The Gospel (Coalition) and Ferguson

There is an interesting contrast of perspectives on happenings in Ferguson over at The Gospel Coalition. I am not sure “contrast” is strong enough; nor if “interesting” is clear enough; but nonetheless…

Thabiti Anyabwile has had several posts on the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath.

Voddie Baucham contributed some thoughts published on Wednesday.

These two men have radically different views on what has been happening in Ferguson, and what should be done in the aftermath. Thabiti has already put forth a rebuttal of Voddie’s arguments.

In a moment this will sound contradictory, but I am not writing to take a “side” in the debate: even though I am in pretty much full agreement with one of them. I am not writing to take a side, but I think a side has to be taken.

I realize the ethos of TGC is that we are in agreement on the gospel, while we may disagree about “lesser” matters. Even as it is pretty much recognized that one only gets cache in said Coalition if he has a Calvinistic soteriology and non-Dispensational ecclesiology/eschatology.

Agreeing on the gospel is all well and good, but the gospel demands discrimination. Given the larger subject matter here, “discrimination” risks being incendiary; that is not my intent though.

The noun “gospel” occurs more times in the little book of Philippians more than in any other New Testament book except Romans. The “big center” of the book (1:27-4:9) is really all about living a citizen worthy of the gospel-kingdom. At both the beginning and end of the book, believers are confronted with the truth that the gospel changes our minds (1:9-11; 4:8-9). The gospel changes what we think about; how we think; how we distinguish/discern/discriminate; how we live.

It is good for brothers to come together and discuss their differences. Some differences are long-lived. Justin Martyr speaks of differing eschatological viewpoints even in his day. Some differences are going to last until the Great Day. But even in these agreeable disagreements, someone is wrong. Even if we don’t yet know who it is. Other disagreements can and should be hashed out.

The opinions of Anyabwile and Baucham are opposed to one another. I think Anyabile’s reply makes that unmistakable. I think these men understand they have different viewpoints- with little middle ground. They both might be wrong, one might be right, but both are not and cannot be right.

So I am not sure what TGC is hoping to achieve by presenting both viewpoints without further comment. The gospel indeed holds Thabiti and Voddie together in a bond that can never be broken. But that same gospel demands that their opposing views by examined in all love, knowledge, and discernment so that what is excellent may be recognized.

Are we all to just pick our side?

Or can the gospel bring us together?

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The Marriage Equality Sham

We live in Indiana. The State legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to define marriage as union between one man and one woman. The other evening we received a telephone call from some group pushing for marriage equality and wanting to add our names to the list of all fair minded, right thinking Hoosiers everywhere.

It is a sham. From both directions.

I didn’t answer the phone. My wife did. I hope I get to the next time.

“Hello sir, do you support marriage equality?”

“No, I certainly do not. And you probably don’t either.”

“Well, sir, I most certainly do.”

“Really? So you support the right of 40 year old man to marry an 11 year old boy?”

“Well, sir, that involves a minor so…”

“But you do support the right of one man to marry 3 consenting women? Or 4 consenting men? Or a consenting horse? What with you supporting marriage equality and all…”

“Thank you for your time sir…”

No one supports marriage equality. “Equality” is a sham. “Legislating morality” is a straw man. “Thou shalt not judge” is hogwash. Everyone judges. Everyone. That is why we are told to judge with right judgment. Jesus said that. Everyone judges. No one supports marriage equality.

But I am not too impressed with those politicians pushing for the passing of this legislation. I’m pretty sure they know any such passage wouldn’t stand for more than two weeks in the current judicial climate. I mean, I know it, so I am just assuming people who are doing this for a living know it too.

No Statehouse is going to remedy what ails this land.

 

 

 

Joel Beeke Reformed Rap Holy Hip Hop Mea Culpas and Why Christ Came: Will the Real Dr. Beeke Please Stand Up?

Dr. Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and prolific author on all things Puritan, has been “encouraged” to walk back comments he made when questioned about Reformed Rap. A panel at a Family Worship conference was asked what they thought about Reformed Rap. Dr. Beeke gave the “softest” most gracious answer of any of the panel members. But even that was too much for the gatekeepers. His good friend, Tim Challies, made it clear that such Christian liberty would not be tolerated and apologies were in order. Dr. Beeke apologized,

Recently I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at a Reformed Worship conference. In that discussion the panelists were asked to address the subject of Christian rap music (which I took to mean rap music primarily in the context of a local church worship service). To my regret, I spoke unadvisedly on an area of music that I know little about. It would have been far wiser for me to say nothing than to speak unwisely. Please forgive me. I also wish to publicly disassociate myself from comments that judged the musicians’ character and motives.

It seems pretty clear that any kind of divergent opinion on such matters is strictly forbidden among Evangelicalism’s elite.

I had always thought pretty highly of Dr. Beeke. I don’t know him personally or anything, but I have never seen anything from him I found objectionable- (I mean, other than the fact that he gives babies baths in church…). For family devotions we are actually using his newly released book. Why Christ Came. Given his recent encounters with the Rap PC crew, I found certain statements in chapter 5 of that book pretty discouraging:

  • In cultures and thought systems that reject the very idea of absolute truth rooted in Christ, speaking the truth is not necessarily a virtue and lying is not necessarily a fault. (p. 16)
  • Today, even in Judeo-Christian contexts, people frequently question the existence of truth itself. Some people wonder whether truth matters. (p. 17)
  • Pilate questioned the existence of truth, and his life bore the fruit of his doubts. He lived in fear of losing position. Against his conscience, he gave deference to the requests of the people. (p. 17)
  • Do you experience true freedom in Christ? Or are you living in bondage to the fear of men, to the demands of your flesh, and to the guilt of lies? (p. 18)

Wow. A couple things stick out to me. First, it seems pretty cleat that Evangelicalism is no longer just “No Place for Truth,” it is now “No Place for Debate.” If the gatekeepers have rendered their verdict, that verdict is final and it will be unopposed. Secondly, I would really like to hear Dr. Beeke’s answer to those final questions that he himself asked.

I feel bad for a man who is not allowed to have personal standards of holiness. I feel worse for a church who will not let him have them.

League of Denial and the Sixth Commandment: Can Reformed Christians Watch, Play, or Otherwise Enjoy Football?

Thou shalt not kill.
Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17

Man is such a paradox. He sins and is lawless. Yet he is a legalist at heart. Show me where “it is written!” If I have done what is written, well. If it is not written, I am free. Jesus addresses this tendency in the Sermon on the Mount with his repeated contrasts of “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you.”

Reformed catechisms and theologians have been careful to expound the Ten Commandments with this sinful proclivity in view. The sixth commandment, as do all the others, says much more than the four English words say. Question 69 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?” Answer: “The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.” The last three words are where battles could be fought: what exactly qualifies as “tending toward” death? Again, because we are legalists, we want to know exactly how dangerous something has to be before it is considered something “tending” toward death.”

As might be expected, question and answer 136 of the Westminster Larger Catechism gives a fuller answer:

Q. 136. What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.

According to the Westminster, the command forbidding murder also forbids any kind of physical harm that justice does not demand (i.e. parents are still required to discipline their children and civil authority is still required to punish evil).

Questions 105 through 107 of the Heidelberg Catechism are in substantial agreement with this:

105 Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?
A. I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor; not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds; and I am not to be party to this in others;  rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.  I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.  Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.

106 Q. Does this commandment refer only to killing?
A. By forbidding murder God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness.  In God’s sight all such are murder.

107 Q. Is it enough then that we do not kill our neighbor in any such way?
A. No. By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves,  to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them,  to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.

Reformed theologians echo the thought.

Predating both of the Catechisms above, Luther summarized man’s duty toward this commandments as: We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

When John Calvin turns his attention to explain this commandment in his Institutes of Christian Religion, he writes, “The purpose of this commandment is: the Lord has bound mankind together by a certain unity; hence each man ought to concern himself with the safety of all. To sum up, then, all violence injury and any harmful thing at all that may injure our neighbor’s body are forbidden to us.” (2.8.39)

The Reformers- at least two of the greatest- and Reformed catechisms- at least the three most well-known- interpret the sixth commandment in a Christ-like manner. The command prohibiting murder also forbids all physical harm and enjoins the protection of life.

With this understanding of the sixth commandment, how can any confessing Reformed Christian play, watch, or otherwise enjoy the game of football? Whether you are a Presbyterian who uses Westminster; or a Reformed who uses Heidelberg; or claim the term Lutheran or Calvinist; you are not being faithful to what you say you believe if you are investing time in football.

The game of football does physical harm to its participants. This element cannot be removed from the game. Furthermore, through the work of those doctors and scientists described in League of Denial, it is becoming clear that football literally kills it participants.

But we are legalists at heart. Football players do not get injured on every play. Not every football player will develop brain damage and die abandoned, penniless, and insane. Somewhere in the “tendeth thereunto” we can find all the allowance we need to enjoy watching men commit physical violence toward one another.

Book Review: League of Denial

Publication Details:
League of Denial The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth
Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
© 2013
Crown Archetype
ISBN 978-07704-3754-1

Pregame

 “Is football killing its players?”

“Do we really want to know?”

Brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Mark Fainaru ask these questions in the prologue of League of Denial (p. 8). It would be easy, and lazy, to read the book as a simple, “What did they know and when did they know it” story. League of Denial should be considered much more than merely an exposé of the National Football League’s response, or lack thereof, to the multiplying cases of brain damage of former football players.  It could reasonably be titled Nation in Denial. Football kills its players.

Highlights

League is divided into three parts mirroring stages in the development of the NFL’s growing concussion epidemic. Part One, “Discovery,” lays down the foundation for how the problem came to light. Chapters 1, 3, and 5 focus on the rise, fall, and untimely death of one man: Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Fame Center, Mike Webster. Mike Webster rarely missed a game during his 17 year NFL career. He died paranoid and penniless, barely able to string two thoughts together. Chapters 2, 4, and 6 detail concussions suffered by players in 1990s. The intent of the juxtaposition is clear: we should expect many more Mike Websters.

In between episodes of Mike Webster’s life, the reader is introduced to players Merril Hodge, AL Toon, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and one of the first NFL insiders to sound the alarm about concussions: player agent, Leigh Steinberg.  Seeing clients like Aikman and Steve Young suffer the debilitating effects of concussions drove him into action. In the mid 1990’s he began holding seminars on concussions and brain damage. By 2001 a study of over 2,500 living football players led researchers to one conclusion, “Football causes brain damage” (p. 117).

If part 1 detailed the beginning of sorrows, part 2, “Denial,” marks the entrance into great tribulation. The NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee is the focus of chapter 7. The committee was chaired by Elliot Pellman. Pellman was a rheumatologist who took some generous creative liberties when writing his résumé: lying about his education and job experience (p. 127). As team physician for the New York Jets he once sent tight end Kyle Brady back into a game on the next offensive series after being knocked unconscious. He would do the same with other players (p. 129-30).

Over the next several years the MTBI would publish a series of 16 papers on concussions in the journal Neurosurgery: a journal under the editorial control of New York Giants medical consultant Michael Apuzzo. The first three papers provided valuable scientific information. It was determined that the heads of NFL players were struck with blows that measured between 70 to 126 g forces. That is equivalent to being hit in the head by a 10-pound canon ball traveling 30 m.p.h. Earlier studies had demonstrated that the collision of two NFL linemen produced up to six times the energy as the firing of a .357 caliber bullet (p. 73).

The MTBI committee’s fourth paper asserted that football players were essentially impervious to brain damage (p. 145-6). In the peer review process, the paper was rejected by multiple readers and by the section editor of the journal. Michael Apuzzo, the general editor and New York Giants medical consultant, published it anyway. The remainder of the papers would repeat the same themes: there was no proof football led to brain damage; football players recovered quickly from concussions; suffering one concussion does not increase the risk for successive concussions; etc. Dr. Robert Cantu, the section editor for Neurosurgery wrote the NFL’s claims were “at odds with virtually all published guidelines and consensus statements on managing concussions” (p. 147).

Chapter 8 is the in depth introduction to Dr. Bennet Omalu. Omalu is the man credited with discovering the forensic proof that football causes brain damage. Omalu was on duty the Saturday Mike Webster’s corpse was wheeled into the Allegheny County coroner’s office. When Omalu removed the brain and initially examined it, he was somewhat disappointed: it appeared perfectly normal. On a whim he decided to have it “fixed:” chemically hardened and preserved for further study. Several months later, a scalpel and a microscope leveled one of the biggest hit the NFL would ever see.

Omalu discovered that Webster’s brain had a massive build-up of tau protein. As tau grows it strangles the brain’s neurons. This kind of Tau buildup had never been seen in someone as young as the 50 year old Webster. Omalu sought out confirmation of his findings from two more-experienced colleagues. Steve DeKosky, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh Medical College’s Department of Neurology stated, “I knew it was going to change everything, but quite frankly, it was so controversial that I just thought it’s going to take a long time before this is accepted” (p. 163).

The difficulty of that journey was made clear in 2004 when the NFL’s MTBI committee published its 5th paper in Neurosurgery. According to paper number 5, no NFL player had ever suffered brain damage (p. 167). This claim was made despite the fact the NFL retirement committee had awarded medical benefits for brain damage to Mike Webster and at least 8 other former players (p. 169).

The July 2005 edition of Neurosurgery published Omalu’s findings from the Mike Webster autopsy. Omalu had decided to apply the label chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to the ailment. Over the course of the following several years, former NFL players Terry Long and Andre Waters would commit suicide. They had exhibited some of the same disturbing behaviors as Mike Webster. Omalu examined their brains and saw the same tell-tale signs of CTE.

The remainder of part 2 is the story of entrenchment, accusation, and denial. Omalu, with the aid of others was able to study more brains. More doctors- even doctors hired by the NFL confirmed Omalu’s findings. In 2007 the NFL established the “88 Plan” to provide up to $88,000 per year to players suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Parkinson’s (p. 214-215). Yet the league continued to deny the link between football and brain damage. When asked about the rationale for the plan, league spokesman Greg Aiello simply stated that those ailments were common among the elderly.

In September of 2007 the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on the NFL retirement system. Former NFL player Dave Duerson was vocal in his support of the league and his denial that football caused brain damage. Four years later Duerson’s name was added to an ever increasing roster of former NFL players who committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest.

Part three, “Reckoning,” brings the debate and denial to the current year. Dave Duerson’s dying wish was that his brain be given to the “brain bank.” He too was found to have CTE. Despite a litany of doctors, deaths, studies, and players, the NFL continued to deny playing football caused brain damage. In 2009, the League’s 16th paper asserted football causes “no or minimal brain injury” (p. 276).

Even after the NFL donated $1 million dollars to Boston University and $30 million to the National Institutes of health, league commissioner Roger Goodell testified before congress in 2009 that the medical community was uncertain of the connection between football and brain injury. When league spokesman Greg Aiello was asked about the donation to BU, he replied, “It’s quite obvious from the medical research that’s been done that concussions can lead to long-term problems” (p. 284). This was the first and last time that anyone from the NFL acknowledged any connection between football and brain damage.

In 2013 the league settled a lawsuit brought by 6,000 former players for $765 million plus legal expenses (an estimated additional $200 million). That total represents less than 10% of one year’s revenue for the league. Ray Easterling, the lead plaintiff, committed suicide 8 months after the case was filed. He had CTE.

At the 2013 rookie symposium Cleveland Browns team doctor Mark Schickendantz told incoming NFL players, “Right now, we’re learning a little bit more about long-term brain damage. No direct cause and effect has been established yet” (p. 350).

Post game analysis

League of Denial tells a sickening story. As the medical community becomes increasingly certain that the game of football causes brain damage, the NFL desperately spins. With its mouth the league says the game is safe. With its wallet it has paid over one billion dollars to keep former players quiet.

Should you read League of Denial? First, the Christian reader should be advised that the book contains pervasive swearing. It is not on every page, but when it appears it is often in torrents. Because of the pervasive swearing, I cannot recommend the book to Christian readers. I would plead with you to watch the PBS Frontline special of the same name. It was produced in conjunction with the authors of the book and has most of the salient points without the foul language.

Of all the questions in the book, the most pungent is perhaps the last, “With so many alternatives, how can we let our children, our loved ones, ourselves, play a game that may destroy the essence of who we are? How can we enjoy it as entertainment?” (p. 339). This is asked by men from a scientific-humanist perspective. How much more should Christians confront this question?

We are made in the image of God. Is it right for Christians to take pleasure in an activity that does irreparable violence to God’s image? Is it demonstrating love for one’s neighbor to watch, to applaud, to cheer him as he loses 20, 30, 40 years of his life? Since seeing the Frontline report and reading the book, I have given up football entirely. Like so many of the doctors in the book, I can only wonder why it took me so long to see what was right in front of me.