Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good and bad arguments

Something I have been keeping an eye on over the last few weeks are arguments being mounted by people (sometimes ostensibly Christian, sometimes not ostensibly Christian) in respect of hot button issues, particularly one issue, 'gay marriage.' So we have had an outpouring of angst/celebration in British Christianity because a leading evangelical, Steve Chalke has come out publicly in favour of blessing same sex partnerships. Here in NZ in recent days we have had a conservative citizen associated with 'sensible sentencing' re crime make the attempted case that gay marriage will lead to an increase in crime. (Just in case that seems totally irrational to overseas readers, his proposal rests on the logic, gay marriage is a further declension of moral standards here, the lowering of which increases the crime rate). One of the thing which interests me, partly as theologian, partly as one-time philosophy student, is the quality of the arguments being brought to the table of public discussion.

A quick read of Chalke, for instance, suggests his laudable sentiments (a better deal in churches for gay Christians) are not well under-pinned by his arguments (as, argue indeed he does, offering an assessment of the Bible on homosexuality). The connection sought here in NZ, between gay marriage and the crime rate is ludicrous: there is a connection between the general state of morality in a society and its crime rate, but it is hard to pin down to specific declensions, the crime rate can be improved by means other than improving morality (e.g. 'zero tolerance' policing), and, most importantly, it is just unjust to pick on gay marriage of all possible declensions in morality. Why not ban divorce, remarriage after divorce, sex before and outside of marriage, excess drinking, smoking anywhere (OK, we are heading towards that!?), breaking the speed limit (we could put 'governors' on car engines if serious about that!), and so forth.

On another matter altogether, I have been appalled at the argumentation brought forward to oppose President Obama's attempt to control the sale of guns in the USA. 'Let schools have armed guards rather than ban the sale of assault guns.' Really? Has the apex of Western civilization and learning come down to this?

Ergo, where are the good arguments? Perhaps a challenge for Christians, conservatives, and conservative Christians in 2013 is to think before speaking, review and revise before writing, discuss privately before proclaiming publicly. Paul once said 'Test the spirits.' Perhaps today he would advise 'Test the arguments.'

20 comments:

Shawn Herles said...

Can Steve Chalk still be considered an Evangelical?

His take on Scripture and his rejection of substitutionary atonement would suggest otherwise.

"On another matter altogether, I have been appalled at the argumentation brought forward to oppose President Obama's attempt to control the sale of guns in the USA. 'Let schools have armed guards rather than ban the sale of assault guns.' Really? Has the apex of Western civilization and learning come down to this?"

Well, I would prefer armed guards to "gun control".

Gun violence is highest in places where high levels of gun control already exist.

Disarming law abiding citizens or higher levels of regulation will not work in practice and are an unjust assault on freedom.

Obama's stance on this is dishonest and motivated by an ideology of totalitarian liberal statism.

Gun violence has risen at the same time as liberalism, the welfare state and moral relativism.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
I would be interested in your specific arguments against:

(1) background checks on prospective purchasers of assault rifles?

(2) reducing the number of bullets a gun magazine may hold?

Anonymous said...

Shawn, I think Steve Chalke has pretty much moved into 'post-evangelical' (i.e. ex-evangelical) territory, and that was obvious a few years ago from his book on substitution which Tom Wright loudly defended without properly reading and understanding it - as actual scholars of historical doctrine like Mike Ovey had actually done.
Chalke's theological move is really the same as people in Britain like Dave Tomlinson, but Chalke is more high profile because of his youth work and roots among the Baptists, and his greater organizing and publicity skill.
John Richardson's blog has put the finger on Chalke's flaws in logic (whcih are depressingly common). Chalke was 'honored' by Tony Blair with some title for promoting 'social inclusion' so I guess he's taken the (earthly) King's shilling.

I agree that Obama is driven by a profoundly liberal statist vision of society and government - the precise opposite of Reagan's - and the corollary of this is that government *must grow inexorably in size and power and make more and more decisions 'for the good of the citizens (subjects)'. What this means is:
1. more laws and regulations
2. more taxation to enforce the laws
3. more deficits for future generations to pay for - or more likely default on.
The late Christian philosopher Ron Nash has rightly analysed this as 'liberal statism'. School massacres aside, the US is actually a much less violent place than it used to be, a very large number of gun deaths are black on black and drug related, and knives kill just as many.

Martin

Daniel Weir said...

Two questions/comments:
Isn't gun violence fairly high in some Latin American countries where there are few laws restricting gun ownership and most important offices have armed guards?

I think one of of the societal features that contributes to crime is the valorozation of high end consumer products. Much of the marketing of products in the US is based upon an implicit rejection of the 10th Conmnadment.

mike greenslade said...

Hi Peter,

I have enjoyed reading your recent posts on the Godzone myth, morality and arguments. Richard Wilkinson provides some interesting data on economic inequality and its consequences.

http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html?quote=1138

Tim Chesterton said...

I don't think Steve Chalke actually wrote a book on substitution. I have the book he actually wrote, which caused all the controversy, and only one chapter in it is about the Atonement. It's a fine book ,too.

Anonymous said...

That's the book I meant, written with Alan Mann. It does condemn PSA in sharp terms as "cosmic child abuse". Your judgment of the book isn't shared by Ovey et all, Pierced for our Transgressions, who criticise its argument and language in numerous places.
Martin

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Peter,

sorry to respond to your questions so late, but I have been having a lot of trouble getting a stable internet connection that lasts for more than a few minutes.

The majority of gun violence in the US is carried out by gangs and serial criminals who use illegally obtained weapons. Background checks will make no difference to that.

Limiting the magazine capacity is an undue restriction on private business and citizens. Law abiding gun owners should not be scapegoated for a problem created by over fifty years of assault on morality and family life. It is no accident that the shooter in this case was from a fatherless home.

Obama has no intentions of dealing with the real causes of violence the US; moral decline, family breakdown, gangs, all of which are creations of the welfare state.

More laws and regulations are not the answer to the failures of liberalism.

Liberalism is a disease in the corporate body of the West. The death of that disease, and of the secular liberal democratic state is the only answer.

Anything less is pretense and dishonesty.

Shawn Herles said...

A different take on the myth of the "widening" gap.

http://freedomkeys.com/gap.htm

Shawn Herles said...

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/287643/income-inequality-myth-michael-tanner

Specifically on the US situation, a brilliant destruction of the "gap" myth.

Tim Chesterton said...

As I said, the book has only one chapter on the atonement. The theme of the whole book is the teaching of Jesus, so to call it 'his book ont substitution' shows a remarkable lack of sense of proportion. I think Steve is troubled (as are many of us who have been inspired by the Anabaptist tradition) that many evangelicals seem to think that Jesus was just marking time between his birth and his death - that is to say, they go to Paul first for instruction in daily living, not Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Tim, I haven't read his (co-written) book or anything by Chalke; I know only the accurately cited quotations which distorted and caricatured a central doctrine not just of evangelicals but of the Church Catholic (have you ever read the Roman Mass?). So whatever merits the book had, I fear he has vitiated them with this stuff. I am reminded of the words of your fellow (?) Canadian, Mark Steyn: 'If you mix a quart of ice cream with a scoop of dog poop, it will taste more of the latter than the former.'

Martin

Tim Chesterton said...

Martin, I think you should read the book before you criticise it. The very fact that you refer to it as 'his book on substitution' shows me that you fundamentally misunderstand what the book is about. I would never criticise 'Pierced for Our Transgressions', despite the fact that I'm fairly sure I would disagree with it, because I have never read it.

carl jacobs said...

(1) background checks on prospective purchasers of assault rifles?

An assault rifle is not defined by what a weapon looks like. It is defined by its military utility - the principle factor being how many rounds the weapon will fire with one pull of the trigger. An AR15 is not an assault rifle merely because it looks like an M16. Also remember that the trigger of the American revolution was a British act of gun control. The British expedition to Lexington and Concord was intended to seize ... assault rifles as defined in 1775.

That being said, a background check is a perfectly reasonable condition for purchasing a weapon.

(2) reducing the number of bullets a gun magazine may hold?

You ask for a good argument? I respond - the Zombie apocalypse. You will need as many rounds a possible since you have to shoot every zombie twice in the head. Otherwise, this also seems a reasonable constraint. A citizen does not need the capacity to fight the government. He needs the capacity to defend his home. That doesn't require 50-round clips.

carl

Anonymous said...

Tim: you keep repeating your one tangential point, a loose phrase I used which I am happy to dispense with. So I am pleased to correct my words to: 'a book he co-wrote with Alan Mann (most of which I haven't read and express no opinion on) which contains some passages (which I have read in detail, many times) in which he caricatures the classic doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as understood by the Reformers, as well as Turretin and Packer, as 'cosmic child abuse' (p. 182) - a style of popular rhetoric that serves no serious theological purpose and causes needless offense.'
I have read 'Pierced for our transgressions', which contains long discussions of atonement in historical theology, as well as numerous discussions and critiques, including a few of Chalke, but mainly with modern scholarly objections.
Martin

Shawn Herles said...

". I think Steve is troubled (as are many of us who have been inspired by the Anabaptist tradition) that many evangelicals seem to think that Jesus was just marking time between his birth and his death - that is to say, they go to Paul first for instruction in daily living, not Jesus."

It is a claim I have come across before, but I do not believe it to be true, based on my own experience in Evangelical churches. I have read the book in question, and like his claims of cosmic child abuse with regards to classical (Biblical) atonement theology, it is largely filled with these kinds of caricatures of Evangelicalism. They are caricatures that seem to be popular with the "Emergent" crowd, based on what I have read (Mclaren, Bell).

Much of them may make claims about being inspired by Anabaptism (problematic in and of itself), but it often looks to me like repackaged liberalism.

Shawn Herles said...

"A citizen does not need the capacity to fight the government."

Four more years of Obama may change your mind.

Anonymous said...

There may be some truth in the perception that many evangelicals appear to prefer to preach from the Pauline epistles rather than the Synoptics, whereas lectionary inclined catholics appear to give briefer, rather moralistic homilies from the Synoptics and steer away from justification by faith and explicit atonement theology. One problem lies with complementary definitions of 'the Gospel' that we get in the NT. Tim Keller has a good talk on this subject ('What is the Gospel?') that you can find on the net.
Liberal theology, of course, prefers a Jesus without a cross, and almost inevitably it falls into works-righteousness; indeed, that is the default position of liberal theology, at least since the time of Kant (who, like all liberals, could employ Christian terminology and empty it of its supernatural meaning).
Martin

Father Ron Smith said...

" 'a book he co-wrote with Alan Mann (most of which I haven't read and express no opinion on) which contains some passages (which I have read in detail, many times)" - Commenter -

And isn't that just the problem? To read just selected passages from a book - that we focus on to the exclusion of the context of the whole book, into which the arguments are placed - is lazy and often misleading. I'm surprised how many 'scholars' are content to just read those arguments that bolster their long-held prejudices

Shawn Herles said...

"And isn't that just the problem? To read just selected passages from a book"

Not necessarily. If a book is badly wrong in one area, and this one is very badly wrong on atonement theology, then it is likely to be bad elsewhere.

For myself, I have read the book from cover to cover, and found much it either problematic or just plain wrong.