Friday, August 29, 2008

The Gospel According to Obama

(Republished in honor of his first year)

There are times in an individual's life that their view of the Gospel shines forth. It is a time when the problem of life is clearly defined and when the solution is presented in no uncertain terms.

This was that time for Obama.

At the center of the American stage, with millions of viewers hanging on his very words, he had the opportunity to define the issues and present the solution. And he did just that. The problem was presented more negatively, yet clearly. The Dream is slipping away from the grasps of hard-working Americans: job insecurity, unpaid bills, credit debt, lack of good education, etc. In contrast, Obama wants to see these things change:
We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage…We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was president …The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great, a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight. (NY Times, acceptance speech transcript)
America's problem is not spiritual. The problem of America is economical. People need more economic opportunities to succeed: more education, more health care, more job security, etc. But the problem is not simply the economy, as the rest of his speech pointed out. The government bureaucracy is a problem as well. And it is politics-as-usual that is another block in the road of American Progress. There are so many problems (war, money, society), in fact, that America needs an all-encompassing change. It needs to return to her own primeval salvation: the American Promise: "Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility, that's the essence of America's promise"

America needs each other; America needs responsibility. America needs to pull herself up by her own bootstraps.

Obama's Promise

The American Promise was summarized in a more forthright manner at the beginning of the speech when he described his parent's hope: "a belief that in America their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to." Immediately he elaborates: "It is that promise that's always set this country apart, that through hard work and sacrifice each of us can pursue our individual dreams. but still come together as one American family."
That is the key to the dream of Obama. The Obama Promise is that any American can "achieve whatever he puts his mind to." In fact that is the American Promise. And it is a promise that is for both the individual American and America in the aggregate: all of us together can make our dreams come true.
Economic inequality will fail; political incompetence will cease; social ills will vanish and faith in ourselves will never fail.

Obama's "I wills"

"I will end…I will build...And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future." (p.5)
The American Promise is a promise of freedom, peace and a better future. It is heaven on earth. The sins of economic, political and social inequality will be eradicated and the tears of the disadvantaged will be wiped away.
And this will be almost single-handily accomplished by the DNC messiah: Barack Obama.
Well, it will be accomplished with the help of the American people, if they follow him to the promise land. He cannot do it alone. He's only human after all.

Obama's Grace

"But this, too, is part of America's promise, the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort." (p.5)

The Obama Promise—the American Promise—for the two are one and he desires we be one as they are one—is a promise of strength and grace. Grace is not the Promised Person that comes from eternity into time to grant forgiveness and regeneration, rather grace is the "promise of a democracy" wherein grace can be found by group-participation through our votes, decisions and will-power to achieve whatever we put our minds to.
And it is not because of America's wealth, military or education that she is great. "Instead, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend." (p.6)

Obama's Faith

It should be clear by now that Obama's gospel is a gospel of self-help, of self-effort and of collective redemption through voting. His faith is in himself and in his America--a faith in "what is unseen." Furthermore, not once did he mention repentance, God or Christ for that matter. Sin and redemption have been completely transformed into liberal talking points about politics, economics and society. If these are the American sins—inequality in all its forms—then redemption comes through changing the environment, exercising good-will and voting Democrat.
This faith in the American Promise—in America working out her own salvation—is shouted out to all who have hears to hear, when he arrogantly applies the Sacred Word to himself and America:
"At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America." (p.6)

Democracy is where Obama finds grace; the unseen potential of America to achieve whatever she seeks is where Obama places his faith. The Gospel according to Obama is an unfettered America united for the glory of man.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Famous Homeschoolers in History...?

The rise of modern homeschooling in the last two decades has done much good. It is a result of many parents who realize that the schools are mostly bastions of unbelief. And it has helped many families focus on an important aspect of their duty: the godly education of their children.

However, as with most movements, there is good mixed with the bad. In this particular case, homeschooling history is being rewritten.

One website promoting homeschooling success stories presents an impressive array of homeschooled heroes. Under the first heading, "Activists," Peter Jennings is listed. Clicking on the link and reading the wikipedia article, one discovers that this famous man attended school until he flunked 10th grade. Certainly a strange candidate for homeschool hero status.

Moving onto another hero. Clicking on "Jason Taylor" (NFL player) yields more evidence that slopply history is being written: He was homeschooled for about three years.

At the end of the day, is this how homeschoolers and their defenders (including myself) wish to promote this noble cause? With such reasoning demonstrated above, public school advocates could use any homeschooler who attend school for three years (just invert Jason Taylor's profile). Or claim a famous person who was homeschooled until grade 10 as their own--if only because afterward he entered public school (just invert Peter Jennings' profile).

At best, this is equivocal reasoning.

Perhaps a more notable list should be examined. After all, not all who write lists on the web are qualified to do so. So, after googling, several lists were discovered (both online, in books and on the radio). The lists are long. The work was hard. At the end, five are presented below as examples of the typical educational backgrounds during that time-period:
  1. John Witherspoon (Educator/Statesman): One problem with using encyclopedias as sources of detailed information is that they are not sources of detailed information. They cover more of the adult achievements than the particular facts of any person's childhood. For such facts, biographies, eye-witnesses and the like must be examined. And that is a lot of work. In this case, reading the eulogy of Witherspoon (given by his personal friend, John Rodgers) paints a different educational picture: "He was sent, very young to the public school at Haddington: His father spared neither expense nor pains in his education." At age fourteen he attended the university of Edinburgh (p.24, The Works of Rev. John Witherspoon).
  2. Thomas Jefferson (President): Reading his own biography ought to have dispelled this historical myth years ago. He testifies that he was schooled at age five then sent to a Latin school at age nine. Digging into his history will show that the early schooling was done with a tutor at his home plantation along with other children. The Latin school he attended was fifty miles away at the Dover Church grammar school (where he boarded with a friend's family--a not uncommon activity in the southern gentry) (Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, Brodie, p. 49, 51).
  3. Patrick Henry (Statesman): Of course Patrick Henry is dear to my heart (as is Witherspoon) because of his Calvinism (another topic that falls off the historical radar of modern conservative "scholarship"). His grandson, William Wirt Henry, compiled the facts of Patrick's life and concluded: "He was sent to a common English school until about the age of ten years, where he learned to read and write, and acquired some little knowledge of arithmetic.” Afterwards, his father tutored him and other local boys in Latin and some other topics (cp. Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry, Vaughan, p.29).
  4. James Madison (President): The childhood of Madison demonstrates the modern historical problems of pinning down exactly how individual early Americans were educated. Many papers, receipts and diaries are missing. In the case of Madison, an incomplete paper trail exists, but what does exist demonstrates that at age three and nine his father was paying a tutor for his son's education. Presumably his mother and grandmother helped as well. More complete evidence demonstrates that at age eleven he was sent to Donald Robertson's school, 70 miles from home! Later, at around age sixteen he was home with another tutor who lived with them and taught the other younger siblings. Again, not uncommon in the south (James Madison: A Biography, Ketcham, p. 17; James Madison, A Biography in His Own Words, ed. Peterson, p.16).
  5. John Jay (Supreme Court Judge): Lastly, we have another favorite Calvinist of mine. John Jay learned some Latin before the age of 8 when he was sent off to a school in New Rochelle, 8 miles away (a Huguenot (Calvinist) town). He continued until age eleven and then went home and studied under a private tutor, George Murray. He attended college at age 14 (John Jay: Founding Father, Stahr, p. 9).
This plethora of information was probably more than you wanted to know, but it is important to realize it is not a simple and naive matter to clump historical figures into our neat 21st century categories. At that time, education was a laissez-faire effort. It was typically a mixture of homeschooling (loosely defined), home-tutoring and local schooling. This was especially the case in the South (Virginia & the Carolinas). Further north, the practice was closer to today's day-school model (that is another posting).

Close examination of the above samples reveals a mixed approach to education that is being matched today in homeschooling circles. Too often the modern rhetoric has highlighted the superiority of homeschooling in the abstract, as though homeschooling was just junior, mom and dad. In reality, more and more families are mixing some form of tutoring into their child's curriculum. Many families are discovering that no family is an island and that God has graced his kingdom with differing abilities, with some families stronger in one academic area than others. But this is yet another posting for the future.

The conclusion of the matter is that rewriting history rewrites our expectations: "If only we could create that homeschooling environment, we could turn back the clock!"--a cry I've heard and read over the years. We will not achieve another Patrick Henry simply by homeschooling. Another James Madison will not arise from the ashes of America simply by homeschooling. Homeschooling is but one means to an end. And it operated in a Christian culture that is lost today (think Sabbatarian, confessional, & Calvinistic). If we want to turn back the clock, we need such a milieu again.

Retelling internet educational fables only sets up the homeschoolers and their supporters for a humiliating fall. Instead the focus should be on supporting one another in love. Hyping history in favor of one educational method over another just turns into a in-house fight--a form a tribalism that will eat the church from within. Instead, the spirit of 1 Corinthians 13 should prevail and the truth of history should be supported. In fact, homeschoolers should support private schoolers; private schoolers should help homeschoolers; and churches should nurture their members on the pure Gospel of Christ and the Law of His kingdom.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How God Votes

My first response to the posting How to Vote Biblically is to acknowledge the good points summarized therein. They first of all call upon Christians to embrace their providential opportunity (nay, duty) to vote. Then the authors clearly call Christians to hold politicians' feet to the fire of God's Law. This is something that is easily lost in this day and age of political pragmatism. They also clearly prioritize abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage as important issues to consider when voting. To purposefully misquote the old miscreant, Bill Clinton, "it's morality, stupid."

However much the note of hope and activism is trumpeted in this posting, at root it has a major theological flaw: that man's vote counts more than God's vote:

"The Bible tells us that God appoints all leaders, well in the United States God has set it up so that the government depends on the people's free will to vote. God has people that he desires to be in office , but he won't buck the human spirit. He doesn't buck the human will to save us even though the bible tells us it's His will that all be saved. (2 Peter 3:9). That means that it is up to us to vote in Godly people into office, the kind of people that will stand up for righteousness. They aren't going to make it in if we don't vote because he has given us the power to do so.

After asserting a biblical truth, “God appoints all leaders,” the author retracts the statement both explicitly and implicitly. Explicitly, he allows that America is an exception to this rule. Implicitly, the rest of the explanations about the “free will to vote” and how God “won’t buck the human spirit” equally apply to any other political model. Monarchs are usually chosen by birth, or more precisely, historically, many times they are chosen by the previous king on his death bed or by the political powers that work behind the scenes of any political machine. Oligarchies simply have more human interaction, not focusing on one particular leader. In all cases, “free will” and the “human spirit” are at work, just not in a democratic way. In other words, God, under this author’s understanding, could not appoint those leaders either.

2 Peter 3:9 is the justification for this thinking. The text reads: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:3, 4 gives the subject of this context: people were scoffing the Christians, asking “where is the coming of the Lord?” And the answer is multiple, but one in particular is in verse 9: The Lord is not tardy (slack), but is patient (longsuffering) toward the readers of 2 Peter & Peter himself (us, cp. 3:1).

One question (among many) will show that quoting this text is insufficient: where in this verse does it actually state that God cannot act through free will?

At the end of the day, proof-texting is a limited tool. Other verses need to be used, verses more clearly in line with the political questions. For instance, Proverbs 21:1 succinctly declares: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God's vote does count! 2 Peter was not written with the political question in mind. Proverbs was. The plain reading of this text is the most offensive, I know, but it is the most comforting as well. Why? Consider other verses about the political situation of old:

Gen. 20:4-6: “But Abimelech [king of Gerar]…said, “Lord, will you slay a righteous nation also?…And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her [Abraham’s wife]” (cp. Ezra 1:1).

The obvious cannot be avoided: a king has greater power than a president, senate or judicatory, therefore the present day application is clear: “the president’s heart is in the hand of the LORD.”

These two verses alone demonstrate that our current American political scene is not outside of God’s sovereign control. Is that not a comfort, dear reader? Would you rather gnash your teeth and chew your nails over another unrighteous man in office? When Bill Clinton reigned for eight years, was that the end of God’s reign? God forbid!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

From Darkness to Light

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported on the new OPC work east of the city.

Prayerfully this will be used of God to bring the darkness of southern Colorado into the marvelous light of His Gospel.