trinity. And I have had especially strong words to say, mostly elsewhere, about the intemperate and unscholarly way in which Grudem led the condemnation of the TNIV Bible.

So I am happy that Grudem has kept quiet about the NIV 2011 update. I haven’t found any mention of it by him since its publication. Very likely he shares the concerns so strongly expressed by Denny Burk, who has taken his place as the chief spokesman of CBMW on such matters. But he has not put the authority of his name and reputation behind a destructive campaign in the way that he did with TNIV. Rod Decker is wrong to suggest that he has done, while making a good point about Grudem’s hypocrisy over singular “they”. One consequence of Grudem’s silence is that very likely NIV 2011 will become widely accepted, as TNIV was not, as the successor of the 1984 NIV.

Wayne Grudem: Politics according to the BibleBut I wonder if there is something other than a change of heart behind Grudem’s reticence on NIV 2011. This could be related to his book Politics According to the Bible. As this book is published by Zondervan, and promoted on their Koinonia blog, there could be contract conditions preventing Grudem from publicly condemning NIV 2011, another Zondervan product. And Grudem would certainly be wise not to cross the lawyers for News Corporation, owners of Zondervan. Yes, Zondervan is part of Rupert Murdoch’s controversial empire, which goes to show that even the worst egg can be good in parts.

The Koinonia post is an extract from an interview with Grudem by the Acton Institute, about his book – which is actually not as new as I thought at first, as it was published in September last year. Now this is another book that I am mentioning without having read it, so please don’t take this as a review (whatever post categories this might be in). I am responding only to what is in the Acton Institute interview. But I must say I was more favourably impressed than I have been with other things I have seen from Grudem. He has a number of excellent things to say in the interview, including this:

I found that in the Bible there were many examples of God’s people influencing secular governments. I am arguing in the book that it is a spiritually good thing and it is pleasing to God when Christians can influence government for good.

In view of his position on women’s rights in the church and family, this is somewhat ironic:

Christian influence led to granting property rights and other protections to women at various times through history.

But Christian political activity needs to be put in the right context:

My book seeks to warn Christians away from the temptation of thinking if we just elect the right leaders and pass the right laws, we will have a good nation. That fails to understand that a genuine transformation of a nation will not come about unless peoples’ hearts are changed so that they have a desire to do what is right and live in obedience to good laws.

I am somewhat ambivalent on what Grudem says about unemployment benefit, but he is asking the right questions:

… we are to care for the poor and those in need, and the Bible frequently talks about the need to care for the poor. I think government has a legitimate role in providing a safety net for those who are in genuine need of food, clothing and shelter.

There is also a strong strand of biblical teaching that emphasizes the importance of work to earn a living. … The longer that unemployment benefits are continued, the more we contribute to the idea that some people should not have to work in order to earn a living, but we should just continue to have government support them. That creates a culture of dependency, which is unhealthy for the nation and unhealthy for the people who are dependent, year after year, on government handouts.

Indeed. But this needs to be balanced by a realisation that, within our modern economic system, there are many people who genuinely want to earn their own living but are unable to do so, for personal reasons or because no work is available. In our society these are the poor that the Bible calls us to support, for the long term at least in the case of needy widows (1 Timothy 5:9). There is no place in Christian teaching for benefits being cut off after a fixed period.

Grudem finishes as follows:

It is important for Christians to settle in their hearts that God is in control over history, and His purposes will be accomplished.

The last chapter of my book has to do with combining work to bring good influence to government, coupled with faith in God and prayer that God’s good purposes will reign in earthly governments. I think we have to do both things, because God hears prayers, and He also works through the efforts and actions of human beings who are seeking to influence government for good.

Amen!

NIV 2011: Denny Burk condemns it, most are lukewarm

Suzanne writes that her prophecy here at Gentle Wisdom has come true. I’m not so sure, especially as she has denied referring to John Hobbins. This is what she wrote here, in a comment on my post NIV 2011 Update: first impressions:

I predict that complementarians will completely reject the new NIV because of 1 Tim. 2:12, 1 Cor. 11:10, the paragraphing of Eph. 5:21-22, and Romans 16:7. John Piper has already spoken vociferously against the NIV 1984, perhaps to pave the way for a full rejetion of the NIV 2011.

But as far as I can tell John Piper and the other well known complementarians who intemperately rejected TNIV, such as Wayne Grudem, have had little or nothing to say about the NIV 2011 update. Vern Poythress has written a review, but he seems less concerned by its gender-related language than that

Overall, the NIV 2011 translation appears inconsistent or uneven

– a concern that I share. Even World Magazine, which led the condemnation of NIV Inclusive Language Edition by calling it the “Stealth Bible”, has offered only mild disapproval of the 2011 update.

It has been in the news recently that the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution against the NIV 2011 update and calling on its LifeWay bookshops to boycott it. But this was a last minute motion from the floor of the house, not supported by the convention organisers, which was voted on without the case in favour of the update even being presented. I expect that when LifeWay realises the financial implications of withdrawing one of its best selling Bible versions they will quietly ignore the resolution.

By contrast, as I reported at Better Bibles Blog, another very conservative group, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, looks likely to accept the NIV 2011 update. A WELS committee has considered the update very carefully and issued a long and detailed report recommending the Synod to formally accept the it.

Denny BurkThe only significant strong negative reaction to the NIV 2011 that I have seen has come from Denny Burk. But Suzanne cannot claim to be a prophet about this, as I had already linked to Burk’s initial complaint in my post. Since then he has written quite a lot more, including a paper in JBMW. In this he comes to similar conclusions to mine in that same post, that NIV 2011 has retained most of the gender-related language of TNIV but about 25% of what some people objected to has been revised.

Predictably Burk singles out for comment in this JBMW paper 1 Timothy 2:12, which he calls “The Most Contested Verse in the Gender Debate”. He bases his argument on Köstenberger’s highly dubious argument (which I discussed here in 2006) that the disputed Greek word here, authentein, cannot have negative connotations. He then completely ruins his case, in the eyes of scholars rather than of blind followers of “Reformed” heroes, by quoting and relying on an error of fact by Wayne Grudem. Grudem wrote that the TNIV and NIV 2011 rendering “assume authority” is “a highly suspect and novel translation”, when in fact, as Suzanne had shown (originally in 2009) and tried to point out to Burk, it comes straight from Calvin’s commentary, as translated by Pringle in the 19th century – and is clearly less negative in its connotations than “usurp authority” in KJV.

The autobiographical notes at the start of Burk’s paper recount how at the age of 17 he acquired an NIV Bible and started to read it avidly. He calls himself

one whose testimony has been inexorably shaped by the NIV translation.

So it is not surprising that he is attached to the 1984 version of NIV and has strong negative reactions to any changes to it. This kind of conservatism is a natural human reaction to change. But it is not the way of our God who makes all things new.

In the USA there is a strong KJV-only movement, which idolises this 400-year-old versions and will accept no Bible. I wonder, does Denny Burk want to lead an NIV-1984-only movement? I think he will find this much harder than his skateboarding tricks.

Did Jesus accept one each of gay and lesbian couples?

Bible-Thumping Liberal Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, most people say. But Ron Goetz, the Bible-Thumping Liberal, doesn’t quite agree, in a post Luke’s Gay Apocalypse: “Two Men in One Bed”:

Well, technically, he didn’t, at least not as an abstract category. But he did mention four gays and lesbians–flesh and blood, living, breathing homosexuals.

Thanks to John Meunier for the link. But is there any substance in this apparently improbable claim? Here is the passage in which Goetz finds this mention:

I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.

Luke 17:34-35 (NIV 2011)

And I’m sorry to say that this translation already shows the weakness of Goetz’s argument. He quotes the verses from KJV, which reads “two men” where the updated NIV has “two people”, and misunderstands “men” as implying that these two people are male. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Greek text to suggest that they are. So, if we reject as Goetz does the argument that in ancient times men who were not sexual partners, and perhaps whole families, often shared beds, we end up with the conclusion that these two in one bed are what they most commonly are, at least in our culture: a married couple.

Now some might want to argue differently from the Greek text, noting that the words translated “one” and “the other” are both masculine in verse 34 (but feminine in verse 35). But that is easily explained. Jesus clearly didn’t want to specify either that the man was taken and the woman left or vice versa. So, in the Greek version of his words, the appropriate grammatical gender was used for people of unknown sex, and that is the masculine.

Sadly Goetz has been led astray in the same way as Wayne Grudem, although in a different direction. Both were brought up in the 1960s reading Bible versions, like KJV and RSV, in which the word “man” was often intended to be understood in its older gender generic sense. But both misunderstood some of these passages according to the male only sense of “man” which has dominated in English at least since those 1960s. And sadly they read their misunderstandings back into the original language Bible text, and allowed them to reinforce their very different cultural presuppositions.

Goetz does better in looking at the context, to answer the objection that his interpretation goes against it. He finds the mention of Sodom in verses 28-29, and writes:

I don’t believe the sin of Sodom was homosexuality. But there are many today who believe that it was, and I think most of the Jewish believers in Luke’s audience may have believed it as well.

Jesus knew that by recounting key details of Sodom’s destruction, his audience would have man-on-man sex on its mind.  Jesus intended for us to understand that the “two men in one bed” were gay. It is no accident that for more than a hundred years every minister preaching on the rapture from Luke 17 has had to disavow the sexual content of verse 34.

The problem here is that Goetz seems to be extrapolating this understanding of the sin of Sodom back from “today” and “for more than a hundred years” to nearly 2000 years ago, at first tentatively with “most … may have believed” and then as an unqualified assertion “Jesus knew”. But, as Joel quoted only a few days ago from Jennifer Wright Knust’s words in the New York Times,

“Sodomy” as a term for gay male sex began to be commonly used only in the 11th century and would have surprised early religious commentators. They attributed Sodom’s problems with God to many different causes, including idolatry, threats toward strangers and general lack of compassion for the downtrodden.

So I’m afraid Goetz’s case from the context looks very weak – and ironically the arguments against it come from his fellow liberal Bible scholars like Knust.

Goetz is more convincing in his follow-up posts on “Two Women Grinding Together,” part 1 and part 2, when he argues that in verse 35 the word “grind” is being used as a metaphor for lesbian sexual activity. Unfortunately he ruins his argument towards the end of part 2, when he tries to connect the Greek verb Luke uses, aletho “grind”, with letho “be unseen” and aletheia “truth”. His suggestion that aletho can be split up as a-letho and so originally meant “not be unseen” looks to me like a folk etymology. The 19th century Greek scholars Liddell and Scott were far more likely correct to see aletho as a variant of aleo, the verb for “grind” used by Plutarch as a euphemism for lesbianism.

So did Luke intend these verses to be about homosexuality? I don’t think we can rule this out completely. It seems to me unlikely that it was his main intention. But I would accept that there might have been some deliberate innuendo in his wording, to leave open the possibility that even in same-sex couples one might be taken and the other left behind. And, as I discussed concerning the parallel passage in Matthew in the first of my recent posts on the Rapture, in this case the one who is taken goes not to heaven but to God’s judgment.

That parallel in Matthew, 24:40-41, is interesting because in it there is almost no possibility of a reference to homosexuality. It is daytime, and the first two people are working together in a field, whereas, as Goetz also discusses, the two women are explicitly grinding at a mill, not Blake’s “dark satanic” variety but a hand-mill. Now I am usually rather sceptical about using source criticism in exegesis. But in the case of such a parallel between Matthew and Luke I think most source critics would hold that Matthew’s version is closer to the original version of the saying. That implies that it is closer to what Jesus really said.

So it seems highly improbable that in this saying Jesus was at all talking about homosexuals. His message is not that only one of each gay couple and one of each lesbian couple will be taken away to be judged, and the other will escape by being left behind. Rather it is to all of us, irrespective of sexual orientation. We will not escape just because our partner, at work or in the sexual sense, does, but each of us individually will face God’s judgment. And it will come at a time that

no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, [nor even Harold Camping!,] but only the Father.

Matthew 24:36 (NIV 2011)

Does God know the future? Does prayer make a difference?

California pastor TC Robinson burst on to the blogging scene a few months ago with his blog New Leaven. (I assume he is male, and not a woman using initials rather than a first name to disguise her gender, because he admits to a wife and two kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much these days in California!) This is one of the most prolific blogs I read with an average of more than four posts a day. It is also one of the most consistently interesting and thought-provoking, as TC consistently finds subjects which are both serious and entertaining and very often lead to long comment thread discussions. I disagree with TC on a number of issues, but it is always good to discuss them with him and others on his blog.

When I call him TC I can’t help remembering the Top Cat cartoons of my childhood, in which the hero was known as TC. But I don’t recognise Pastor Robinson as the leader of the bloggers’ gang!

Among TC’s posts recently have been several on Open Theism, which is basically the idea that God does not predetermine the future or even know it in advance. So far he has written ten posts in this category. It was partly in response to one of these posts that I wrote my post God the Blogger, to which TC responded.

Meanwhile Jeremy Pierce has reactivated his extremely long running Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, which touches on the same kinds of question. He has also posted an interesting essay on Prophecy in Harry Potter (see also the comments on this one); now I am not much interested in Harry Potter, but in this post issues also come up of whether even God can prophesy reliably about the future.

Open Theism has been rejected by many evangelical Christians, such as Wayne Grudem, because of its apparent implication that not even God knows the future. If not, they argue, how can God fulfil his purposes, and inspire accurate prophecies about what will happen? Surely, these people argue, the future is predetermined by God. This is in effect the position of Calvinists, who believe that God has predetermined who will be saved, if not necessarily every detail of the future. Yet it is difficult to see how this kind of determinism allows for any kind of human free will. But the Bible seems to affirm that humans do have free will, as for example in Psalm 32:9, and as such are responsible for their actions.

A related question is whether Christian prayer can make a real difference to the future. Some may hold that the real function of prayer is to bring us closer to God – and that people should not ask for anything specific, even for God to provide for others’ genuine needs. However, Jesus, especially in Matthew 7:7-11, seems to present prayer as a real process of making specific requests and seeing them fulfilled. But how can this be if God has already fixed the future before we pray?

Now there are very many complex arguments here, into which Jeremy goes in depth, and this is not the place to repeat them. One possible answer is provided by “compatibilism”, which is basically the idea that there are two separate but compatible descriptions of the world, one from our viewpoint in which human decisions are free, and another divine one according to which God has predetermined everything. I can also recommend here a rather heavy book which I have only skimmed but would like to read in more detail: Providence and Prayer by Terrance Tiessen.

I will simply state here where I think I stand at the moment. I’m not sure it is where I will always stand – at least that part of the future is open, or in God’s hands. But this is my present position:

I believe that God is sovereign over everything and quite capable of determining everything that will ever happen within the universe he created. He is eternal and outside this universe, and not subject to anything within it.

I believe that God has freely chosen to allow a real openness about the future of the universe. This is because he has delegated many of the decisions about its future to intelligent created beings, both spiritual ones, i.e. angels, and humans. This delegation of authority was intended to be for his own glory. But for reasons which I do not presume to understand in detail some of these created beings chose to reject God’s good purposes and use their delegated rights to make decisions against God. God could have simply taken away their right to decide, but for reasons hinted at in Psalm 32:9 he chose not to.

Nevertheless God is not bound by the universe or by time and therefore he can see into the future. He knows what will happen. He generally chooses not to intervene to overturn the consequences of human bad decisions, that is, human sin. However, he knows his own long term purposes for his creation as a whole and for particular individuals and groups in it. So he works in generally subtle ways within his creation to bring about his purposes. This may include calling particular people to particular works; but if they refuse to take up their calling, or mess it up, God finds other ways to fulfil his purposes.

Among the privileges which God has granted to those people who are committed to living according to his will is that he has promised to answer their prayers, to give to them whatever they ask for (Matthew 7:7-8, John 14:14). He will indeed do this, in ways which do not conflict with the free will of others, although not always in quite the way his people expect. But if what they ask goes against his general purposes, he will not be pleased with the person asking and may choose to work through other people in future. However, those whose prayers are closely aligned with God’s will, because they know that will and truly want to see it done, will find that God is more than pleased to answer not just the basics of their prayers but to give them abundantly more than they ask. As they live and pray according to God’s purposes they will be able to do great things with him and for his glory.

This post has already turned into quite a long essay. So I will leave it there. I await comments!

Phantaz Sunlyk on the Eternal Subordination of the Son

Nick Norelli continues his discussion of eternal subordinationism in the Trinity, which I reported earlier, by posting a link to a critique of Kevin Giles’ work by Phantaz Sunlyk (a.k.a. Matt Paulson). In fact the link that Nick posts is incorrect; this is the correct link.

Sunlyk’s paper is long and complex. I have skimmed a large part of it, although I skipped most of part III and part VI. At this point I can make the following necessarily provisional comments. To summarise, Sunlyk has made some telling criticisms of Giles’ work, although he fails to understand its thrust because of his unfamiliarity with the viewpoint Giles is interacting with. But in fact Sunlyk upholds Giles’ main point concerning the Trinity, that the relationship between the Father and the Son should not be understood in terms like “The Father commands, and the Son obeys.”

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Complementarianism: Sola Scriptura or Sola Traditio?

I don’t often read materials from the so-called “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW). They promote a complementarian position, that is (to put it rather tendentiously), that whereas men and women are supposedly equal in status, all of the roles in the church and the family which are generally considered to be of high status are reserved for men only. As my regular readers know, this is not my position. Authors associated with CBMW, such as Wayne Grudem, often try to justify their position from Scripture, but in my opinion, explained further below, their arguments are generally seriously deficient.

But my attention was drawn to a series of posts on the CBMW blog in which David Kotter, Executive Director of CBMW, responds to my blogger friend Molly Aley. See also the discussion here, and Molly’s response to the series (which includes an excellent account by Elijah McKnight of how he moved from complementarianism to egalitarianism when he learned a proper approach to the Scriptures).

In part 2 of the series Kotter seeks to root CBMW’s complementarian position in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura:

The complementary nature of manhood and womanhood and its implications for the home and church can only be defended from the Scripture alone.

But in fact neither his logic nor CBMW’s arguments for complementarianism support this conclusion.

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Adrian’s comments from December 2006 – the Grudem interview

Many of you will remember the controversy generated by Adrian Warnock’s interview of Wayne Grudem. The hundreds of comments posted there are in danger of being lost because of Adrian’s change of comment policy. Here I am rescuing them, and other comments from December 2006, for posterity. Unlike my previous set of comments from Adrian’s blog, I am doing these in chronological order. Again I intend to include the comments on every post which has any comments – in fact that is all of his posts in that  period when he was only starting to moderate comments. But this of course excludes any posts which Adrian has already deleted, and from what I remember there were quite a few of them in that month of controversy.

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