, ,

Police Racism in America?

With every new shooting of a Black American comes a deluge of Facebook posts calling for an end to racism in policing. In the latest shooting, a white, female police officer fatally shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, in what appears to be a bad shooting. I’ve seen the videos and it does appear that there was little cause for lethal force, although I do think it is important to refrain from judgment until an investigation can be done.

If this was a bad shooting, which seems likely at this point, it is indeed a tragedy. I mourn, as I think we all should, the death of a man who probably did not deserve it. The officer, if guilty, should be prosecuted under the law. That being said, I think it is a mistake to lump this shooting in with the raft of other white-on-black police shootings that further cement a narrative of police racism. Here’s why:

  1. Many of these shootings have been woefully misrepresented. The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson is probably the prime example. Personally, I went from deep sadness to near rage when I actually took the time to investigate the facts of the case. The media portrayed a narrative where Michael the gentle giant was shot with his hands up by a clearly racist officer. That story basically created months of rioting in Ferguson. In fact, Brown was a criminal who had charged Officer Wilson and was rightfully gunned down. This is a major problem. The mainstream media has become so entrenched in a liberal bias at this point that it seems to be intentionally crafting a bird’s-eye-view narrative of this issue that is false. And this is demonstrated in the data.
  2. The statistical fact is that cops shoot almost twice as many whites as blacks (50% vs 26% of police shootings). Though some will argue that blacks are only 13% of the population, this is misleading because they commit the majority of violent crimes. Heather MacDonald writes that “the black violent crime rate would actually predict that more than 26 percent of police victims would be black.” Furthermore, a 2015 DoJ report shows that Hispanic and Black officers are more likely than white officers to shoot blacks. The greater point here is that white on white or black on black police shootings don’t make good TV, but white on black ones are trumpeted on every news network and re-shared ad nuaseum via social media, hence the number of comments on my Facebook wall saying, “how does this keep happening?”
  3. Our media and university system have embraced a deeply flawed concept of racism. I do not refute the fact that racism exists in our police and court system, because racism exists everywhere. On the other hand, I absolutely reject the notion that the only racism that matters is the systemic racism of oppressive groups. It is racist when someone assumes that an officer acted out of racist intent, without actual evidence. It is bigoted when Colin Kaepernick likens cops to pigs. The fact that these racist attitudes are not held by white people does not make them less racist or bigoted.

And this is where the gospel comes in. We live in a flawed world, but God, the great judge of all, promises to judge each person according to his/her deeds and situations. This is a glorious truth. He will make all things right and reward those who bore unfair treatment in faith. He never promises that this world, in this age, will be totally fair or right, but he promises he’ll take all these things into consideration when he judges.

This is important to know, because this truth gives us grace to repent for our own wrongs, and forgive those who wrong us. In forgiving, we free ourselves from offense that locks us in pain and causes us to judge others falsely. My call, especially to my Christian brethren, is to let go of offense in this area so that we can see clearly. Offense and anger cannot cast out wickedness, it only makes it worse.

From that perspective, let’s evaluate each of these shootings in turn. Let’s refrain from condemning all police or making accusations of racism without evidence. Let’s fight for the guilty to be punished, the innocent to be saved, for police reform where needed, and for justice for each person.

,

The Dark Underbelly of Calvinism: Double Predestination

Standard disclaimer: Calvinism/Arminianism is minor doctrine and should not result in disunity in its discussion. Many of the greatest Christians I know differ with my position on this matter, and yet it is important to discuss these differences openly, disagreeing with but not  dishonoring any brother/sister in the Lord.

Calvinist teachers often proclaim how glorious it is that Christians have been personally chosen by God before the foundation of the world, not because of anything they have done, but because God chose to love and save them, and how this truth should make Christians stand in awe of God’s great generosity and compassion.

What rarely gets preached is the flip-side of this coin: how “glorious” it is that unbelievers are predestined to eternal torment, though they are no more or less deserving than those being saved, so that God may be glorified.

Here I should mention that there is a debate within Calvinist circles. Some argue that double predestination (the notion that God predestines some to hell) is the only logical conclusion, and some say that it is best to leave it a mystery, so as not to give the appearance that God is the author of sin (though they offer no real logical alternative – hence the “mystery”).

The fact that there is such a debate should demonstrate how terrible this point of doctrine is. How exactly does the eternal torture of billions glorify God? Why couldn’t God predestine all to be with Him in heaven? There’s no good answer. No less a Calvinist authority than John MacArthur posts on his website:

Question:
[A very young Child]: I listened to your sermon last Sunday, and I was wondering, why didn’t God choose everybody to be saved?

John MacArthur:
Kids always ask those questions. Adults don’t ask them because they’ve learned there’s no answer.

“Why didn’t God choose everyone to be saved? You know something, honey? I don’t know. I don’t know. But, I’ll give you a basic answer, Ok? And the basic answer–and I hope you can understand this–the basic answer is: because He got more glory for his own name by doing it the way He did it. God does what He does for His glory. And somehow, in some way, God is glorified in what He did, and that’s why He did it.”

(http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA182/why-didnt-god-choose-everyone-to-be-saved)

This is the answer of someone forced to say something he doesn’t want to, because the “truth” doesn’t seem good at all, to him, or to anybody.

I contend that telling Christians that they should praise God because he has predestined them for salvation is like telling 18th century white slave owners that America is great because of slavery. When the natural rebuttal is presented–but it doesn’t seem so great for the damned/slaves–the answer is usually something like, “don’t look at them, look at yourself! See how merciful God is to you and how great you have it, and be thankful. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth son.” The poor neophyte Calvinist is herded away from such “childish” questions (as MacArthur would seem to think) and back to the mysteriously “great” sovereignty of God.

Now let me say that I understand why many Calvinists say what they do–because they are trying to be faithful to what they understand Paul to be saying in passages like Romans 9. When Paul says that God predestines some to hell in order “to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy” (Rom 9:23 – Calvinist reading), it’s understandable why devout Christians would feel obligated to celebrate something that doesn’t seem all that great. It’s like God is some crazy football coach who forces his family to cheer for his team whether they want to or not.

Or… we can consider that maybe we’ve misunderstood passages like Romans 9, and perhaps for very understandable reasons. In fact, the Bible itself foretells the very reason why this happens. In Romans 11, Paul warns Gentile believers that if they become arrogant towards the Jewish people on account of their rejection of Christ, that God will cut them off.  (v13-24) And this is exactly what happened. The early Church started to stray from honoring Israel, eventually began to persecute Jews, and were in many ways “cut off” from grace during the Dark Ages. Some of the Church’s deepest misunderstandings of New Testament passages are a result of arrogance towards Israel, thinking that we can rightly interpret Jewish writings without understanding the culture from which they came. Election is a prime example. Most Calvinist interpretation of passages like Romans 9, Ephesians 1, and John 6/10 flows from a misunderstanding of Jewish concepts of election.

In truth, God does actually desire that all people be saved. There’s no “secret” will; he commands all men to repent and believe in Jesus whom he sent to die for the sins of the world. He created the world without sin, and man, through his own free choice, chose to sin even though he was warned that if he did so death would be the result. Despite this well-deserved condemnation, God still desired reconciliation with man and sent his own Son to die for the sins of humanity.

Understand how different this picture is from Calvinism’s. In Calvinism, the overarching picture is one where God condemns many people (and saves a few) to glorify himself. He–essentially–uses people for his glory. In “Arminianism,” God condemns himself–he uses himself–to glorify people. He humbles himself to exalt us. It’s very easy to see how God is glorified in the latter. He shows himself the great loving King, worthy of praise and emulation.

Calvinism’s portrayal of the gospel only works if we emphasize the beneficial side of the coin. Aren’t we so lucky (at their expense)? Isn’t God so good (to us)? But a God who is only “good” to some is not truly good. Would it make sense to your unbelieving friend that God very well could have predestined him to hell so that you would be more thankful? Such a notion seems ridiculous when stated so baldly. Could it be that such a concept of election is not at all what the biblical authors intended to communicate?

In fact, there are very good Arminian explanations for all Calvinist “proof texts,” and I shall be going over some of the major ones as I did with Romans 9 earlier. It seems that in the vast majority of cases when I do explain Arminian counter-arguments to Calvinist talking points, that it is the first time that many have even heard the argument. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that Calvinists today have so dominated the conversation (at least in my circles) that most have not even heard the other side of the argument. These rebuttals should ideally stand, in the hearers mind, next to the great preponderance of biblical texts that assume that readers actually do have free choice, and that one’s decisions do truly matter.

, ,

The Most Misunderstood Chapter in Scripture: Romans 9

I’m listening today to Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology podcast, which is pretty good for a summary of biblical theology. I appreciate Grudem’s even-keeled temperament and clear exposition. I also like that he marries serious intellectualism with charismatic practice, which is a wonderful trend to see in the Church.

I just listened to his section on election though, and it’s so frustrating to hear this brilliant man run right into the plain-as-day logical incompatibility of Calvinism, over and over again, like a gif of the titanic hitting an iceberg on endless repeat. God pre-ordains man to sin; God punishes man for sinning. God saves some for no meritorious reason so he gets all the credit; this, of course, is not a random selection. Our evangelism or prayer cannot actually affect the identity or number of anyone being saved; we are still told its vitally important for us to do them. and so on and so on. Of course, Romans 9 is the cornerstone for Grudem’s (and every other major Calvinist’s) argument for why, even though it seems criminally unfair, we must bow before the “clear teaching of Scripture” that God is both just and loving to predetermine men’s sinfulness and then condemn them to eternal torture for their sin. God is the potter, and who are we mere men to question his choice to make vessels for destruction? What other explanation could there be?

How about one that actually makes sense in the context of the passage! In fact, the Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 makes almost no sense if you actually understand the sweep of Paul’s argument in that chapter.

Look at the chapter’s bookends! Paul introduces the topic in verses 1-5, “I have great sorrow… for the sake of my people…Israel.” Then, at the end, he summarizes his thoughts in vs. 30-31, “What shall we say then? (What does all this mean?) That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.” The chapter is not about individual people; it’s about Israel!

Let me give an overview of Romans 9.

v1-5. Paul is sad about Israel’s rejection of Jesus, and will now explain why it is happening even though God promised them a glorious future as his chosen people.

v6-13. He starts off by explaining that Israel was chosen by grace, not by its own merit. Jacob’s descendents (Israel) were chosen over Esau’s, as the prophecy Paul references was “Two nations are in your womb…and the older will serve the younger.”

“Is that unjust?” Paul asks (v14). No! Because He “will have mercy on whom [he] has mercy.” Why does Paul bring this up? Because this is what the Lord tells Moses right after the golden calf incident, when he chooses to have mercy on Israel because of Moses’ intercession and not wipe out the nation. God’s purposes, therefore, do not depend of human effort, but on God’s mercy. Israel failed its holy calling about 5 minutes after it was commissioned at Sinai, and yet the Lord gave mercy for the sake of his purposes.

Then Paul brings up Pharoah, whom God hardened as a judgment for his decision to refuse to obey God’s commands. Why? Because God used Pharoah’s disobedience to glorify himself through a miraculous exodus. God used a sinful man to accomplish his good plans to bless Israel, whom He had chosen.

The flow of his argument here is really important to understand. You see, God has mercy on who he will, but also hardens whom he wants to harden. Why is this relevant? Because now, in Paul’s time, God is hardening Israel in exactly the same way he hardened Pharaoh, to accomplish his purposes for those whom he has chosen among the Gentiles.

v19-21. Then why does God still blame us (Jews)?” This is where Paul brings up the Potter, which is directly from Jeremiah 18. There, God tells Jeremiah that Israel is like a lump of clay that resists the will of the potter, so the potter has the right to refashion the lump for an appropriate use in his plans. He also says, though, that if that nation repents he will relent from his planned disaster. (Let me be clear here: God’s sovereign choice is in hardening Israel! The lump of clay that is used for “common use” is Israel!)

v22-25. The objects of his wrath, born with great patience, are Jews, who are judged harshly by the Lord in AD 70 and scattered among the nations, but preserved for a great purpose in the future, as Paul will explain in Romans 11. Gods scattering of Israel fulfilled God’s purposes as a righteous judgment against Israel and a blessing to the nations as the believing Jews brought with them the gospel of their messiah Jesus.

Paul finishes the chapter by referencing numerous OT prophecies about the Gentiles coming to faith and summarizes by saying: “What shall we say then? (What does all this mean?) That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal.” This conclusion makes perfect sense if the topic of the chapter is the election of Israel. 

This overview of Romans 9 makes perfect sense in the flow of Paul’s argument until chapter 11, and I lovingly challenge any Calvinist to seriously consider this interpretation. I understand that rethinking a Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is not easy at all for those who have long held to such a view, but I contend that Calvinism seriously distorts Paul’s intended message here, and forces the adherent to adopt a picture of God’s sovereignty that is both logically incompatible and deeply unloving according to the testimony of the rest of Scripture. It makes a mockery of Christ’s true offer of salvation for all and his deep longing that all men be saved.