Friday, October 07, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo 2

From where Moses stood:

On the edge of the promised land, Moses stood here and saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

Over on his PyroManiac site, Phil Johnstone has been acting out his rĂ´le as the great tribulator with his vigorous separation of chaff from grain in the matter of Christian pacifism, which is, I think, for Phil, something of an oxymoron. His tormentors, some of whom surely mean well, have forced him to explain that he hadn’t really been envisioning encountering Bin Laden among the bin liners in the local Costco. This is a bit like Billy Connolly’s reaction to hearing that a shark has bitten someone: ‘Oh no! where did that happen? Oh! in the sea! That’s different, I thought you meant in the supermarket or somewhere where sharks aren’t meant to be.’ But I digress.

A discussion of just how much collateral damage is permissible in hunting down this much of a murderer-boss could get tedious and if the discussion wasn’t so American-centred might just have foundered around the very real tragedy in the summer at Stockwell Station. If it had, though, Phil’s principle would still stand, that sometimes the taking of a life is, far from it being murder, the righteous thing to do.

Here, marking out the theological cliff-edge, we want to make a comparison between
Murder and Mendacity
concluding that, as with the righteous taking of a life, sometimes deceiving the enemy is the righteous thing to do.

The categorisation of righteous deception is a bit of a minefield. The Latin tag for such deception is mendacium officiosum but there are problems with calling it that, obscurity not being the least of them. An opinion article in The Slate by Cullen Murphy titled ‘The Lie of the Land’ speaks of mendacium officiosum and various other mendacia and explains,
'Say what one will about Catholic theology, it offers a cosmological taxonomy in
which all things have an appointed place and a well-thought-out definition,
rendered with lapidary minimalism.'
Quite! Translated into cliff-edge terms, I think that that means a jigsaw pattern edge and crumbly places. I want another term that can mean: ‘Here the standing is perfectly safe but one step more and you are over the edge.’ Moreover, within its scope, mendacium officiosum contains the ideas of officialdom’s ‘being economical with the truth’ and medicine's practice of ‘benevolent deception’ to ease pain / put off the inevitable / enable positive thinking. It is obvious that benevolent deception is a wholly different ethical minefield and can and should be discussed separately from the deceiving of enemies.

My main reason for wanting to talk about righteous deception rather than mendacium officiosum is that 'mendacium' means ‘mendacity’ which means 'lie' and the common perception that ‘a lie is a lie is a lie’ is held with tenacity even by many of those who embrace the lapidary minimalistically cosmological taxonomy of the Catholic categorisations of mendacia. In other words (thankfully), theological nuance is one thing but a gut reaction is quite another so I want to avoid calling an act of righteous deception a lie because, if a lie is a lie is a lie, then an act of righteous deception can’t be.

Here is where the comparison of how we define murder and how we define mendacity becomes relevant. We tend to have more difficulties about deception than we do about killing. The ‘Christian Quoter’, Graham Weeks, needs to ask, ‘May we admire Rahab?’ because in the story of the battle of Jericho, where we have the killing of the whole population (apart from Rahab’s household), the unlawful looting of Aachan’s ‘Babylonish garment’ and the taking of a wife from the conquered people [Mat 1:5 ‘… Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab …’], it is the story of Rahab hiding the spies that provokes all the agonizing. Within the story of Rahab hiding the spies, it isn’t her actions that cause us a problem but her words as though her words do not accord with her actions or indeed with the righteousness of killing in battle and taking the spoils of war.

John Gagliardi, in Breakthrough Word draws heavily on Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues for an analysis of handling the truth in in business. He says:

Ethicists such as Geisler have developed six major ways to analyze and make
sense of the problem. Two of these ways — antinomianism and generalism — deny
all objectively absolute moral laws, while the other four — situationism,
unqualified absolutism, conflicting absolutism, and graded absolutism — are all
based on absolutes.

Both he and Geisler opt for graded absolutism as the best way to think about deception:

Graded absolutism holds that there are many moral absolutes, and they sometimes
conflict, but they can be "graded" into higher and lower laws. When there is a
conflict, it is our duty to follow the higher moral law, and God exempts us from
responsibility for breaking the lower law in favour of the conflicting higher
law. He does not blame us for what we cannot avoid. In this system, love is a
higher absolute than truth, and it is therefore sometimes right to lie to save a
I tend to think that the endemic unqualified absolutism of 'a lie is a lie is a lie' makes it necessary for us to go beyond graded absolutism and any possible misunderstanding of the ‘lesser of two evils’. Rahab’s story to the spy-hunters was of a piece with her hiding the spies and equally righteous. It is right for us to see that Scripture does not put us into a moral quandary by spelling out just how Rehab ‘received the messengers’ [Heb 11:31 ‘By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.’] but it is not right either for us to conclude that what she said to deceive the enemy was not as righteously done as the rest.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

18th Century Theology with Thomas Boston 2

Thomas Boston was a Scottish preacher of genius. His writings are more readily available than ever before, in book form (including the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man ), increasingly on the web (including bits of the ubiquitous Fourfold State of Man), on unsearchable CD rom and 0n searchable CD rom.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism stresses the order, 'justification, adoption and sanctification' so often that one could suspect that the main interest of the divines in saying anything about adoption is so that they have something to put in between justification and sanctification. Where appropriate, Boston stuck to the script like the Westminster-orthodox minister that he was but he was not afraid to change the order, as he does here to great effect while expounding the place of reconciliation in the exercise of the priestly office of Christ:


Christ gave full satisfaction to the justice of God for the sins of all the elect. …

The many excellent benefits which God reconciled bestows upon his people, prove the completeness of Christ’ satisfaction.

(1.) Justification is a fruit of Christ’ death; for the obligation of the law is made void by it, whereby the sinner was bound over to eternal wrath and punishment; Col. 2:14, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross." The terms are here used which are proper to the cancelling of a civil bond. The killing letter of the law is abolished by the blood of the cross; the nails and the spear, which pierced his sacred body, have rent it in pieces, to intimate that its condemning power is taken away. The forgiveness of sin is the chief part of our redemption, and it is ascribed to Christ’s blood as the procuring cause of it; Eph. 1:7, "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." The payment made by the Surety is a discharge of the principal debtor from the pursuit of the creditor. As Christ took away the curse from his people, being made a curse for them; so he takes away sin from his people, being made sin for them.

(2.) The death of Christ procured grace and holiness for men. We made a forfeiture of our original righteousness and sanctity, and were justly deprived of it; and till once divine justice was appeased, all influences of grace were suspended. Now, the sacrifice of Christ opened heaven, and brought down the Spirit, who is the principal and efficient cause of sanctification in men. The whole world lay in wickedness, as a dead carcase in the grave, entirely insensible of its horror and corruption. But the Holy Spirit inspired it with new life, and by a marvellous change hath caused purity to succeed corruption. It had been a great favour, indeed, to be delivered from the guilt of sin, that bound us over to everlasting wrath and punishment; but it had not been a perfect and complete favour, without our being delivered from the venom and filth of sin, which had infected and corrupted our whole nature. If our guilt were only removed, we had been freed from punishment; but without the restoration of the divine image, we had not been qualified for heaven, and fitted for converse with God. It was necessary that our souls should be washed, and our faculties renewed, to put us in a capacity to serve God and enjoy communion with him. And this is only obtained by Christ’s death, Tit. 2:14.

(3.) The receiving of believers into heaven is a convincing proof of the all-sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. The gates of the New Jerusalem were fast shut against sinful man, when he fell from his primitive holiness and felicity. God banished him from his presence, and drove him out of paradise, his native seat, fencing it with cherubims to prevent his re-entry. But Christ hath set open these everlasting doors, that believers may enter freely in, Heb. 10:19, 20. This shows the validity of his satisfaction. For divine justice will not permit that glory and immortality, which are the privileges of innocency and righteousness, should be given to guilty and polluted criminals; and therefore, it was Christ’s first and greatest work to remove the bar that excluded men from the sanctuary of felicity. Now, what stronger argument can there be, that God is infinitely pleased with what Christ has done and suffered for his people, than the taking of them into his presence to behold his glory? The apostle sets down this order in the work of our redemption, Heb. 5:9, that "Christ being made perfect through sufferings, became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." In short, it is observable, that the scripture attributes to the death of Christ, not only justification, whereby we are redeemed from wrath and misery, that dreadful punishment which we deserved for sin, but such an abundant merit also, which purchases adoption for us, and all the glorious privileges of the sons of God. From all which it is evident, that the sacrifice of Christ answered all the ends for which it was designed. It gave full satisfaction to the justice of God, and made up an everlasting peace between God and sinners. (Works I 449f.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Selah 2

Psalm 3:4
I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah.

A roof to protect from the rain,
three decks below, teeming with life.
Up! up from the depths once again
and three sons secure in the Ark.

Far away from the battle and strife,
from the bite at the heels and the bark;
self-condemned of the theft of a wife;
now the third son is spiked to the pain.

And the glory concealed in the dark,
God’s exalted regalia and train;
Name; raised to most excellent mark —
The Son-of-the-Three takes the knife.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Paraphrase for SNAP!

Amos 9:11-15 "In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, (12) that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name," declares the LORD who does this. (13) "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. (14) I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. (15) I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them," says the LORD your God.

Raised, the fallen booth of David
stands as in the days of old,
Edom’s remnant now possessing,
Gentiles brought into the fold,
ploughman overtaking reaper,
vintage, planting of the vine,
hills with bounty overflowing,
mountains dripping with sweet wine.

Exiles home to build, returning,
planting at the Lord’s command,
planted, not to be uprooted
anymore from Canaan’s land.
David’s Son was once abandoned,
through his wounds the River ran,
cut off from the land of living,
rootless, drained, demolished man.

Raised and desolate no longer,
to the world his bounty flows,
on the throne of God established,
increased, endless kingdom grows.
Raised, the fallen booth of David
stands as in the days of old,
Edom’s remnant now possessing,
Gentiles brought into the fold.

I can't imagine this appearing in SNAP! to any other tune than Ode to Joy but maybe you have better ideas. Do let me know. The very real and useful Praise! hymnbook is too full already but there is always room for new songs