2008-08-25

Is John McCain a Christian?

This is in response to comment on my previous article on John McCain. During the Saddleback forum, there was this section:

Warren
You publicly say you are a follower of Christ. What does that mean to you and how does faith work out in your life on a daily basis? What does it mean to you?

McCain
Means I'm saved and forgiven and we're talking about the world. Our faith emcompasses not just the United States of America but the world. Can I tell you another story real quick? (goes on to plagiarise Alexander Solzhenitsyn).

At no point during this conversation does McCain say anything specific about Jesus. He doesn't talk about sin or judgement or repentance and faith. He says "I'm saved and forgiven" but that is not enough to determine whether or not he is a Christian.

Now, what about Obama's response to the same question?

Obama
As a starting point, it means I believe in that Jesus died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis. I know that I don't walk alone, and I know that if I can get myself out of the way, that I can maybe carry out in some small way what he intends. And it means that those sins that I have on a fairly regular basis hopefully will be washed away. But what it also means, I think, is a sense of obligation to embrace not just words but through deeds the expectations that God has for us. And that means thinking about the least of these. It means acting - well, acting justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. And that, I think trying to apply those lessons on a daily basis knowing that you are going to fall a little bit short each day and kind of trying to be able to take note and say, well, that didn't quite work out the way I think it should have but maybe I can get a little better. It gives me the confidence to try things including running for president where are you going to screw up once in a while.
A far more substantial answer than what McCain would give. He talks explicitly about what sin is (though not terribly well) and says that Jesus died for them so that he could be redeemed. His extended response then talks about the struggles of repentance. This almost makes me think that Obama is a Christian. Almost.

As the McCain interview progresses, we get another hint at McCain's beliefs:
Warren
How about the issue of evil? I asked this of your rival in the previous thing. Does evil exist and if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?

McCain
Defeat it. Couple points, one, if I'm president of the United States, my friends, if I follow him to the gates of hell I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do that. I will get that done. No one should be allowed to take thousands of American - innocent American lives. Of course evil must be defeated. My friends we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century, radical Islamic extremists (branches into talking about Al Qaeda and Iraq).
So. Nothing there about Satan. Nothing there about Jesus Christ defeating him at the cross. Nothing there about taking up the spiritual armour of God. At no point does McCain use this question to further explain any Christian beliefs he may have. Strangely enough, this was Obama's response to the same question:
Warren
Okay we've got one last time - I've got a bunch more about let me ask you one in evil. Does evil exist and if it does do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it or do we defeat it?

Obama
Evil does exist. I mean, we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil sadly on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who have viciously abused their children and I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely and one of the things that I strongly believe is that, you know, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God's task. But we can be soldiers in that process and we can confront it when we see it.
So while McCain focuses solely upon Islamic terrorism as a definition of evil, Obama's response is more rounded. Rather than seeing evil just in one simple emotive subject, Obama expands it. Moreover, Obama even says that defeating evil is not our job, it is God's job. Of course Obama doesn't go on to talk about Jesus defeating evil either, but it is obvious that his understanding of evil has a more Christian basis to it than McCain's.

Of course, it would be rather silly to make this judgement of McCain based solely upon his performance at Saddelback. Fortunately he was interviewed at some point by Dan Gilgoff, the politics editor at beliefnet. This interview gives a much more complete picture of McCain's religious beliefs. Here's a series of interesting questions and answers:
Gilgoff
For years, you've been identified as an Episcopalian. You recently began referring to yourself as a Baptist. Why?

McCain
[It was] one comment on the bus after hours. I meant to say that I practice in a—I am a Christian and I attend a Baptist church. I am very aware that immersion is part—as my wife Cindy has done—is necessary to be considered a Baptist. So I was raised Episcopalian, I have attended the North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years and I am a Christian.

Gilgoff
What prevents you from taking that final step of undergoing the baptism?

McCain
I've had discussions with the pastor about it and we're still in conversation about it. In the meantime, I am a practicing Christian.

Gilgoff
So the baptism is something you still might do?

McCain
Oh, sure, yeah. But, some of the factors haven't got so much to do with religion as they have to do with just—I'm in conversations with [my] pastor about it, as short a time ago as last week. But I would not anticipate going through that during this presidential campaign. I am afraid it might appear as if I was doing something that I otherwise wouldn't do.
At issue here is McCain's reticence to be baptized as an adult in his Baptist church. Why is this a problem? As a Baby-baptizin' pedobaptist I too would find it difficult to be rebaptized in a Baptist church. But what McCain doesn't speak about here is the meaning behind baptism - that it represents (either as an ordinance or sacrament) a spiritual reality. ie, that we have been born anew. If McCain really was a born-again Christian, he would probably have emphasized that point very firmly in his explanation of his reticence to be re-baptised. I'm not asking McCain to speak about deep theology, but I want him to be clear on the basics. Gilgoff himself gives McCain an opening later on to explain his understanding of human sinfulness and "transformation". It's a gimmee that McCain fails to capitalise upon:

Gilgoff
In Hard Call’s chapter on Reinhold Niehbur, you write about his evolution from sharing a Social Gospel emphasis on human perfectibility to a more fundamentalist Christian emphasis on human sinfulness. As someone raised in a mainline Christian denomination but now attending a Baptist church, have you undergone a similar transformation?

McCain
On the subject of Reinhold Niebuhr, I think his realization and appreciation that we have to combat evil even if that means that we violate some of God's commandments was an interesting journey that he took, particularly when at the end he arrived at the conclusion that I agree with—we are not perfect. We are imperfect. And at the end of the day, for our sins, we have to ask for the judgment of a loving God. He had to confront with his conscience this overwhelming evil that he couldn't sit by. But, yet, at the same time, he violated one of his fundamental principles of pacifism.
Hmmmm. "At the end of the day, for our sins, we have to ask for the judgement of a loving God." That is the "conclusion" of Niebuhr that McCain agrees with. This is, of course, partly true - but is there the assurance of forgiveness for the believer? More seriously, where is Jesus? Where in any of McCain's interviews does he talk about Jesus? He doesn't mention Jesus at all during his Saddleback interview or his beliefnet one.

When it comes to people using Christianity to gain some sort of power, it is important to carefully check their beliefs to see whether they are in line with actual Christian beliefs. As far as I can tell, McCain's various responses to questions about his faith do not show a belief that I could classify as "born again Christian". The problem is not in what McCain says, but what he doesn't say when he has the opportunity. The person and work of Christ is central to Christianity, and the meaning of the cross - why Jesus died and rose again three days later - is an integral part of the Christian faith. If John McCain was truly a "born again" Christian, he had plenty of opportunities to explain his faith when asked. While it is true that McCain has a religious faith, it is not a faith that would be synonymous with being "Born again". Moreover, it is clear from McCain's responses to Gilgoff's questions that his religious faith is not simplistic but has some level of intellectual maturity about it, which is what we can tell from his answer about Reinhold Niebuhr. Obviously McCain has thought a lot about his faith - enough to interact with the teachings of a famous American theologian. Yet it needs to be pointed out that evangelical Christians - "Bible believing Christians" - would not be happy with the lack of Christ in McCain's belief system.

I have read nothing that John McCain has said that has convinced me that he has repented of his sins and trusts in the death and resurrection of Christ for his forgiveness.

Update
I have been informed (see comments) that McCain's story was not a plagiarism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and was genuine. I'm willing to believe that and so I'm happy in this case to admit being more influenced by the left wing echo machine than by facts.

9 comments:

apodeictic said...

I find your whole approach to McCain's Christian faith or lack thereof is deeply problematic. At its heart lies (1) an evangelical narrowness ("only people who express their faith in terms acceptable to evangelicals are true Christians") and (2) perhaps also your own political bias ("unlike enlightened OSO, McCain is a benighted conservative so he couldn't possibly be a Christian").

I'm fully aware that in the United States there are factors at play which may make it more likely for a politician to claim to be a Christian when he isn't: particularly (1) the general cultural religiosity of the U.S. which means that unlike many other Western countries today it's much easier for people there to absorb a kind of cultural Christianity without ever coming to a personal faith and (2) the desirability of a candidate for political office to appeal to religious (mainly evangelical, pentecostal and conservative Roman Catholic) voters as "one of them". But honestly I can't say whether McCain or anyone else who professes faith in Christ is truly a Christian or not and I think the wiser course of action is to avoid giving the impression that we have been given a window into men's souls.

If McCain or anyone else professes to be a Christian then I think we should take that claim at face value unless we have a good reason to think otherwise. I've read/ listened to the interviews you posted and I don't see anything there that contradicts a profession of faith in Christ. Obviously McCain doesn't express his faith in the same terms you or I as as evangelical Christians would have done and there's the whole issue of his adultery, divorce and remarriage. But that on its own doesn't mean he's not a Christian. He may be, or he may not be. You need to allow for the fact that not everyone is as mature in his faith as others and any public expression of faith will differ according to the maturity of that faith. Also the fact that McCain was raised in an Episcopal setting means that he hasn't grown up with evangelical expressions of Christianity. The fact that he doesn't express his Christian faith in the same terms as evangelicals doesn't mean he's not a Christian.

Like many evangelicals you seem to fall into the trap of thinking that only expressions of Christian faith in evangelical jargon are genuine. On that view such giants of the faith as Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas and even the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin wouldn't be "Christian" because they didn't express their Christian faith in the terms of a 20th Century evangelical gospel tract (à la "The 4 Spiritual Laws" or "2 Ways to Live"!). I think that's a preposterous view to hold.

When I come across someone who professes to be a Christian my initial reaction is NOT to question the genuineness of his profession of faith by going through a mental evangelical "checklist" to determine whether he thinks like me and is therefore "in" or "out" of the club. Rather, I charitably assume he is a Christian and seek to engage in conversation with him about what faith in Christ means, encouraging him in the gospel and to live out his professed faith in Christ. Whether or not he's a Christian he'll still hear the gospel from me and be challenged to repent, put his trust in Christ and follow him. But I don't go around professing to have a window into men's souls. Only God who knows the secrets of men's hearts can really say whether or not someone is truly one of his adopted sons.

Of course the problem is that McCain is a public figure meaning (1) there may be other reasons besides an actual faith in Christ why he would profess to be a Christian and (2) you or I are never likely to get the opportunity to talk to him about what it means to have faith in Christ. But there are others who do have this opportunity (eg the pastor at his Baptist church, perhaps also Rick Warren) so we can be praying that they and others will have the opportunity to engage in conversation with Mr McCain about what faith in Christ really means and whether or not he has saving faith.

By the way, exactly the same goes for other politicians like Barrack Obama, Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett. Each of them professes faith in Christ but not in the same terms that I would. But far be it from me to conclude from that that their profession of faith is not genuine.

One Salient Oversight said...

If you're concerned about the fact that I am "narrow" in my evangelical views then guilty as charged. I don't think that only evangelicals go to heaven, but I do believe that the evangelical faith is synonymous with the biblical faith.

A Christian is one whose saviour is Christ. Christ is the centre of their faith. I don't see that in McCain. His position seems to be more deist than Christian.

You say If McCain or anyone else professes to be a Christian then I think we should take that claim at face value unless we have a good reason to think otherwise. And that is where we disagree. I think it is far better to assume unbelief unless the Christian faith is proved. Moreover, it is safer.

BTW - I have not attacked you personally. As a student of law you should probably follow this sort of line of argument. Calling me an ass hat is not profitable.

Moreover, you have inserted some straw men as well. I have read Calvin, Luther and Augustine and their works prove beyond reasonable doubt their faith. The fact that I did not reduce the gospel to a mere tract indicates a desire on your part to belittle.

Nor did I use McCain's marriage breakup as evidence of a lack of faith.

Dear oh dear. Next you'll be calling me Hitler.

BLBeamer said...

However, I would like to say that the "plagiarization" of Solzhenitsyn is an unfair accusation. A scholar of Solzhenitsyn said the other day there is no record of Solzhenitsyn ever using the "cross in jail" story in any of his writings.

If you would like, I can try to find you the reference.

That doesn't prove that McCain's story is or is not a fabrication, but I believe the charge of plagiarization is unfair. However, one of McCain's fellow POWs recently stated that he heard John McCain tell that story more than 30 years ago.

Oh, and I agree with your perception of John McCain's Christian beliefs.

I also don't believe the charge Hillary's cronies have put out there that Obama is a closet Muslim, but I do still wonder about the Christianity of someone who has as a spiritual mentor Jeremiah Wright.

One Salient Oversight said...

Beamer,

You're probably right about the Solzhenitsyn bit. I hadn't read anything to contradict it but I'm quite willing to believe that his soldier buddies can vouch for him (as did Kerry's, but that's a different story).

I'll amend the original text of this article appropriately.

apodeictic said...

Dear oh dear, where do I begin with this one? Your implication that I resorted to name-calling and other argumentative fallacies is so wide of the mark to be pitiable. I don't want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet here but I hardly need to be lectured on what makes a sound or unsound argument. You seem to think that a reference to some fancy diagram as well as accusing me of "straw man" arguments, name calling and all kinds of logical fallacies seems to prove your point. Hardly.

If you re-read what I said at no point did I engage in anything like that which you accuse me of. You seem to have taken statements which were intended as evidence offered in support of broader points as points of argument themselves. Lest you again wish falsely to accuse me of something I plainly didn't argue I'll set out the chain of argumentation for you step by step:

(1) Whether someone is a Christian depends not on the work of man but on the eternal decrees and the saving work of God in Christ. As finite human beings we do not possess a window into men's souls or into the inscrutable counsels of God Almighty and therefore cannot say whether John McCain is truly a Christian. At most we can make a tentative statement based on all the evidence.
(2) In the light of our finitude the better course of action is to treat a professing Christian as a member of the covenant community unless there is some good reason not to. Note what I'm NOT saying here. I am not making any claims as to whether McCain belongs to the blessed company of the elect. What I am saying is that in the presence of a profession of Christian faith and in the absence of good evidence to the contrary we are to treat him as a member of the visible church. If you like you could say that the burden of proof is on those wishing to prove unbelief rather than belief.
(3) There is some evidence that John McCain is a Christian. e.g. He himself professes Christian faith, has answered questions about what his professed faith means and also attends church.
(4) There are also reasons why American candidates for president (a class to which both McCain and Obama belong) may wish to claim Christian faith when they don't actually possess it.
(5) There is no direct evidence against his being a Christian. None of his answers to questions flatly contradict Christian faith.
(6) Admittedly, there is some evidence that could go towards proving his unbelief. Some of his statements as well as some of the things he could have said but didn't say in response to questions are not entirely consistent with a robust Christian faith where Jesus Christ and his glory lie at the centre of one's worldview.
(7)The evidence in (6), however, is not necessarily telling of unbelief. There are other possible explanations including (but not limited to) (a) he is a Christian but not a mature one and like all immature Christians holds views inconsistent with Biblical Christianity and (b) his background in a liberal mainline denomination such as TEC may have hindered him from coming to a more mature and correct expression of the faith.
(8) IN CONCLUSION, on the evidence as it stands the burden of proving his unbelief has not been met and I therefore charitably assume he is a Christian brother of mine until I have some good reason to think otherwise. But whether or not he is a Christian, if ever I got the opportunity to talk to him I wouldn't remain content with my charitable assumption. I would like to talk to him further about the gospel and encourage him to repent, trust in and follow Christ.

That's my argument and at no point did I resort to any of your so-called logical fallacies. I suspect the main point of contention is really with point (2). If that's the case just say so. There's no need for you to resort to cheap attempts at point scoring by falsely accusing me of engaging in logical fallacies.

The other points you seem to take as logical fallacies are easily explained. I did suggest that your own political bias *perhaps* played a role. That wasn't really part of my argument but more of an invitation to you to engage in some critical self-reflection about your own political bias and whether it is leading you to conclude McCain is not a Christian. You spend an awful lot of time writing against conservative politics and you particularly seem to have a chip on your shoulder about the compatibility of Christian faith and conservative political views :-) So I would want to encourage you to engage in some reflection of whether your own political bias is partly responsible for your views on McCain.

And as for the so-called "straw man argument" at no point did I engage in anything of the sort. If you think that then you have completely misunderstood my reference to past Christians not expressing their faith in the same you or I might. What I was alluding to is the fact that although the faith itself doesn't change over time, human understanding of it can and does. Before Luther came along you could hardly expect medieval Christians to believe in sola fide. But does that mean that all professing Christians before Luther were confined to hell because they didn't profess a personal saving faith in Christ as saviour based on imputation of God's righteousness? Of course not. I hope that you and I are agreed here. This was a basic point made by Hooker against some of the more extreme puritans and I take it as a sound statement of Christian truth: although we are saved by faith alone, we are not saved by belief in sola fide. Christians before Luther came along could still have saving faith even though they'd never heard of sola fide and the church didn't teach it. And similarly today it is possible for someone to be saved by faith alone without necessarily believing in sola fide. That doesn't mean we shouldn't teach sola fide and encourage people to believe it. But there's a fundamental point to be made here: we are NOT saved by the purity of our doctrinal knowledge but by faith in Christ. And although I am in general agreement with you that the "evangelical" expression of the faith is the true and biblical one, I take it as self-evident that it is possible for someone to have saving faith in Christ and yet not be an evangelical. That was my point. Nothing straw-manish about it whatsoever.

One Salient Oversight said...

Name Calling:
"unlike enlightened OSO, McCain is a benighted conservative so he couldn't possibly be a Christian"

Straw man 1 - that I have a view of the gospel that excludes:
Like many evangelicals you seem to fall into the trap of thinking that only expressions of Christian faith in evangelical jargon are genuine. On that view such giants of the faith as Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas and even the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin wouldn't be "Christian" because they didn't express their Christian faith in the terms of a 20th Century evangelical gospel tract (à la "The 4 Spiritual Laws" or "2 Ways to Live"!). I think that's a preposterous view to hold..

Straw man 2 - that I use John McCain's adultery as evidence of his unbelief:
Obviously McCain doesn't express his faith in the same terms you or I as as evangelical Christians would have done and there's the whole issue of his adultery, divorce and remarriage. But that on its own doesn't mean he's not a Christian. He may be, or he may not be. You need to allow for the fact that not everyone is as mature in his faith as others and any public expression of faith will differ according to the maturity of that faith.

None of these points were explained in your answer.

Additional name calling:
Pitiable.

Address these simply and we move on.

apodeictic said...

A couple of general remarks before I answer some specifics. First, I think it's a good idea to seek clarification before accusing someone of engaging in logical fallacies. The problem may not be with the point as originally made but with your (mis)understanding of it. Second, you need to learn to distinguish the use of rhetoric from personal attack (eg the use of the words enlightened and benighted). Relax and take a deep breath and don't take it these things too personally.

Yes I admit I used the words "benighted conservative" and "enlightened OSO" and I while I don't apologise for their use I do apologise profusely if taken in the wrong spirit they caused you offence. The problem with the printed word as opposed to interpersonal communication using the human voice and body is that it is much harder to convey rhetorical devices such as sarcasm and even wit. When I used those words my tongue was firmly in cheek. If I had been telling you this face to face I would have had a smile on my face and used a different tone of voice and hopefully you would have had a chuckle with me. Perhaps I should have used a smiley face when I wrote them -- would that have avoided the problem? The basic gist of what I meant though was covered in my previous reply. It wasn't intended as an accusation but an invitation based on my own reading of your blog over the years for you to consider the possibility that your own political bias was clouding your judgment on this issue. I stand by that. It was never a personal attack. I'm sorry if you took it as one. And I'm sorry if the way I constructed the original reply contributed to that confusion. But I'm writing a reply to a blogpost and not a 400 page book so you need to cut me some slack to allow for economy of phrasing.

As to the so-called straw men, I'll cover number 2 first as it's the most straightforward to deal with. I never accused you of saying McCain's adultery was evidence of his unbelief and more importantly I never intended to imply that you did. You are reading things into my statement that simply aren't there. By mentioning those things *I* was saying that they would give *me* pause for thought whether he was a Christian. I never said or even intended to suggest that that was a view of *yours*.

Perhaps a general comment needs to be made on the nature of arguments, "evidence" and "proof". The fact that there is "evidence" of X does not mean X is proven. We are not dealing with deductive arguments where the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. Rather, we are arguing by induction: given a set of facts ("the evidence"), what is the most likely explanation? To me, at least, relevant "evidence" (i.e. facts our explanation needs to account for) is not just McCain's words but also his behaviour. After all Jesus Christ himself said, "If you love me keep my commandments". That's why *I* mentioned his adultery, divorce and remarriage (note again that I did not attribute this view to *you*). Now there's also other behaviour in McCain's life we could consider. But I don't know all the details of his life. What I do know is that committing adultery with a woman and then divorcing your wife in order to marry her is plainly contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ, that Christ's followers are called to refrain from such conduct and that John McCain indeed engaged in this conduct and also claims to be a follower of Christ. Now there are several possible explanations for this. It could be that he (a) was not a Christian when he committed these acts and is still not one, (b) was not a Christian at the time but has subsequently become one, or (c) was a Christian at the relevant time but in human frailty acted in wilful disobedience to his Lord's command. I certainly did NOT say that the said conduct "proved" any one of those outcomes or that you intended to suggest it did. All I intended was that it (along with many other things in his life) would be something we would need to consider if we were to engage in a judgment as to whether he was/is a Christian.

As to so-called straw-man Number 1 this may require a much longer answer since you didn't seem to understand the clarificatory remarks in my second post. (There's also the possibility that you "understood" them but still "disagree with" them -- but if that were the case I don't think you would still be accusing me of engaging in a straw man argument.) I would encourage you to re-read both my initial comment and my second comment and ponder what I said. Personally I think together they account for your objections. But apparently you don't seem to think that way, so here goes ... :-)

You seem to take my comments as an attack on your view of "the gospel". They are not. I take it that you and I are agreed on the gospel and that it is indeed inclusive: Everyone who repents and trusts in Christ will be saved. This applied to people like Rahab or the thief on the cross even though they didn't have a detailed knowledge of theology or "gospel truth". I think we're agreed here. But the gospel is also exclusive: It excludes all those who refuse to repent and trust in Christ.

So there you have it, the gospel is both inclusive and exclusive. I trust we're agreed on this. My point is simply that there is a danger for Christians to make the gospel either more inclusive or more exclusive than it already is. As a generalisation liberal theology tends to over-inclusivise the gospel and I don't think you or other evangelicals need to be reminded of this. But in opposition to this it would be a mistake for evangelicals to overcompensate for this error by over-exclusivising the gospel by elevating belief in a part of God's revealed truth as a sine qua non of salvation, when God himself nowhere says that belief in that particular proposition is a sine qua non of salvation. If we go back in church history, some of the more extreme Puritans did exactly this in over-compensating for the Church of Rome's denial of the truth of sola fide. They were wrong to do so and Hooker rightly took them to task over this. Although sola fide is true and the church should teach it and encourage Christians to believe it, it is important to remember that we are not saved by belief in the doctrine of sola fide but by faith in Christ. In refuting the views of the extreme Puritans, Hooker offered as evidence in support of his point the beliefs of past Christians and that's why I also referred to such people as Athanasius, Augustine and Aquinas; it was offered as evidence in support of a point I was making -- not a straw-man suggesting that your view of the gospel was deficient because it excluded such people. Both sides of this debate firmly believed in the truth of sola fide. Where they differed was on whether belief in the doctrine of sola fide was necessary for salvation. I stand with Hooker on this one.

And this is similar to my dispute with many modern evangelicals and perhaps you. I have noticed a tendency in some evangelical circles to do this -- elevate assent to certain truths or to express the faith in a certain way (eg the 4 Spiritual Laws or the 6 boxes of 2WTL) to a sine qua non of salvation. I think this is a terrible mistake to make. Let me stress for the record that I think 2WTL a good summary of the gospel and that I believe that all of the 6 points it is making are true. But -- analogous with Hooker -- I also say that it is possible to be a Christian without expressing your faith in exactly those terms. We are not saved by belief in the 6 boxes of 2WTL. Notice too that I didn't actually accuse you of this position. I said "Like many evangelicals you seem to fall into the trap of thinking that only expressions of Christian faith in evangelical jargon are genuine." The word "seem" is important here. It's not just me being evasive. I really meant it. What I am saying is (1) I have noticed a trend in many modern evangelicals which parallels the dispute between Hooker and the extreme puritans, requiring people to make professions of faith in "evangelical jargon" in order to be considered true Christians, and (2) one possible reading of what you said is that you have fallen into this error; but I am far from adamant on this and would need to talk to you some more about it in order better to gauge your views.

Finally, "pitiable" is not name calling. If you still think I engaged in the kinds of errors of which you were so quick to accuse me truly then I truly do pity (or in modern parlance "feel sorry for") you. It's not name calling against *you* but a statement about how your actions make *me* feel.

I hope this clarifies matters.

Blessings,
Apodeictic.

One Salient Oversight said...

I need to question you about this part of your most recent answer;

We are not saved by belief in the 6 boxes of 2WTL. Notice too that I didn't actually accuse you of this position. I said "Like many evangelicals you seem to fall into the trap of thinking that only expressions of Christian faith in evangelical jargon are genuine." The word "seem" is important here. It's not just me being evasive. I really meant it.

And yet you also wrote in your first posting the following:

I find your whole approach to McCain's Christian faith or lack thereof is deeply problematic. At its heart lies (1) an evangelical narrowness ("only people who express their faith in terms acceptable to evangelicals are true Christians")

Now that is a very definite statement you have there. You have said that my approach to John McCain's faith is problematic because at its heart lies an evangelical narrowness. I must assume therefore that you explained this more fully when you said Like many evangelicals you seem to fall into the trap of thinking that only expressions of Christian faith in evangelical jargon are genuine.

Now I don't want to argue what seem seems to mean, but I would point out that you have clearly and directly described my gospel understanding as being narrow and jargonistic. The fact that I read the "seems" paragraph in light of the opening paragraph is, I believe, a natural way to read the text.

I am willing to believe that you did not mean much of what I saw as being offensive. Yet I have learned over the years in comments/forum discussions to quickly backtrack in the case of someone misunderstanding me. If I was not being offensive and someone takes it as being offensive, I make sure I backtrack and re-word my points.

I'm quite happy to have my articles critiqued but I have felt that your comments - for the last few years - are often worded in a very hardline and accusative manner. Often to the point where I feel almost no compulsion to respond and say "ah well, apodeictic's having another bad day".

But, of course, if none of this is true and you're merely engaging in a form of rhetoric, I honestly think that you need to lighten up your comment style a bit. Irony and tongue-in-cheek comments need to be completely over the top to be effective. For example:

("unlike enlightened OSO, McCain is a benighted conservative so he couldn't possibly be a Christian. And I should know since I know everything").

That last sentence I added in ensures that the reader takes the comment in the intended way. Not only is OSO described as "enlightened" in a sarcastic yet tongue-in-cheek way, you open the door by being self-deprecating. During an online discussion or even blog article, I will sometimes use Wikipedia to quote from, usually with the added sentence "Of course Wikipedia is NEVER wrong" which communicates to the reader that I am fully aware of Wikipedia's qualified usefulness as a source.

So, in not as many words, let me just ask you to write more nicely, add a bit of humour and be careful of writing things that can be taken the wrong way.

apodeictic said...

I think we've reached détente already. From my POV there never really was any tension as I never viewed this as personal. But from what you've written from your POV there was something there and the last thing I want to do is to hurt your feelings. So in the spirit of friendship I will make what is hopefully my last contribution to this thread.

-I-
The opening statement was intended to be a pithy remark of what was to come which would in turn be more fully explained. On its own, yes, it was more "hardline" in tone than the subsequent paragraphs. But the lesser is to be explained by the greater and not the other way around. In hindsight I admit that the opening could have been better worded in two respects: first, to make it clear that I was only saying that you *may* have been guilty of an evangelical narrowness rather than that you were actually guilty as charged; and secondly to make it clear that my comment about your own political views was not a personal attack or even a leg of my argument but rather an invitation for you to engage in some self-reflection since we all have views which can cloud our judgment on a whole range of issues. Unlike you as the owner of the blog who can change or take down posts once they've been posted I can't edit my comments once I've hit post. As an aside I was also tempted to say something about the allegation of plagiarism you made against McCain but decided not to as I thought it better just stick to the points I'd already made. As it turns out someone else picked you up on that and you graciously changed your post. So, as the Americans are prone to say, "kudos" to you :-)

-II-
More generally, I apologise if you take things I say personally. I'm not criticising you but the things you say. And I suspect because I know you a bit and think you can take it I tend to give it a bit more than I would with others. As an example of that I would be much more rigorous in conversation with my brother than my sister. My brother's the kind of guy who likes to think intellectually asks for my opinions and values criticism of his ideas. My sister isn't/doesn't so I don't adopt that approach with her. We just don't talk about intellectual stuff and I don't adopt a critical approach with her about the shopping, the colour of the wallpaper or my niece's homework :-) Sorry if you're the sensitive type (and I don't at all mean that in a condescending way). If it's an issue for you I will try to tone down the comments. But if you take it upon yourself to write pieces expressing a point of view and criticising others (which you do) then you have to be open to having your ideas challenged and refuted.

Apart from any misunderstandings over what I intended as rhetorical devices but you took as more personal comments I don't think I've ever "got personal". I'm just not like that. I'm very gentle really. When it comes to this sort of stuff I'm led by the head and not the heart. While plenty of lefties I know (and I'm not accusing you of this) will say things like they "hate" Bush and think he's an "idiot" I don't think that (let alone say it) about any public figure, even ones I disagree with. I don't "hate" Obama or Bush or McCain or think they are "idiots". I just disagree with them and think there would be better people for the office of President of the United States. While my political views are more generally right than left, I'm not at all what you would call a party "political" person. I'm interested intellectually in the ideas rather than the labels attached to them and I just don't emotionally seethe up in anger when someone spouts a view I disagree with. It's nothing personal against you or the left. I also take raving right-wingers to task as well. There's no party loyalty with me :-) But again as an aside, you seem to be willing to dish it out against right-wing bloggers (eg calling "supposed conservative intellectuals" "intellectually backrupt"). This doesn't bother me even though I may like some of what they say which you disagree with. I just take this for what it is: colourful rhetoric on your part in support of something you're going to try to back up later (whether successfully is a different matter!) in argument. I don't see this as a personal attack on conservative intellectuals (not that I would count myself as belonging to their club anyway). So why do you take things I say which are no worse than that (eg referring tongue in cheek to conservatives as "benighted" or lefties such as yourself as "enlightened") as more than a use of colourful rhetoric?

-III-
I certainly don't think you're an idiot or an ass-hat or any other name. Quite the opposite. I hold you in very high esteem. You're a very thoughtful person whose views I admire greatly even when I don't understand them or agree with them. For instance, I particularly like your stuff on inflation economics. I can't say that I understand it all :-) or necessarily agree with what I do understand but nonetheless it's very thought provoking and we need more thinking like that.

-IV-
I honestly can't remember all the exact things I've said in the past on your blog but I don't think I've written particularly harshly. Recently I wrote something in response to your glowing review of Obama's Berlin speech and more generally the left's quasi-messianic treatment of the man. I thought what I said was very measured and a timely reminder for Christians with leftist sympathies ("Put not your trust i princes ..."). I also said something about Turnbull being a politician so you can't take what he says as a statement of his personal beliefs but that you must allow for the possibility that he's saying what he thinks people want to hear. (The same would also be a relevant factor in addressing the things that McCain and Obama say.) Before that I said something on your and other posters' negative comments in reply to Nelson's apology on behalf of the opposition to Aboriginal Australians. Again, I said what I said because I thought that some of the comments left by others (more than your views) were quite unfair. There is a very nasty streak in many people of a left wing persuasion towards people who hold right-wing views. And despite any protests you may make to the contrary that it also runs the other way (which it does) that (a) doesn't excuse lefties from the charge or (b) account for the imbalance (it runs more from left to right than right to left, if nothing more for the fact that the mainstream media is dominated by the left). I don't apologise for what I said defending Dr Nelson against mean-spirited accusations. If anything it's the people who "hate" him and think he's an "idiot" and "uncaring" for espousing the views he did who need to apologise.

-V-
Turning to this most recent exchange, accusing someone who professes to be a Christian brother of not being one is a serious charge and that's why I asked you first explain your view and then once you had to express my concerns with the approach. I didn't jump in with fists flying. I began by merely asking you to clarify your earlier remarks with the implied suggestion that I think it wiser to refrain from making such statement about people unless we have good reason. Then you replied in a longer article so I replied in kind. I still stand by the substance of my views that: (1) in the presence of a profession of faith and the absence of any compelling evidence to the contrary it's safer to treat someone as a member of the visible church, especially when we don't know him personally and are not in a position to engage in a conversation with him;
(2) I do not make any statement as to whether he or anyone else (yourself included) is a member of the elect. We are not given that kind of knowledge
(3) There is an unhelpful tendency among some evangelical Christians to over-exclusivise the gospel. This is an understandable overreaction to the opposite problem of others over-inclusivising it.
(4) While not accusing you of this I would invite you to consider the possibility of whether you have fallen into this trap. I think in the past I myself did. Reading accounts of the debates between Hooker and the extreme Puritans provided a corrective to some of my own errors in this regard.

That's about it really :-)