Sunday, September 13, 2009

Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield

Some time ago I picked up a small paperback edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin at Barnes and Noble. It is a part of a series published by that same company under the heading "The Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading". Another I have in that series is Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

In chapter eight of my edition (chapter ten of the on-line edition) I ran across Franklin's experiences with and thoughts about the Rev. George Whitefield. Whitefield was an evangelical Calvinist whom God used to proclaim the gospel during the period now known as the Great Awakening. He was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and the Wesley brothers and along with the Wesley brothers is considered a founder of the modern Methodist church.

This chapter was so interesting to me that I decided to provide excerpts here along with my thoughts. I hope it will be worth your time.

The first excerpt begins now:

"In 1739 arrived among us from Ireland the Reverend Mr. Whitefield, who had made himself remarkable there as an itinerant preacher. He was at first permitted to preach in some of our churches; but the clergy, taking a dislike to him, soon refus'd him their pulpits, and he was oblig'd to preach in the fields. The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers, and how much they admir'd and respected him, notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them that they were naturally half beasts and half devils."
It takes only a general knowledge of Mr. Whitefield's life and preaching to confirm that he was completely orthodox in his theology. What, then, led the church leaders of his day to reject him their pulpits as is reported by Franklin? I speculate it was his methodology which may have been a bit unorthodox to their sensibilities. Or it may have been due to a bit of jealousy, a malady to which many preachers seem to be susceptible. If anyone reading this has a thought, or some clarity to add, I would love to hear from you in the comments section.

I have to laugh at Franklin, though I admire much of his thinking, when I read his viewpoint on the content of Whitefield's preaching. Franklin was a very self-righteous individual, as his autobiography expresses so well. Though he was brought up Presbyterian, he openly questioned many of the tenets of that faith that he had been taught as a child. His personal theology, as expressed in this autobiography, seems a bit ironic to me. He confesses that he could not accept the Christian doctrines on "God's eternal decrees, election, reprobation, so forth", yet he finally settles upon the idea, based purely on his own reasoning, of a God who is benevolent, expects virtue of his creatures, judges sin either in this life or the next, and works providentially in the lives of men. To believe in God's providence, but not in his eternal decree seems inconsistent to me, but somehow seemed consistent to him. I would surmise that this is due to the fact that Franklin was more concerned about personal virtue than about theology itself, viewing the latter as less important. His complaint, for example, about the local Presbyterin minister, whom he supported financially but not with his attendance or other assistance, was that this man seemed to be more interested in making his congregants good Presbyterians than good citizens.

As I said, Franklin was a self-righteous man, believing himself to be responsible for living as virtuous a life as possible, but believing this chiefly because his saw (properly) that a virtuous life was the key to attaining as much personal happiness as possible. To Franklin, a virtuous life was a good life was a happy life and a citizenry armed with this knowledge would lead to the best possible society. Thus, Franklin's gospel was the gospel of virtuous living, attainable by anyone who set his mind to it. Innate to this belief was a belief in the inherent goodness and ability of man to be virtuous. His own personal experiences, as related in a previous chapter to this one, would seem to belie this, nevertheless he perseveres.

All of this leads me to chortle at his reaction to Whitefield's proclamation of the gospel, the foundation of which is that man is inherently wicked. At this point Whitefield and Franklin lock horns and are, sadly, never reconciled. Look, again, at Franklin's assessment of Whitefield's declaration of human depravity:
". . . notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them that they were naturally half beasts and half devils."
Yet, in this same autobiography, we find that his personal experiences in seeking to obtain moral perfection taught him that (a) he was far less virtuous than he had at first thought, that (b) the struggle for virtue was made more difficult by his own reason which constantly sought to make excuses for his not being as virtuous as he, at other times, wished to be, and (c) that he never was able to arrive at perfection, it being what he found to be an impossible task.

Franklin's view of the human condition was that man was inherently good and should seek to attain as virtuous a life as possible because this was the road to a better life and society. The Christian viewpoint, however, is that man is inherently evil, that unless God supernaturally intervenes he will remain so, and that true virtue can only be obtained through faith in God's grace, because of the finished work of Christ at Calvary. Franklin leaves men dependent upon themselves for goodness and happiness while Whitefield points them to dependence upon God for the same.

Perhaps I shall continue this line of posting and try to get something up more than once a month.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cal Thomas on Episcopals and Baptists

I just read this opinion piece written by Cal Thomas about a week ago and thought it worth linking here on this blog.

Here is an excerpt:

"Inclusivity has nothing to do with the foundational truths set forth in Scripture. The church, which belongs to no denomination, but to its Founding Father and His Son, is about exclusivity for those who deny the faith. The church is inclusive only for those who are adopted by faith into G0d's family. There are more biblical references to this than there is room to cite here, but for the Episcopal leadership, biblical references no longer have the power to persuade, much less compel them to conform. That's because Episcopal leadership has denied the teachings of Scripture in favor of, well, inclusivity, a word that appears nowhere in Scripture. Even if it did, Episcopal heretics — for that is what they are — would choose another word to make them feel more comfortable, since accommodation with the world seems to be a more important objective than the favor of G0d."
And here is the link to the article: link

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Frightening Thing About Health Care Reform

One of the things that frightens me most about this heatlh care "reform" that Obama and Washington are trying to shove down our collective throats is the rumor I've been hearing that my tax dollars will be used to pay for abortions.

If true, this would be abhorrent and unconscionable. I would have to seriously consider civil disobedience. They cannot compel a citizen to financially support something that his conscience and religious conviction abhors.

Can they?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Dennis Miller Radio Show

My friend, Tom Sawyer, listens to the Dennis Miller Radio Show every day. Our local station only carries the first two hours, but Tom is faithful to it. Myself, I go back and forth between Dennis and Glenn Beck. Dennis is cool and laid back, Glenn is crazy and on the edge. I'm with whichever one fits my mood at the time.

A couple of days ago, Tom posted something about the Dennis Miller radio show on his blog and so the next morning I was over there at that station listening whereas I might not have been otherwise.

In the second hour, Dennis had, as his guest, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Senator DeMint has recently published a book entitled Saving Freedom: We Can Stop America's Slide Into Socialism. He and Dennis had a great conversation in which Dennis, who is moderately conservative but radically funny, expressed the opinion that he thought Republicans went a bit far when they accused Democrats of being the enemies of liberty. In Dennis's opinion, this came off as a bit shrill. He asked DeMint for some examples of how Democrats sought to take away liberties. The examples DeMint gave were all economic examples. Dennis then wondered out loud if perhaps it would be better if Republicans were more specific in their criticisms by toning down the rhetoric to just "fiscal liberties." Wouldn't it be better, and more accurate, to say that Democrats were seeking to take away "fiscal liberties"?

Then, Dennis opined that he was a reasonable guy, and that, as a reasonable guy, he didn't mind giving up a portion of his income to help the down-and-out. DeMint's reply to that was great. He told Dennis that in his (Demint's) opinion, Dennis could do more to help the needy if he (Dennis) could keep his own money and distribute it himself rather than sending it to Washington.

(I wholeheartedly agree with Senator DeMint.

And, before I forget, let me add that it was primarily "fiscal liberty" over which the Revolutionary War was fought. All that soaring rhetoric about liberty which emanated from the pens and political stumps of our founders was first and foremost about "fiscal liberty." But I digress.)

That's when Miller ended the conversation by noting that he would be glad to disperse that money himself, but that he would have a hard time doing it from behind prison bars, which is exactly where he would be if he did not send his money to Washington.

Commercial break.

That's when I decided to call . . . and got through. Yes, I was shocked at how easy it was. The call screener asked me my name, where I was from, and what I wanted to say to Dennis. Two minutes later I was on the air.

Eat your heart out Tom Sawyer.

I was probably the worst caller of the day because I was so nervous. I tried to point out to Dennis that the good Senator DeMint and he had hit right on the crux of the issue with the whole "do what you want with your own money/but you can't do that from prison" exchange. This is what tyranny is, it is telling people that you (the government) know better what to do with a given individual's money than that individual and that if that you are going to take that individual's money (which represents his hands, his mind, his time, his risk, his work, his very worth) by threat of the sword and do better things with it than he can. The individual no longer works for himself and his own and his God. He now works for government so government can distribute to the collective. By-bye liberty.

I didn't do very well at expressing that on the radio, but I did pay Dennis a couple of compliments and he was able to turn them into very funny lines. I had an adrenaline rush for about two more hours and my wife was very, very impressed with me. I will certainly try calling again and maybe next time I'll do better.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Government and Tyranny

A cyber-friend who goes by the handle of One Salient Oversight has done me the kindness of answering one of my posts here in the comments section of that post. Since he is quite possibly my only reader at this point, and since my response to his comment became quite lengthy, I have opted to bring it out here to the front page. OSO is an Aussie, a nice guy, and a guy who knows how to disagree graciously. I hope I can return his graciousness and that we can both profit from our discussion.

OSO is a big-government liberal and our disagreement concerns the nature and purpose of government.

First let me quote him, then I'll respond.

OSO wrote: One counter-argument from the top of my head concerns sin. Sin affects both the individual and the community. To argue that the Biblical direction is more individualistic is to argue that the sins of the many outweigh the sins of the few (in a per capita sense). I would argue that sin affects both equally.

That's not my argument. My argument is that because of our sin nature, power tends to corrupt. I firmly believe the maxim: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Though there are exceptions to the rule, history is replete with individuals who sought power for power's sake so that they could use it to tyrannize others. Give sinful man that much control over others and he tends to abuse it.

Think about it this way. Government is only necessary because of sin. Before sin, there was no need for the ten commandments. Man had God's law written on his heart, he obeyed willingly. When men sin government becomes necessary in order to execute justice and this is government's primary purpose.

The founders of our country believed this for they wrote about a Creator who had endowed us with certain unalienable rights and then they went on to delineate government's responsibility in protecting those rights. Government is about protecting the individual's liberty so that he may live free and be judged by God for how he lived in that final day. Every man's life is his own and he is responsible to God for how he lived it. It is imperative, therefore, that he be free to live that life as his conscience dictates and be judged by the just judge of the universe in that final day.

But, I've strayed. The point is that because of sin, men who have power tend to be corrupted by it. Governments, in reality, serve to perpetuate their own power and increase it. Governments never naturally shrink, they naturally grow.

Why is it that you think that you know better how others ought to live their lives than they do? And if you do, what gives you the right to enforce your viewpoint on them? You can, and should, seek to persuade men. You can, and should, take moral stands and proclaim truth and righteousness. But when do you get the right to enforce your viewpoint on another via the sword?

It is Charles Spurgeon who is credited with saying "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." This is why the marriage of church and state is a great evil. It does not make Christians of men, it only makes hypocrites and increases rebellion. Men who are born of God worship him freely.

We have every right to persuade men to come to Christ. We have no right to enforce our theological viewpoint on them. By the same token, we have every right to persuade men to give to the poor, but we have no right to reach into their pocket, take their hard-earned money, and give it to someone who has not earned it. If your name is not Government, that is called robbery and will get you in jail. Why do we think a crime can be made into a virtue by majority vote?

If I have money beyond what I need for my family, money I have earned by my labor and God's grace, and God gives me opportunity to give to another who is in need, and I do so, that is a virtuous act. God is glorified in that. But if I then go to my neighbor and by threat of physical violence compel him to give of his means to help someone else's need I have committed a grievous sin, a crime. But this is what socialist government does.

If I don't pay my taxes the government will put me in jail. But what does the government do with my money? It redistributes it to others. Gone is any virtue in my giving . . . because I was forced. Gone is any choice I had in where and how and to whom I should be charitable. Gone is my expendable income and any opportunity I might have to actually help others whom God might send across my path.

And what right do others have to tell me what to do with my money anyway? More to the point, what right does any given majority have to enforce its viewpoint on any particular individual on how he ought to use his money to help others? This is tyranny. It is the opposite of liberty.

Here's what the majority should do. It should seek to peaceably persuade others to commit acts of virtue freely, after having practiced those virtues themselves. Gone is the greedy, corrupt, wasteful, power-mongering middle-man called government. Intact is liberty. Intact is genuine charity. Intact is justice. Socialism destroys all three.

I have rambled on so far that I have forgotten my original point, but I think it was this: men are by nature corrupt, therefore their power over others should be very limited and very local and they should be held very accountable for their use of that power. The larger and more centralized a government is, the less it can be held accountable and under control.

Corporations Don't Pay Taxes

It's one in a long line of stupid, leftist, class warfare mantras often repeated by leftist, socialist politicians along with their leftist, socialist propagandists in the main-stream media. It usually goes something like this: "We're going to make those big corporations pay their fair share. It's about time somebody stood up to big tobacco, oil, pharmaceuticals, fill in your favorite villainous capitalistic enterprise here."

And people buy it.

My friend Tom Sawyer at The River is a lot less charitable to Democrat voters than I am. He thinks they are all stupid. While I don't agree, I have to admit that the fact that this little ploy always seems to work makes me wonder if Tom is right.

Corporations don't pay taxes.

I know, I know, I know. You point out to me that they collect and pay sales tax. Yes, they do. They also are responsible to pay a lot of other taxes in the form of fees and regulatory sanctions most of which we don't even know about.

I know.

But I'm still telling you that corporations don't pay taxes. Now, think with me for a minute.

One, corporations are not amorphous, impersonal entities. Corporations are owned by individuals. A tax on a corporation is a tax on the individuals who are shareholders in that corporation. Some of them are businessmen. Many of them are simply people who have retirement money wrapped up in mutual funds. They are teachers, doctors, factory workers, small business owners, salesmen, tradesmen, you-name-it. Average Joes. Raising taxes on a corporation is raising taxes on average Joe.

Two, a tax on a corporation doesn't just affect the shareholders, it affects the employees. Money that could have been used to give pay raises, bonuses, vacation pay, health benefits, you name it, to employees must now be diverted to the government. Hit the corporation with new taxes and you are just taking money away from the people who work for that corporation.

But number three is the real kicker. I really want you to pay attention to number three.

Three, when you tax a business, that business simply passes the tax burden on to the consumer in the form of cost increases. This is such a no-brainer I don't know why I even have to post about it. When the federal government taxes "Big Oil", "Big Oil" just raises prices at the pump and guess who has to pay those tax increases on "Big Oil"? Yep. You do.

When you voted for a Democrat so he could make "Big Oil" pay its fair share you really socked it to "Big Oil" didn't you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Big Government Liberal?

A cyber-friend of mine posted an interesting piece on one of his blogs a few months back and since I am way out of the loop I just read it a few minutes ago. This friend is politically on the left while at the same time he has an evangelical faith. Those of you out there who are secularists might not be able to grasp that one, specifically those of you who think the term 'evangelical' is a political rather than a theological term. I'm not sure how this anomaly occurs (that of being an evangelical and a leftist) but I am almost certain it has to do with some sort of regressive genes and perhaps if our good friend Richard Dawkins were here he could explain how it might be a positive step in the evolutionary process.


Anyway, here is what my friend One Salient Oversight wrote (I blanked out specific names of specific individuals because they were unimportant to the discussion at hand):

"I am not saying that my political stance is the way to go. One of the basic reasons of the disagreement between (...) and I is over politics. (...) is the small government is the only solution type. I am far more leftist in that regard and think largish government supported by higher taxes is a good thing. If that was all it was then I would have no problem with (...)'s politics. The problem with (...) is that he has taken on small government as being biblically taught. (...) therefore not only thinks that his political position is right, but also biblically mandated. That is where (...) and I differ. While I have leftist beliefs that I think are great there is no way I would argue that my position is biblical because neither position is backed up in scripture. Political ideology is one area that the Bible is broadly silent on and which therefore gives believers freedom to choose. (...) has taken an area of life that Christians are allowed liberty to choose in and turned it into a black/white biblical/unbiblical issue. Many of my disagreements with him have been about this very thing. I will expand this idea as I post about it."

First, let me say that I don't go to (...)'s blog, don't read what he writes at other blogs, frankly have never found him that compelling when I did read him (once upon a time), and have no desire to defend anything he has written. But what my friend OSO says in the quotation above intrigues me and I want to address some of it. Here goes:

"I am not saying that my political stance is the way to go. One of the basic reasons of the disagreement between (...) and I is over politics. (...) is the small government is the only solution type.

I, too, am a small-government-type. I don't arrive at that position by way of pragmatism, however, although I could. I arrive at it by way of principle. I believe small, decentralized government is the only way to go and that large central government is, by nature of the beast, always bad. Not that the concept is inherently bad, but that it always turns out bad due to the nature of the individuals who people it.

OSO goes on:

"I am far more leftist in that regard and think largish government supported by higher taxes is a good thing.

I find this interesting how we have almost come full circle on this left/right thing. Back in Thomas Jefferson's day he was considered a radical leftist because he championed the individual over government and thought big government was equal to tyranny. He is/was a classical liberal. Today, his position is held by no one on the American left. Modern liberals champion big government while individual liberty and Jeffersonian democracy were best represented in this last century by the Republican conservative Ronald Reagan. So in a weird twist of irony I am a classical liberal, aka conservative, while the big government conservative types of Jefferson's day find their ideology represented today on the American left.

OSO continues:

"If that was all it was then I would have no problem with (...)'s politics. The problem with (...) is that he has taken on small government as being biblically taught. (...) therefore not only thinks that his political position is right, but also biblically mandated. That is where (...) and I differ. While I have leftist beliefs that I think are great there is no way I would argue that my position is biblical because neither position is backed up in scripture. Political ideology is one area that the Bible is broadly silent on and which therefore gives believers freedom to choose. (...) has taken an area of life that Christians are allowed liberty to choose in and turned it into a black/white biblical/unbiblical issue. Many of my disagreements with him have been about this very thing."

Again, I have no desire to either learn or defend the positions of the individual cited above. But I think it is necessary to point out that I believe that a biblical world-view, consistently applied, will lead one to a position of favoring individual liberty to a large extent over big government. Government was instituted by God and some government will always be necessary. How much government is the question at stake and I do believe that my position is more theologically sound than that of One Salient Oversight. I would like the opportunity to expound upon that over time. I am sure that he will afford me that opportunity as well as give me the grace of responding thoughtfully to what I write.

And, I guess that means I am blogging again--but only sporadically.