Monday, December 18, 2006

Sympathy For Criminals

The Star Tribune (unsurprisingly) wants us to sympathize with illegal immigrants. In an article entitled, "A Helping Hand After A Week of Fear," Dan Browning reports that about one hundred people gathered at a union hall in Worthington, MN "seeking advice in the wake of last week's immigration raid at the Swift & Co. pork processing plant and helping to distribute more than seven tons of food, blankets and other necessities collected in Twin Cities."

The article goes on to list those involved in organizing and collecting the help for families affected by the recent raid on illegal workers at the Swift & Co. plant. The article seeks the sympathy of its readers by reporting on wives whose husbands have been deported, and have no way to pay for rent, or Christmas presents for their children.

Browning adds that, "Most of those affected are Hispanic and some speak no or little English, Espejel said. They reported communication difficulties with customs officials, and had trouble locating detained family members."

Browning neglects to mention that the recent Swift & Co. raids were the result of investigations into identity theft. These illegal immigrants have been exploiting stolen identities and ruining the lives of countless American citizens all for their own gain. Where is the outrage for innocent American lives ruined by stolen identities?

I am sympathetic to the plight of these immigrants. How could one be unaffected by their situation? They want a chance at the American dream, as many around the world do. But many are guilty of destroying the lives of American citizens in the attempt at establishing themselves in America. Not only that, but they are coming to America illegally. Do these illegals have an entitlement to break the law with impunity? Browning at the least believes we owe them sympathy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fisking Piper's Assertions on the New Perspective

Mark Horne has been taking Piper to task for his recent column concerning N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. His most recent post on the matter questions how Piper can assert that men like Wright are denying or obscuring the testimony of Jesus.

By showing that Piper, "makes amazing accusations without any basis whatsoever," Horne demonstrates that Piper's allegations are merely rhetoric and are not substantiated with an argument.

Horne argues that there is some merit to Wright's statements and that they are not to be dismissed with simple rhetoric, but dealt with seriously and evenhandedly.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Realizing "A Christmas Story"

Brian Jones has an obsession with A Christmas Story. He purchased the house used for exterior shots in the film for $150,000 in December 2004, manufactures and distributes the leg lamps featured in the film, and purchased a house across the street to make it into a museum and gift shop.

Read the New York Times article--it is fascinating how seriously people take the movie.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Clear, Expressive English

Between Two Worlds linked to an important article by Joseph Epstein about Vocabula Review writer Robert Fiske that argues that, "without careful language there can be no clear thought." Here is a good sampling of the article:

Mr. Fiske's own characteristic tone is perhaps best caught in his Dimwit's Dictionary. In that 400-page work a vast body of words and phrases are shown up for the linguistic ciphers they are. He has established a number of categories for "Expressions That Dull Our Reason and Dim Our Insight." These included grammatical gimmicks, which are expressions (such as "whatever," "you had to be there") that are used by people who have lost their powers of description; ineffectual phrases ("the fact remains," "the thing about it is," "it is important to realize") used by people to delay coming to the point or for simple bewilderment; infantile phrases ("humongous," "gazillions," "everything's relative"), which show evidence of unformed reasoning; moribund metaphors ("window of opportunity") and insipid similes ("cool as a cucumber"); suspect superlatives ("an amazing person," "the best and the brightest"), which are just what the category suggests; torpid terms ("prioritize," "proactive," "significant other"), which are vapid and dreary; not to mention plebeian sentiments, overworked words, popular prescriptions, quack equations, and wretched redundancies.

There are so many cliched and overused words and phrases that convey little meaning and expose the mindlessness that so many of us are guilty of using in our vocabulary. We hear the phrases in the news and media and become puppets repeating them without thinking for ourselves.

Here are a few I would add to Fiske's list:
  • troops/commanders "on the ground"
  • "I could care less."
  • pluralizing names as a way of typifying a sort of individual (such as, "the Mark Redmans, Tomo Ohkas, and Miguel Batistas of the world.")
  • "move forward"
  • "take this off-line"
  • "synergy"

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Groaning at Piper

This blog has recently turned into an apologia for N.T. Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. I will again be turning my attention to the NPP after reading an article by John Piper.

Piper is baffled by Wright's assertion that boasting in passages like Romans 3:27 are not moral boasting but racial boasting (Jew vs. Gentile). Piper writes:

"Wright’s statements are baffling in several ways. One way is that the Jews of Romans 2:17-24 do indeed claim to be successful moralists. They teach morality, but do not teach themselves (v. 21). They preach against stealing, but steal (v. 21). They oppose adultery, but commit adultery (v. 22). They denounce idolatry, but commit idolatry (v. 22). They boast in the law, but dishonor the law (v. 23). And in all this, they cause the Gentiles to blaspheme God (v. 24). How Wright can use this paragraph to distinguish moral boasting from racial boasting escapes me (as does the distinction itself)."

Romans 2:17-24 doesn't seem to point at a specific group of Jews. Piper makes it sound as though a specific group of Jews (Pharisee's perhaps?) are in Paul's mind as he writes. He also seems to paraphrase Paul poorly. He shows that these Jews are hypocrites, preaching moral purity, yet being guilty of each moral impurity themselves.

Paul is more hypothetical than Piper seems to allow for. Paul's actual argument seems to have in mind the same thing James does when he wrote, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

Paul is saying that if you are better sure you are following the law in every way, and not failing in any single facet, for if you don't, "your circumcision becomes uncircumcision"--you lose your inheritance as a son of promise. This is in fact the argument that follows Romans 2:17-24. The argument about law keeping becomes an argument that covenant is now for all--gentiles as well as Jews. Paul writes, "But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter." One's status with God is not determined simply by one's status as a physical Jew, but by whether or not one is a Jew inwardly.

What is baffling is Piper's inability to see the racial elements of Romans. Paul uses the word "gentile" more than twenty times in Romans. The letter is full of Jew and Gentile language.

I want to be respectful Pastor Piper. He has far more theological and biblical credentials than I, but it seems plain to me that there is a strong racial element in Romans (and Galatians for that matter) but he doesn't see it, or his systematic grid hides it from his eyes.

What is so troubling is that Piper is so distressed by the NPP. He writes:

"The only explanation I can find for such amazing statements is that the testimony of Jesus is denied or obscured. It is my impression that evangelicals enamored by the NPP have not reckoned seriously enough with the fact that the origination of the NPP seems to have taken place in the halls of such denial or obscuring."

This is no small thing for a man like Piper to say. He is seemingly putting proponents of the NPP outside the camp here. Yet, Wright and others are surely getting used to being on the end of such onslaughts. They have been getting it for years. I pray that we would read theologians like N.T. Wright with more charity and discretion. Wright has far more in common with Piper than Piper could ever imagine.


Monday, December 04, 2006

N.T. Wright on War, Looting, and Terrorism

I have just finished reading N.T. Wright's Simply Christian. The book is well written, argued, and is very helpful in most everything he says. But one of the most glaringly faults of the book is Wright's view of war, criminals, and terrorists.

On page 225, Wright asserts, "When people with power see things happen of which they disapprove, they drop bombs and send in tanks. When people without power see things happen of which they disapprove, they smash store windows, blow themselves up in crowded places, and fly planes into buildings."

That is an alarmingly simplistic view of the world for a writer of Wright's caliber. In a world with a war in Iraq, post-Katrina looting, and 9/11, these are the inescapable allusions he is making.

Wright commits the sin of moral equivalence by treating President Bush and Tony Blair with the same (extreme by comparison, yet mild by inference) scorn as he would looters and terrorists. It is appalling that he actually believes this. I deeply admire much of Simply Christian and Paul: Fresh Perspectives, but this amazes me. How does one that should understand and recognize the depths of human sin find such reprehensible comparisons between the Christian leaders in Bush and Blair and Katrina-criminals and mass-murderers?

As I have said before, Wright is not a perfect scholar or theologian. He has his blind sides, just as we all surely do.