Saturday, May 23, 2009

Keach on the Importance of Preaching

"I am sure the devil has no greater delight than to know that preachers consort with his purpose of elevating the world above the Word. As long as anything appears more agreeable and palatable than the feast of grace set forth in Scripture, you forfeit the ordained means of grace and threaten to fill the church with mere professors and not true Christians."

--Benjamin Keach
Quoted by Tom Nettles in The Baptists, Volume 1, Beginnings in Britain (Mentor, 2005).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Neither "Beauty" nor "Queen"

Context for the titles of two recent posts should clarify their use.

But, in the event there remains any confusion on the issue, I am claiming to be neither a “Beauty” nor a “Queen,” nor especially the confluence of those descriptors, a “Beauty Queen.”

In fact, my only beauty queens are my wife, Carrie, and daughter, Audrey.

Sorry, boys: “Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” is especially apropos, although I wouldn’t expect that you prefer to be characterized “sugar and spice and everything nice.”

A Beauty Queen Looks at Federalism

In a previous post, I presented my perspective on how moral beliefs operate in a republican, federal system of government: If New Hampshire wants to recognize “gay marriage,” perhaps it should be able to. But Alabama, if it does not, should not be forced to go along with the nefarious nuptials simply because it, too, is one of these United States.

Some might respond that permitting New Hampshire to violate God’s law regarding marriage and sexuality is being disobedient, or giving in to decadent cultural forces.

But consider how federalism has operated with respect to abortion.

Many years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided that abortion, in certain circumstances, should be legal. This interpretation of law is considered binding on all the States. (There is considerable weight to the legal opinion that such decisions violate the Constitution’s grant of power to the central government.)

Since that time, sentiment regarding abortion in the seat of central power, Washington D.C., has been intractable. Those who abhorred abortion and lamented the Supreme Court’s decision used the federalist system to their advantage, seeking instead to change public opinion in individual States. In the process, citizens in many States have modified their view of abortion, and their States have severely restricted its legality.

The result of this approach is that public opinion is now decidedly different than it was in 1973. Recent surveys suggest that the number of abortions is at an all-time low, and that for the first time in many years a majority of Americans oppose unrestricted abortion.

Homosexual advocates have been using the same tactic for years, and are seeing the benefits.
So, federalism is a two-edged sword for Christians: opponents of decency and morality can seek to change public opinion and law just as we can. Yet federalism is decidedly better than the alternative. If all such decisions were made in Washington, so that the installation of a new administration or new congressional class changed such fundamental issues for the entire nation every two or four years, change would be constant and radical. The federal system, by contrast, requires that wholesale change be both slow and difficult.

(The appearances of “crises” such as occurred in the Depression, the current economic situation, and the Swine flu “pandemic” are frequently used to circumvent the federalist preference for slow and deliberate change.)

Alexis de Toqueville recognized the ingenuity of the U.S. system of government in that each branch of the central government served as a check against the unrestrained power of the other. In addition, the States serve to check the rampant power of the central government. The Federalist Papers sees the need for checks as stemming in the fallen nature of man. If all men were angels (holy and righteous), the Papers argues, we would not need any checks on government.

At present, the kingdom of Christ rules in the hearts of men, not in the halls of Congress. Until the Lord returns to fully consummate the inaugurated kingdom, federalism is perhaps the best we can do.

If I Were A Beauty Queen

Well, things would be strange, indeed. One would expect that the Mad Hatter would rush in at any moment, Alice would take a pill and grow into a giant, and the Queen of Hearts would recite her all-too-familiar mantra, “Off with his head.”

And headless I should be, if I were to merely enter a beauty contest, much less be crowned something or other.

I thought I would escape comment on Carrie Prejean – Miss California, and runner-up in the Miss USA pageant – but with ongoing revelations of the “windy day” photos from earlier in her career, the story just keeps on going, like a risqué Energizer Bunny®.

Most everyone should be familiar by now with the question that the contestant judge – Perez Hilton – asked Prejean about “gay marriage.” Another state had decided to permit it, so what did she think? Prejean indicated that she was pleased that our civic arrangements permit people choose to engage in such rites, but that her rearing taught her that God desired marriage to be between one woman and one man. Prejean did fairly well, I thought, for a 21-year-old. (How has she responded since then to the fawning Christian community and the ‘windy day’ photos? Not so much.)

So, I wondered what I would have said to such a question. At the age of 21, I probably would have said something coarse and completely unbiblical. So, I rejected what would have been the indiscretions of my youth and wondered what I would have said now.

Put aside, if possible, the image you might be having of a 41-year-old male beauty contestant, “drummer extraordinaire” or not.

You must know that I am an ardent traditionalist, in the sense that I believe God designed and gave to us the marriage relationship, and that any given marriage should be between one man and one woman. Given recent scientific developments and medical advances (see Al Mohler’s article about gender confusion), I should probably say that marriage should be between one-who-has-always-been-a-man and one-who-has-always-been-a-woman, not in the man-trapped-in-a-woman’s-body sense, but in the Garden of Eden sense, fig leaves and all.

I am, also, an ardent federalist, not in the sense that all power should be concentrated in a central government (as in ‘the Feds’), but in the 10th Amendment sense that these United States retain power not explicitly granted by the Constitution to the government in Washington, D.C. (see, e.g., the Federalist Society and the Tenth Amendment Center). Local groups of citizens (the States) are better able to reflect their moral consensus than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. If, for example, my fellow citizens in Alabama decided to permit ‘gay marriage,’ and if I felt strongly enough about it, I should be able to move to Arizona, where they don’t. The beauty of the U.S. system is that not all States are required to do and believe the same things.

(Some years back a couple of law school friends and I were discussing a federal judge’s ruling that Alabama must remove the Ten Commandments display from the State Courthouse. They simply accepted – as undisputed historical truth – that the central government could order a State what to do with its own property. When I suggested that the Alabama governor ignore the order, they were incredulous. This attitude that the central government is sovereign over all issues is part of the cause for many of our problems today.)

So, my response to Perez Hilton’s question might have gone something like this:

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whom I serve in the Lord Jesus Christ, gave mankind the institution of marriage as a gift to enjoy and as the means by which we populate the earth, and he instructed us that it is to be between one man and one woman. However, the United States is not the kingdom of Christ, and the citizens of the several States should be free to determine this issue as their respective faiths and consciences dictate.

“My hope would be that as God draws men to himself, prompting them to repent of sin and turn to righteousness in Christ, that my fellow citizens would determine this issue in a way that glorifies God.”

Come to think of it, if I gave this answer, Perez Hilton might have said nasty things about me, too, and someone would have inevitably dredged up some “windy day” photos of me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Useful as a Park Bench in a Graveyard

People go to great lengths in attempting to deal with the grief associated with death.

The cliché is the parents of a young child who keep his room perfectly preserved as a memorial. Such memorials are becoming increasingly public. We’ve all seen the makeshift crosses on the side of the road, indicating that somebody’s loved one died. Some announce the lifespan of a deceased friend or family member with decals emblazoned on their car windows.

Certainly we do the same thing with headstones, grave markers and even crypts in the local cemetery. But there, all the dead are assembled together, a macabre collection of memories available to whomever wants to take note at their own leisure. Roadside crosses and automobile obituaries are just the opposite: as we go to work, to church, to recreate we are compelled to take note. Whereas cemeteries are mass testimonials to the universal grip of death, roadside and mobile memorials single out one particular death, as if it – in contrast to the life that preceded it – was somehow unique.

Perhaps most indicative of an unhealthy relationship with death is the cemetery accoutrement I saw recently: a finely carved marble park bench matching the headstone it faced. A park bench in a cemetery is as useful, as they say, as a screen door on a submarine.

But all of these devices – roadside crosses, automobile obituaries, bedroom shrines, cemetery benches and even the pedestrian headstone – reveal the longing we all have to somehow remain in contact with those who have died. It reveals an inherent understanding that physical death is not final.

Yet instead of provoking us to cling to whatever wisp of reality remains of the dead, this understanding should encourage us to consider our own destination, to ensure our own post-material reality, when those who survive us have erected roadside markers, or drive around with car obituaries, or place park benches before headstones emblazoned with our names.