Tag Archives: Al Mohler

When is an Evangelical Christian a Christian? – terms matter!

2 Mar

Define your terms

I’ve been stymied at the increasing reports of those ‘Evangelical Christians‘ who support Donald Trump.  How can that be?  Trump doesn’t represent anything Christian, whether beliefs or actions. How can I say that? Here’s one reason:  from what I’ve READ (I don’t watch TV so I am assuming the accuracy of the reports), Donald Trump has claimed never to have asked God to forgive him.  CNN article  He explains that when he has done something wrong, he has sought to make it right.

Being right with God is a different matter.  There is objective guilt against God when we sin.  Someone has to pay, either Donald Trump or Jesus.  Christians are those who (for one thing) have turned to Jesus and accepted him as the atoning sacrifice for their sins against God.  If Donald Trump has yet to do that, then he is not a Christian by definition.

Yesterday, Al Mohler, brought up and offered a fascinating reason that had a lot of explanatory power when it comes to describing Evangelical Christians.  He shared an important distinction within the broad category of Americans who either label themselves or are called ‘Evangelical Christian’ by pollsters, media and other institutions.

If we don’t begin by clarifying the explicit meaning of a concept (a term) then confusion ensues.  No need to proceed with a discussion if there is not a ‘coming to terms’ with what something means!

So here goes:

According to Mohler’s analysis, the pure sense of the term ‘Evangelical Christian’ revolves around:

  • doctrines (beliefs) held about the Bible  (evangelical has to do with the ‘eu-angelos’ which is Greek for ‘good message’. What is the good news?  the message that Jesus has borne FOR US our deserved punishment for crimes against God AND lived a perfect life, compliant with God’s Law).
  • values held and lived out
  • participation in a church community

Evangelical Christians are those who accept the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, who hold pro-life views and are active members of a body of Christian believers.

Those outside of those boundary lines but  who have been labeled or call themselves Evangelical seem to be loosely affiliated with a church that is:

  • NEITHER Catholic NOR mainline liberal
  • are culturally Christian, but not regularly practicing
  • self-identify as believing in God

Essentially, this finer distinction falls between authentic Christians and nominal Christians, those in name only.

When Mohler described these two groups, I understand better why Trump had so many supporters among this much larger group –  those labeled ‘Evangelical Christians’, but are so in name only.

What puzzles me, now, are those who truly ARE Evangelical Christians and yet still support Donald Trump, like Jerry Falwell, Jr – president of Liberty University.  What accounts for his choice? Any thoughts?

 

 

 

Assumptions surrounding logic

27 Jan

While listening to Al Mohler  (Link to his discussion here) explain the backstory to a recent Supreme Court decision affecting those on death row in Florida, I was struck once again about the importance of language.

supreme court

Words matter.

Obviously eight of the 9 justices in the photo assumed that as much. The wording of the 6th amendment to the US Constitution declares that a defendant is entitled to “….a public trial, by an impartial jury of the state….”.  The majority opinion of the Supreme Court argued that the words meant what they said.  The fact that Florida judges alone had the power to impose the death sentence (based on the recommendation of the jury) violated the sense of the language of the 6th amendment.

Al Mohler then drew the connection between how one reads the written text of the US Constitution and the Bible.  Either the words mean what they say or we open the gate to anyone’s interpretation.  And chaos ensues and words lose the power of meaning.

Language-based logic is the same.  Before we even examine and analyze a syllogism to determine whether it is sound, we have made an assumption:

Words matter!

Take the following sample syllogism:

Premise 1:All wood is a substance containing carbon

Premise 2: This stick is wood

Conclusion:  Therefore, this stick is a substance containing carbon

Logical Joe’s and Jane’s have to agree on what each term means.

  • Does ‘all’ unequivocally take in every member of the category of wood?
  • Does ‘wood’ represent the set of hard, fibrous materials that form the trunk of a shrub or tree*?
  • Is carbon only the chemical element represented by atomic number 6*?

*definitions based on Apple’s Mac dictionary

We ‘assume’ that words representing terms refer to a specific concept.  If that is not our starting point in logic, then we might as well abandon all reasoning.

But as my husband pointed out when we were discussing this necessary pre-supposition, another complication exists.  We can agree on the clear sense of a term YET once set in a proposition or even a clause, meaning grows complicated.

Take just a snippet from the Pledge of Allegiance:

“…with liberty and justice for all.”

Initially one can agree on individual concepts of liberty and justice in isolation. The term ‘all’ appears messier. Distinctions must be made, so we pose some clarifying questions:

  • does ‘all’ refer to all citizens or all those residing in the US?
  • and if all residing in the US are intended, do we need to differentiate between those legally residing and those who are not?
  • are we talking about all humans only?  Are the unborn included?  Are the mentally and physically dependent included?

Once we initially sort out terms, what happens next?  Other questions arise.  For instance, if we consider just one other term, the concept of ‘liberty’, what does the GUARANTEE of ‘liberty’ protect one against? How far does it extend and do I, who am included in the ‘all ‘, get to define liberty to suit my needs?

I’d love to say, “Let’s just go with the plain reading of the text!”  But I have to concede that a careful reading of any writing requires clear and focused thinking.  That’s why there will always be a need for diligent and thoughtful lawyers, judges, theologians and logical but ordinary men and women like us.

The challenge is great, but worthwhile.

 

 

 

 

 

Logical Gal asks: What ‘grounds’ or provides a rational basis for what we do?

19 Aug

I often argue with myself.  I split into two contrary views and dialogue back and forth in my thoughts.  Al Mohler prompted a recent mental workout.

Besides serving as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, this thinking and articulate man offers a daily worldview analysis about leading news headlines and cultural conversations.

The topic he picked up last week dealt with assisted suicide and euthanasia.  Turns out that the assumptions of secular society and those of Christians are completely different.  More and more countries are basing their policy decisions on the presupposition that we are in essence just ‘autonomous accidents’, whose dignity derives from this autonomy and the freedom to choose what WE decide is good for our human flourishing.

As I listened and discoursed internally, I asked this question: So what if a non-Christian government decides to permit suicide with dignity?  Should Christians ‘impose’ their Biblically based views on the wider culture?  Drawing a blank about how to begin thinking through this crucial issue, I recalled that the Apostle Paul explicitly addressed this matter in a letter to the Corinthian church:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church  whom you are to judge? 13 God judges  those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”  1 Corinthians 5:9-13

With his argument in view, my other side answered this ‘So what’ question:

William Wilburforce

  • What about Wilberforce?  This 19th-century Christian parliamentarian worked years in that British legislative body to end the slave trade.  Should he not have tried to influence government and society?
  • What about the issue of slavery in the US?  or 20th and 21st century legalized abortion? Should citizens not petition their representatives and try to work within the system to change laws?

But where do we look for grounding or fundamental guidance on how to interact with society outside of our church family? God evidently wanted to guide His children, so He provided the inspired Bible.  And in the book of Jeremiah, God through His prophet, specifically calls us to work for the good of those in our community:

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7

And lest we think that God only addresses Christians’ interactions with the wider society in the Old Testament, the New Testament ‘boils down’ the Christian’s ‘marching orders’ to two: Love God and Neighbor.

Matthew 22: 37-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

So, after only a few minutes of rational debate within myself, I concluded that as Christian citizens and neighbors, God does call us to work for what honors God and helps our neighbor flourish as His image-bearer.

Logical Gal – different ways to understand the Bible

13 May

Different churches may claim to be ‘Bible-based’, but what do they actually mean?  As an evangelical Christian, I have probably assumed ‘Bible-based’ to indicate explicitly that a church orients all its beliefs and practices to what is written in the Bible.

Bible

That’s a dangerous assumption! Imprecise, vague terms often allow misconceptions and illusions to grow.  I was helped the other day listening to a well-spoken scholar consider the Supreme Court’s April 2015 oral arguments in the case for same-sex marriage. He pointed out the peril of assuming that a term means the same to the other person as it does to you.  The prompt for Al Mohler was a New York Times editorial written by a Yale Law School professor. Transcript of discussion

The professor asserted and partially argued that America has already shifted her beliefs toward supporting same-sex marriage. He rested his case in part on the nature of the ‘amicus briefs’ submitted by major players in America, to include prominent Jewish and Christian denominations.

Mohler quoted from the law professor’s piece in the NY Times where he claimed that even major ‘Bible-based’ denominations support the federal legalization of same-sex marriage.  At this point, Mohler took the time to look at the phrase ‘Bible-based’.  He modeled what all thinking and reasoning people SHOULD do.  And that is to ask the simple but crucial clarifying question, “What do you mean by ‘Bible-based’?

Here is where I was helped.  Mohler pointed out that there are several ways of being ‘Bible-based’.  He explained that liberal Christians can still claim to base their churches on the Bible because they mean:

  • the Bible to be a useful and interesting collection of stories, myths, fables, explanations
  • the Bible to be a repository of traditions

Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, believe:

  • the Bible to be the true and intentional Word of God.  And as such we, His people, do not have the option of discounting God’s Word or explaining it away. Yes, the Bible contains stories and explanations and describes traditions.  But the stories are what CS Lewis calls ‘true myths’.  They are myths because they contain powerful symbols, but they are also true.  For a short explanation, click here

What’s the bottom line regarding this distinction?

One – we must always be alert to ask questions when we listen to someone (stopping to interact with the person talking to us, or pausing to consider ourselves – ‘what might he mean by XYZ?  What are the possibilities?’)

Two – Christians who believe the Bible to be the very words, beliefs, views, counsel of God MUST use what God says as our measure of everything else.  If God defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, then it is so.  He IS the author of the Book, hence His authority trumps ours.

Logical Gal experiences Jury Duty

15 Apr

Jury Duty

I didn’t know what to expect!  But I’m glad I served.  Several observations:

  1. Clarifying terms is important to lawyers: each potential juror was asked:
  • How do you define ‘reasonable’?  (should the case reach the point where $ amounts of compensation were going to be decided)
  • How do you define ‘burden of proof’?

2. Weight given to ‘expert’ testimony as well as eyewitness accounts

  • The lawyers wanted to know how each potential juror judged credibility when evaluating testimony given by both doctors and bystanders

I’m very thankful for my training in logic and clear thinking.  I had already thought through what the term ‘reasonable’ means. I listened to one fellow citizen’s definition after another.  They all had to do with:

  • common sense
  • fair
  • middle of the road

When I was randomly chosen to be potential juror # 8 and asked MY definition for reasonable, I responded with: “that which is based on REASON”.  I added that I did not agree with the other versions offered before mine.

These lawyers are experienced in assessing jurors who are going to help/hinder their side.

I was dismissed.

thumbs down

But not before hearing the two most interesting questions:

  • Do you have a bumper sticker on your car and what is it?

(I have a license plate frame that says – “Save the baby humans”, so I offered that)

  • Where do you get your news?

(I didn’t get a crack at this query, but I was debating whether I should mention 1) Al Mohler’s The Briefing 2) The World and Everything in It – Link to podcast 3) the 10 minutes of world news in French or 4) the local newspaper)

Maybe my unsuitability had nothing to do with how I defined ‘reasonable’ or my pro-life advert.  There was one final question before the lawyer for the plaintiff consulted with his paralegal about whom to retain/whom to dismiss:

  • Do you have any feelings about court cases in general?  (Dangerous question!)

I quipped that my husband and I used to joke about there being too many lawyers in America, but that was before our youngest son was selected to start law school in the fall.  So I added that the Supreme Court exercises far too much power for one of the 3 branches of the government.  Maybe that remark released me to return to my middle-school French students!  Quelle joie!

Logical Gal and Evidence-Based Medicine – is there any other kind?

9 May

What a concept!  Relying on medical practices and prescribed treatments that actually work and have the evidence to back them up!

I recently listened to a conversation between Al Mohler and Candy Gunther Brown, PhD from Harvard.  The topic was fascinating!  Dr. Brown has studied the religious content of complementary and alternative medical practices such as chiropractic, yoga and reiki.

Audio talk + transcript entitled: “Are we all syncretists now…”  – about complementary and alternative medicine and evangelical Christians

The discussion focused on Dr. Brown’s research in her latest book Link to book at Amazon

What I found compelling as a logical gal was the distinction between medicine that could point to double blind trials to substantiate its claims and medicine that was NOT evidence-based.

Evidence-based medicine

Apparently many of those who practice these alternative ‘therapies’ know how to shift their language to suit their audience. This tailoring the vocabulary extends to efforts to appeal  to the public’s desire for something ‘scientificky’ and ‘natural‘ or appeasing Christians’ worries about Buddhist or Hindu influences by changing the names of movements.

 

Yoga in public schools

Dr. Brown was called as an expert witness in last summer’s California court case regarding the teaching of yoga in Encinitas public schools (San Diego area) . Even though she supplied substantial reasons why yoga is a religious practice, the court ruled otherwise. NPR report on ruling

Whether you are bothered by the question of religious content or not in these practices, you SHOULD BE concerned about any medical practice that is more quackery and wishful thinking.  Practice reasoned skepticism!!

Skepticism and truth