20 November 2009

Gambling vs. Faithful Stewardship

by Phil Johnson

     closed Wednesday's post with a list of four distinguishing marks drawn from a standard definition of "gambling." All four of these are true of every variety of gambling:

One, something valuable is put at risk. Two, something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize. Three, an element of chance is involved in determining the outcome. And four, no new wealth is created in the process.

Now, let's devote a few posts to considering each of those features of gambling, one at a time. It is my contention that there's something in each one of them that conflicts with biblical principles. We'll take them in order, starting with the first:

Gambling places something valuable at risk for an illegitimate purpose. That violates the most basic biblical principles of wise and faithful stewardship.

Let me point out first of all that one of the fundamental principles of all biblical stewardship is given to us in the Tenth Commandment, Exodus 20:17: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." It's is a sin to covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. This is not a gray area.

Gambling is covetousness distilled to its very essence

I know people—and in all likelihood you do, too—who claim that they gamble only for entertainment or recreation; not out of greed or covetousness.

But if it's mere entertainment they seek, why not play a game without staking any money on the outcome? Every gambler to whom I have ever posed that question has given me the same answer: "To play a game with nothing at stake is not as much fun." The stake makes the game more "fun" or more "interesting."

As a matter of fact, one commenter made that very point: "Poker simply doesn't work without some money at stake . . . the money at stake adds to the enjoyment of the game." He said he plays for small amounts—so that "the financial losses are not enough to be any more than entertainment money, and the prize not enough to create greed."

Analyze that for a moment. Why would the element of gambling make a game more "fun?" There is only one reason: because the "fun" is derived not from the game itself but from the possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor. In other words, what makes gambling "fun" is pure covetousness.

Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is sin.

Note carefully: it's the principle of covetousness that makes that sort of "fun" sin, not the size of the stake. A Christian who thinks it's safe to cultivate covetous desires as long as the sum at stake is small has completely missed Paul's point in 1 Timothy 6:9-11:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.

Gambling involves an inordinate desire to get something from one's neighbor without a legitimate exchange. So it is a sin on those grounds, even if we said nothing further.

But There's More . . .

Gambling can be a sinful dereliction of the steward's duty for several other reasons as well. Note: I'm not arguing here that every act of gambling is necessarily tainted by all the following sins. But these are all major factors in the complex of evils that commonly accompany gambling. Anyone who practices gambling as a pattern of life is systematically tolerating and even cultivating the sin of covetousness in his or her heart. That person will of course be especially susceptible to many of the corresponding temptations, too:
  • Slothfulness. Get-rick-quick schemes are practically all foolish and immoral. Solomon wrote this in Proverbs 28:22: "A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him."
         The promise of easy wealth is an overt appeal to slothful desire. Yet most gamblers freely acknowledge that the promise of gaining money quickly and with little effort is one of the major factors that adds to the "fun" of gaming. In other words, gambling fuels both covetousness and sloth.
  • Foolishness. Listen to Proverbs 22:16: "He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want." That's an interesting verse. Most of us will instinctively understand that it is sinful to oppress the poor in order to increase our riches. But the verse also says that you shouldn't just give your money to the rich. Who would give their money away to rich people? People who gamble in casinos are doing it all the time.
         Numerous studies have shown that poor people tend to spend a much larger proportion of their income on gambling than people in middle—or upper-income brackets. Gambling is a particular plague on lower-income people, primarily because of its illegitimate promise of getting rich quick. More than one study has demonstrated that the poor bet more than three times the amount wagered by persons in middle-income and upper-income brackets.
         Meanwhile, those who are licensed to sponsor lotteries and casino games never lose—they gain enormous wealth by taking money off the top, and by skewing the odds overwhelmingly in their favor.
         In other words, money won in state lotteries and other forms of gambling is money taken from the poor. And money lost in such wagers is money given to the rich. So both of the evils condemned in Proverbs 22:16 are fostered by the machinery of gambling. If you want to oppress the poor and give your money to the rich, there is no more systematic way to do it than through gambling.
  • Profligacy. Gambling is an expensive business. In 1974, statistics showed Americans were betting about $17 billion per year through legal channels. That was an astronomical sum, but it ballooned to $330 billion by 1992. By most estimates, Americans now wager more than $600 billion each year. That's more than we spend on food. It's seriously wasteful by any standard.
  • A lack of self-control. Furthermore, as the above statistics (and many others) indicate, gambling is seriously addictive. Research suggests that one in every ten gamblers does so compulsively. There are an estimated ten million gambling addicts in the United States alone. And the average compulsive gambler has debts exceeding $80,000. It is a bigger problem than alcoholism. And in areas where gambling is widespread—such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City—the suicide rate is three times higher than the national average.
  • Miscellaneous concerns. There is the stewardship of time. Gambling consumes people's leisure time with activities that are neither relaxing nor healthy for the body.
         We could also talk about gambling's negative impact on philanthropy and charity for the poor.
         And there's gambling's destructive consequences for marriage and the family; its detrimental effect on society, the crime rate, and the spiritual climate wherever gambling flourishes. Gambling has been shown to contribute to turmoil and physical abuse in the home, crime and violence in society, and all kinds of personal and psychological disorders in the person who is addicted to gambling.

The effects of gambling are virtually all bad. And no wonder. It is contrary to everything Scripture teaches about wise stewardship.

Phil's signature

131 comments:

Zaphon said...

I'm convinced.

I've seen people with gambling addiction and it ruins them personally and in my extended family where gambling is widespread the problem has almost caused divorce.

Every week my coworkers wager 2 $ each to play the group lottery, but I've expressly refused to join because of my faith.

Even if they did win, and got to leave their jobs, I'd feel better knowing that I didn't make my money by gambling on the lottery. It's a question of my testimony.

Ian said...

How are you defining covet?

Daryl said...

Ian,

Wanting or wishing for something that belongs to someone else and which you have no inherent right to?

How would you define it?

Johnny Dialectic said...

"Covetousness" and "greed" are grievous sins. I continue reject the attempt Phil makes to apply these to the small games mentioned.

Covetousness is, as I showed yesterday, "to desire inordinately, to place the object of desire before love and devotion to God."

That is not going on in these small games (at least, in my experience). Therefore, they are excepted from the definition of gambling Phil is using.

It is more legitimate to place these games under the issue of stewardship, which is why I like the title of this post.

That should be the first level of analysis. Putting up something "valuable" (using Phil's terms) would mean a stake that clearly violates the stewardship principle. In that vein, pennies paid for a game are analogous to money paid for a movie and the like. This has been my position from the start, and it still stands. The attempt to shoot it down through the "back door" of "greed" and "covetousness" fails by definition (and this discussion is based on proper definitions).

Once that stewardship principle is violated (one can, after all, go to too many movies at some point), then I would agree with moving on with Phil's argument.

But that argument is severely weakened by attempting to apply it across the board, so to speak. And that's too bad, because I do think true "gambling" is a sin issue, and a societal issue.

Ian said...

I'm closer to Johnny's definition over Daryl's, I think Phil's definition as used in this post is closer to Daryl's.

Johnny takes it a step too far and raises the bar to include desire above God.

I may want my neighbor's new leaf blower that in itself isn't inherently evil. Now if all I can talk about, even to God, is my neighbor's new leaf blower we have a problem.

Scott Fuemmeler said...

Well done Phil. Seems like such a simple point, but I'll be honest it's something I was completely missing when thinking in terms of small stakes "friendly" games. If taking away the money makes the game not worth playing, then the game was all about the money to begin with. And if it was all about the money to begin with (and thus about desiring to win someone else's money, even if it's small amounts), that sure smells like covetousness.

CeyHey Kid said...

I can't help but wonder if wanting coveteousness defined is akin to using the Clintonite "depends on what the definition of "is" is".I think everyone knows what coveteousness is - it just seems that people (myself included) refuse/can't see it when it is involved in something they like to do. When we make our daily choices, we should be asking "why?", not "why not" before doing. I post this in failure to do myself on a daily basis...am not finger pointing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson,

I'm still waiting (and waiting and waiting) for you to answer (unambiguously) these two questions:

(1) For those who defend investing/playing the market as not being gambling, would it be okay with you to have a bi-vocational pastor who day-trades to help make a living?

(2) Does entry fee tournament play constitute sinful gambling under the definitions you provided? For example, entry fee tournament play such as tournament bowling, tournament golf, tournament poker, tournament backgammon, tournament bass fishing, tournament etc...."

These questions are actually very helpful to you because your answers will then highlight and delineate with helpful clarity as to the specific outworking of the case you're making, and the definitions that you're using to make your case.

You say you're not evading. I'm still waiting.

You say your definitions and distinctions are fine as they are. Okay then, let's hear your answers.

Out of curiosity, are you consulting with your Pyromaniac co-bloggers to answer my questions or will you just answer my questions on your own without their input?

Also, there is an Andrew on the previous thread who's very confident that you will unambiguously answer my questions. I hope you justify his confidence in you.

David Rudd said...

Phil,

Help me with your definition of stake and prize.

I play poker a few times a month with a group of guys. We each pay in $5, and then use the pool to purchase gift certificates to dinner and a movie. The winner gets the gift cards, second place gets his money back.

I can see how this does and does not fall into your definitions. Having read this post, I'm still not sure if you would call this game "sin".

What do you think?

donsands said...

Some excellent points. Gambling can be such a bad sin, with incredible consequences.

Here's an interesting guy, Art Schlichter, who was a college QB and drafted by the Baltimore Colts, and had a gambling problem.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Schlichter

And yet I see the other side of it like JD does. Such as penny poker, which my wife's Grandmother used to play. I thought it was just more fun to win the hand, then a couple bucks in pennies; and also the family coming together to talk, and laugh, and enjoy being with one another. And of course you can do that without penny poker. We did play Pitch, without pennies, and we had fun.

I also know some young men who have been hooked on the internet gambling. I know one lad who won $1,500, and then proceeded to blow it all, and even go into thousands of $$ of debt on his credit card.

Thanks for bringing our attention to gambling. It's an important subject for the Body of Christ in our day.

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

David Rudd: "I play poker a few times a month with a group of guys. We each pay in $5, and then use the pool to purchase gift certificates to dinner and a movie. The winner gets the gift cards, second place gets his money back.

Having read this post, I'm still not sure if you would call this game "sin".

What do you think?"


This excellent question falls under my question #2 above. I look forward to Phil answering the question unambiguously.

David Rudd said...

TUAD,

i agree that this falls into the #2 category...

personally, i think entry-fee tournaments are completely separate from this discussion. fishing, basketball, softball, etc. all include an element of chance, but the amount of chance needed to win is inversely proportional to the degree of a players talent. thus, i would strongly hesitate to call these things "gambling."

my question, however, is about poker. i think we have to acknowledge that while skill can keep you in a poker game for a lot longer, you still need to get some luck to win.

we'll see...

bugblaster said...

My gnat strainer is all full of gunk.

This is a very good series.

David Rudd said...

Bugsy,

Just to clarify.

The gnat-straining was about adding to the law, not about defining freedom...

-Michael said...

Well crafted, and well said. I pray the Holy Spirit begins to work in all those who read this, and changes the hearts of those gripped by gambling.

Also, on a personal note I felt convicted that, poker specifically centers around lies. It is essentially a way to practice using deceit in order to get better at it.

Keep up the great work.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Here's a camel in the room from the previous thread:

(Johnny Dialectic) "To accuse of sin where there is no sin is also a very serious matter. Tread lightly."

Johnny Dialectic said...

I think donsands is getting to the heart of the matter. It's not a commandment issue. It's a wisdom issue. It should be thought through, and struggled through, because the large scale gambling issue is truly a matter of sin.

This discussion has done its work in sharpening iron. I have thought it through carefully and am much clearer on Phil's points, and my own. I continue to reject applying "covetousness" and "greed" to the small scale activities described. It abuses the biblical terms.

OTOH, the argument against large scale gambling that Phil makes is solid. I wouldn't hesitate to use that part of it for Christians who think, e.g., it's no big deal to go to Vegas and the like.

If asked about the distinctions, I would use it as an educational opportunity on biblical reasoning, much as one would when teaching about the use of alcohol.

Ian said...

Sung to the familiar tune:

Non-Alcoholic Bud Light Presents:

Real Men of Genius
(Real men of Genius)

Today we salute you. Mr. Christian Low Stakes Poker Player
(Mr. Christian Low Stakes Poker Player )

Bring nothing but a bag full of pennies, you're not even close to really gambling.

Stackin those pennies.
(Stackin those pennies)

Sure there's gambling, but not you, you keep it under $5.00, and call it fellowship

(Going all in!)


So crack open an ice cold non-alcoholic Bud Light, low stakes Boy. 'Cause we all know, it aint really gambling

Keyser Soze said...

Those who are in the "it's OK camp" have some compelling arguments. I would like it if some of them would address 1) Why is it necessary to play other than for amusement/comeraderie? and 2) How is their pragmatism used in "small stakes" games applied to other areas such as usage of credit, degrees of truthfulness, etc?

Tim said...

It truly is fascinating how creative you Pyro guys can be when you want to squeeze something into the Bible. Next you know you'll be saying it's a sin to listen to a style of music you don't like or to vote for the political candidate you despise...

Johnny Dialectic said...

Keyser, good questions. Unfortunately, I feel as if I've answered the first over and over again. Some apparently don't understand it (others may simply refuse to), so I won't repeat myself here.

As to your second question, it is inapposite. Equating a lie with the games assumes they are both "wrong." But as I've argued, the latter, simply, is not wrong or sinful in any way. So I wouldn't call this "pragmatism," but biblical wisdom and proper reasoning.

Daryl said...

"Covetousness is, as I showed yesterday, "to desire inordinately, to place the object of desire before love and devotion to God."

How did you show that? You simply stated that someone else stated it.

If I want your horse, not just any horse, your horse, but I don't want it more than God. Am I OK?
If I want it more than I want your friendship, but still less than I want God, and I even remain devoted to Him, Am I OK?

How does devotion to God enter into the definition? It sounds like it's being put there to justify "lesser" covetousness.

What I fail to comprehend here, is how scale effects anything.

Apply it to lust. If I just like to take a peek down a loose shirt from time to time, is that sin? Why? I'm not addicted to porn, I'm not wanting to leave my wife over it, I'm not even wishing whe looked more like that, so where's the problem?

On an slightly different but related issue...

TUAD, take yourself less seriously. It's not as if failing to answer you on your terms means anything about anything. You're some guy, not Phil's seminary prof.

Get over yourself.

Daryl said...

Johnny D.

The issue being addressed is not games, it is covetousness.
And really, "you don't understand backgammon" is not really an explanation of how playing for points or chips doesn't work, but nickels does.

Keyser Soze said...

JD - I was referring to pragmatism related to the use of credit and degrees of truthfulness in everyday life. I have encountered countless people who reason that as long as they can "afford" it, that debt is OK/wise and those who ascribe to "degrees" of lies which make it OK for them to be untruthful at times. I was just curious if you applied the same pragmatism to those areas.

I do not agree that your conclusions are a result of biblical wisdom and proper reasoning, but are in fact a pragmatic rationalization of something you enjoy doing and are approaching in a "why not?" and not a "why should I?" I make this conclusion because I also have done the exact same thing at times. I am just wondering if you apply the same logic across the board. Am curious how you "biblically discern and reason" the same way on things you do not like/have an interest in.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Covet (Hebrew, e.g. Ex. 20:17)

"a. in bad sense of inordinate, ungoverned, selfish desire; of lustful desire. b. = take pleasure in, of idolatrous tendency" (Brown-Driver-Biggs)

Note the word "idolatrous" which is precisely what the definition given yesterday gets at: "to desire inordinately, to place the object of desire before love and devotion to God."

Hope that helps.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I do not agree that your conclusions are a result of biblical wisdom and proper reasoning, but are in fact a pragmatic rationalization

Indeed, we disagree.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

There is only one reason: because the "fun" is derived not from the game itself but from the possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor. In other words, what makes gambling "fun" is pure covetousness.

I am not so sure about this. The sense of "belonging" to the neighbor is qualified by his or her own consent to "put it on the table" for something to be won. The "interest" in that something is not much different from the interest that one can have when shopping for a nice car. Wouldn't window shopping or browsing classified ads also create the "possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor?"

Considering a way of replying to this problem, we might say one has to PAY for such things; not WIN them. There ought to be a lawful transaction wherein both have the right to decide whether or not they benefit from such a transaction. But payment is not a necessary condition of such a transaction. The seller may lower his price so much as to clear the merchandise. He may even just put a "free" sign on it and allow the first taker to have it. Some people browse the "for free" section on Craigslist for "fun" and "interest" for such a reason. And the reason is this: our "neighbor" has decided to put something valuable to us up for grabs.

In short, I think your argument proves too much. Unless you are willing to challenge the foundations of capitalism (which is no sacred cow), you ought to revise it. But I don't think you are wrong to be against gambling from a stewardship perspective. It is a very foolish thing to do. However, I am not sure how you can condemn it altogether with only the covetous principle in mind and not consider the size of stakes involved, which is sufficiently covered by the issue of appropriate stewardship as well.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Daryl,

Please take yourself less seriously. You're not my seminary professor. Get over yourself.

Phil says he's not evading. So we're waiting.

Daryl said...

"Wouldn't window shopping or browsing classified ads also create the "possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor?"

Nope. You might purchase something, but you won't win it. And...window shopping can be covetous, can it not?

And Adam, doesn't your example prove too much the other way? If gambling is OK because you all agree to put it on the table, then why does the size of the stakes matter.
If I willingly put up 25 cents or 10 million dollars, is that not the same thing?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Adam Omelianchuk: "In short, I think your argument proves too much."

Are you saying that you think Phil Johnson's argument is over-reaching?

David said...

I view gambling as a denial of God's sovereignty. One is saying, I'm not content with what I have, therefore I will wager to (hopefully) get more. It's almost maybe even is like a prayer to the god of chance to increase goods. It is a dangerous pit to fall into, it is compromise that could cause a brother to stumble, and shouldn't be named among those who are God's people.

Obadiah said...

“One, something valuable is put at risk. Two, something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize. Three, an element of chance is involved in determining the outcome. And four, no new wealth is created in the process.”

I disagree with the premise. When you define gambling, especially without sourcing where the definitions come from, it creates a strawman argument, which is a logical fallacy.

In the most recent gambling post you alluded to drawing these definitions from government sources on what gambling is. I would like to see those sources identified. Without doing that it is going to be very simple for you to decry gambling as a sin because you have created what it means to gamble. I suggest we look at a more universal definition so that we are all talking about the same thing. There is a significant difference between your definition and that presented in the Webster’s dictionary. See below. That difference undermines your entire argument before it begins.

I would protest that Two and Four above are not from the accurate definition of gamble but from your definition of gamble, those two definitions have also seemed to be very important for your argument.

Two in more detail shortly and Four simply on the premise that the creation of new wealth or the redistribution of wealth is not any part of what gambling is unless you understand everything you pay for to be the redistribution of wealth (this is the gambling does purchase something viable, that something is entertainment, argument).

It seems Four eked its way into the definition to defend against the “stock market is gambling then” argument.

Gamble (Merriam-Webster's Dictionary)
intransitive verb
1a: to play a game for money or property
b: to bet on an uncertain outcome
2: to stake something on a contingency: take a chance
transitive verb
1: to risk by gambling: wager
2: venture, hazard
— gam•bler \-blər\ noun

Frank Turk said...

On the record, people play Softball and pick-up basketball all the time and there's never any money on the line -- and it's fun.

I wonder why Poker (among other things) is only fun when real money's on the line?

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.

.

.

.

I think Phil answered this question, but I think it needs to be restated just for good measure. It's obvious to anyone who's not trying to justify his own mistakes.

Frank Turk said...

Obadiah:

You are killing me.

How about this place for starters.

Quoth they:

A person engages in gambling if he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. Gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts, such as the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance.

Federal law defines illegal gambling activity as:

1.Is a violation of the law of the state in which it is conducted; and
2.(Involves five or more persons who conduct, finance, manage, supervise, direct or own all or part of such business; and
3.Has been or remains in substantially continuous operation for a period in excess of thirty days, or has a gross revenue of $2,000 in any single day.

David Rudd said...

Also on the record.

Not everyone has suggested that "Poker (among other things) is only fun when real money's on the line?"

I've played for corn chips, reeses pieces, m&ms, thimbles, etc. (okay, not thimbles)

I think, Frank, that most of the push back on this post is because Phil has taken such a hard-line stance. Some people are concerned that he's creating a "sin category" that goes beyond the biblical standards.

Unfortunately, it appears the for most its an "all or nothing" issue. there seems to be very little room for people to say,

"I'm not sure I'm where Phil is, I'd rather discuss this as a wisdom/control/stewardship issue."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

David Rudd: "I think, Frank, that most of the push back on this post is because Phil has taken such a hard-line stance. Some people are concerned that he's creating a "sin category" that goes beyond the biblical standards."

Bingo!


Keyser Soze: "Those who are in the "it's OK camp" have some compelling arguments."

FWIW, that's not really my position. I believe gambling is oftentimes, frequently sinful, just like alcohol consumption. But, BUT, BUT!, what "some" people view as "gambling" and/or view as "alcohol consumption" is not actually sinful and not in all circumstances. That's my position.

Thus the insidious danger that people need to be aware of is what Johnny Dialectic spoke of earlier:

"To accuse of sin where there is no sin is also a very serious matter. Tread lightly."

As Adam Omelianchuk thinks, Phil's argument is trying to prove too much, of over-reaching. This is Pharisee territory.

Daryl said...

This may, in fact, be a wisdom issue, but is not being unwise, sinful?
I mean, take into account age and brain development and knowledge and all that, but isn't doing something unwise (read in - stupid")

My son loves to play poker on-line. It's simple (he's 10) and there's no money involved, just points against the computer animated players. He loves it (or did until he got good enough to win every time) and he can make no money, nor can he lose money.

I grew up playing backgammon as well, no money, just points, I'm competitive and I loved it.

No mon, no fun? I don't think so.

donsands said...

I remember going to the race track and having a nice time betting on the horses. I would bet $2 a race, and it was exciting when my horse won, and I won maybe $10. One time I won $48 on a $2 bet at the Preakness. It was a bet on Master Derby.

At the same time, I saw people betting money, and loosing, and cussing, and screaming, and going nuts.
It's not the most pleasant atmosphere. A lot of drinking beer and liquor goes along with gambling as well. So gambling is a big sin in our world, no doubt about it.
Just as alcohol is. But drinking wine is biblical. Getting drunk isn't. Or causing a brother to stumble is a sin as well.

In fact, I think in Vegas they give you free drinks if you're gambling in the Casino.

Did I bet my $2 because I coveted to win more money? Yes.

I don't go the track since the Lord saved me 1984, but if I did, I think I could bet on a horse for the fun of it. That's how I feel in my heart.

Someone could say you could use that $2 for the poor. I always say to that person, "Sure. And I can eat peanut butter sandwiches for the rest of my life, and live in a small shack, and all the money I save on not eating steak and chicken, and not having a mortgage give to the poor.

But I don't look at God's blessing like that.

I suppose I went down a rabbit path a bit.

I guess my point is Romans 14 "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves."

Andrew D said...

TUaD, I said no such thing.

The only reason you would understand my comment that way is because of this "Phil owes it to me" complex where you can anonymously (and repeatedly and childishly) demand answers your petty off-topic questions.

What I actually said is even if Phil were to answer your ill-motivated questions (you are obsessed with delighting in some sort of Phil-Frank disagreement), you STILL would not interact with the post in a meaningful way.

You have become quite the troll. Please do not use me as your nerf bat. Thanks.

Johnny Dialectic said...

donsands, yes! Romans 14, as I've been saying from the beginning.

David Rudd and TUaD, also yes. That sums up indeed why there as been push back.

Obadiah said...

The promised rebuttal against point Two. "Two, something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize":

As a rebuttal to Two I would point out again the point made in the comments of the other post that gambling is a form of entertainment similar if not identical to others forms of entertainment.

When you attend a casino or put up stakes for any game (the defintion of gamble) you are purchasing entertainment. Whether it is the buying of casino chips, getting a meal at the buffet, or staying the night in a hotel room you are making a purchase and expecting to be entertained.

This distinction of gambling as entertainment is relevant because it operates in a similar if not identical way that any entertainment business operates. Although that argument has been summarily dismissed it should not be. An entertainer will offer something, anything, so long as there are people willing to pay for it. When no one is willing to pay for it the cost goes down. If costs go down so far that there are insufficient resources to continue making a profit the entertainer goes out of business. This is the most basic premise of our economy, supply and demand. Because that is the way casinos operate it makes the second premise of your definition inaccurate.

A casino is an entertainment business, it supplies entertainment for a fee, the difference is that the fee is not set by the entertainer, such as purchasing a ticket to an event, but by the person being entertained. Casinos do not care if you come in and spend $5000 or $5, they will of course hope you spend $5000, but so too does an entertainer hope you buy their more expense back-stage-pass tickets. No adequate distinction can be made between a casino as a form of entertainment and any other form of entertainment. The argument that the losers supply the financing is not a valid argument; it is a misunderstanding of entertainment and how casinos function.

The reality is that all entertainment is financed by those willing to pay for it, if it wasn’t then that form of entertainment would not exist. The argument cannot be made that “something belonging to someone else is at stake as a prize” causes gambling to be a sin because that phrase is not part of the definition of gamble, it is a strawman. The money won is won from the casino, not from those sitting beside you. It is not semantics, it is the business of that form of entertainment. The idea that someone is paying in order to get a share of what someone else has with the intent of getting more than they actually paid for, does not apply to gambling or any other business on earth. The purchase is separate from the returns. How this applies to the poker game with the boys on Friday night is the same argument. The money spent is a purchase for entertainment, not a redistribution of wealth.

Obadiah said...

"But if it's mere entertainment they seek, why not play a game without staking any money on the outcome?"

For the same reason that people climb dangerous mountains, explore wild places on earth, go underwater with nothing protecting you except pressurized air, or jumping out of plane with nothing but a piece of cloth ensuring a safe decent. There are people who derive greater entertainment when the stakes are higher, whether the stakes are financial or our own bodies.

The existence of stakes increase some people's entertainment value. That does not mean it increases all people's entertainment value. I can be entertained by staking $50 on a trip to the casino but if the cost were $500 it would not be any fun, so I do not stake $500. The author must admit that not all gambling is greed but instead is purchased entertainment, otherwise he denies my existence. There is no greed in my heart, mind, or soul when I put another $5 on the line to see that Queen of Spades on the river. It is a purchase, and whether or not that Queen comes up, whether or not I win the pot does not remove that excitement, that entertainment, it can only add to the level of fun I am already having.

In conclusion, I protest that gambling is entertainment similar if not identical to all other forms. The inclusion of “stake as a prize” is not an adequate argument against the idea that gambling is a sin because it is an extrapolation by the author and not a part of the valid definition of gamble. And greed is not present in all people mind's when gambling they are being entertained, thus making it like most other things humans do, good unless it is taken out of hand or taking out of safe boundaries.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Daryl, waiting for you to respond to the Hebrew definition of "covet." Anything unclear?

Obadiah said...

Frank,

Thank you, a source makes a difference, you cannot assume that everyone knows exactly where something comes from.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

Adam, doesn't your example prove too much the other way? If gambling is OK because you all agree to put it on the table, then why does the size of the stakes matter.
If I willingly put up 25 cents or 10 million dollars, is that not the same thing?


I don't think it is. My example is to show that someone doesn't necessarily have to pay for something to be awarded something. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about receiving 10 million dollars for nothing if someone is willing to offer it to you.

Nor did I say gambling was OK. I think it is often wrong, but not always. In gambling, in order to win, you have to take a risk of your own and I said that it was foolish (often, at least). However, the foolishness is relative to the size of the stakes. Would you agree that putting down 25 cents and being awarded 10 million dollars isn't a foolish trade?

Of course we can look at the likeliness of such an outcome. The odds of that happening are so high that risking your 25 cents becomes utterly foolish. Statistically, it amounts to a loss, and weighing your opportunity costs you could see that that same 25 cents could go towards a Kids Against Hunger charity and pay for one meal for a person of hunger.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Andrew D.,

You're just being ridiculous.

Obadiah said...

Frank:

Quothe they:
"Gambling does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts, such as the purchase or sale at a future date of securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance."

This does not mean it is not a business this means it is not a business protected under the law of contracts, such as...etcetera etcetera. The oft used NFL game example whould full under the exact same definition, the difference is the NFL game is not regulated by the federal government in the same way that gambling is.

But in response to this definition used as a starting point, my rebuttals against points Two and Four stand. Unless I overlooked them in a read through, they are not a part of this definition either. Don't say I'm killing you when I'm simply making the argument that the definitions provided are inaccurate. The link you provided agrees with my point.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I'll try one last time to explain backgammon to people. It's a game of luck and strategy combined. The best players know how to take the roll of the dice and make the best moves with it. They build positions to stop the other player and create greater odds of winning.

Now, when a player is put in a weaker position, he can keep on playing, keep on rolling the dice, in the hope that a "miracle roll" will get him out of trouble and reverse the fortunes on the board.

There is NO INCENTIVE for the player to give up under those conditions. Thus, the skill of the other player is all for naught. That's not fun at all, at least for me.

But when a small stake is put up, the player in the stronger position can force the other player to "pay for the risk" of that miracle roll. It is done via the doubling cube, which says to the other player, Now the stakes are doubled (from, say, five cents to ten cents). The weaker player may choose to accept the risk, but if he loses he owes twice what was originally staked.

In this regard, the game is unique. Now, one may say, Why don't you play for "chips" or "points"? That would make it a different game, IMO. The incentivizing would not have "bite." But even so the small penny games are not sinful per se, for the reasons I've expressed, so it's really an irrelevant argument. That's how I see it, and have not been convinced otherwise.

I don't play poker, but I don't see the calculus being any different. So what if it's about taking a small amount from volunteers who aren't abusing stewardship? That's not covetousness or greed, either. Obadiah makes a good case. It is paying for entertainment. It can certainly rise to the level of sinful squandering, but that, once again, is a wisdom issue.

Wisdom. It's a beautiful thing. Use it.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Let me add an addendum. In looking back at some of the "old time" admonitions against gambling (back when fundamentalism had hair on its chest) the argument seemed more to be about a) the slippery slope; and b) the support of a wicked industry. This line would be much better than the "all of it is a sin" approach Phil has staked out.

Sound biblical reasoning and application of wisdom is called for, not blanket condemnation that cannot withstand scrutiny.

threegirldad said...

Johnny Dialectic: Covetousness is, as I showed yesterday, "to desire inordinately, to place the object of desire before love and devotion to God."

So, it's possible to desire my neighbor's wife in a way that isn't covetous? What about anything that belongs to my neighbor? If it's possible to desire what belongs to my neighbor without being covetous, what, exactly, does that kind of desire look like in practice?

Ian: I may want my neighbor's new leaf blower that in itself isn't inherently evil.

Is there no meaningful distinction between wanting my neighbor's leaf blower, and wanting a leaf blower like the one my neighbor has? And if there is a meaningful distinction between those two things, what is it?

Obadiah said...

Gambling can be a sin when it is idolized and taken beyond certain boundaries. i.e. those sins the author associated with gambling, slothfulness, greed, etcetera.

Sex can be a sin when it is idolized and taken beyond certain boundaries. i.e. the confines of marriage.

Making money at your job can be a sin when it is idolized and taken beyond certain boundaries. i.e. you lie about performance to get a raise, you covet your boss' income.

Church can be a sin when it is idolized and taken beyond certain boundaries. i.e. you attend because of the smoking hot leader of the singles ministry, you are there to make a show of your faith.

Be very careful when saying always to anything that may lead to sin. Gambling can lead to sin, it would be almost impossible to argue against that.

Chad V. said...

Daryl

I'm certainly not going to try to tell you how to raise your son but you brought him into the meta.

Has it ever occurred to you that when he grows up it might occur to him that he can play poker for money or that what thrills him at 10 will no longer thrill him at 21? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Daryl said...

Johnny D.,

Sorry about that. I forgot.

Point(partially)taken about idolatrous,however...

I don't think the definition makes idolatry a necessary part of it, just a common part of it. As well, I think there is a reason that the 10th commandment makes the issue covetting "anything that is thy neighbour's." and not putting something before God.
I think the first commandment covers idolatry. So, while I can see the co-relation, I don't think it can be 1 to 1, otherwise, why the extra commandment?

To that end, what is it about cash on the line that increases the intensity of the game? Is it not the desire to have that cash (and not lose your own)? If it were simply the desire to win, why are points/chips/potato pealings not enough?

And, say the money was more, like 1 million bucks. Stewardship aside, can I not play with that money (assuming I have it) and not worship it? Is it necessarily idolatry to simply want more of it? After all, I work for money and I want a raise to make more money, is that idolatry? I don't see it.
But the issue is whose is it, not where my heart is at.
Not discounting the heart thing, but that ups the ante not lowers it. If I steal, it doesn't matter where my heart is at, I stole, same with murder and adultery. If my heart wants to steal, then I'm already there, actual steal or not.

In the same vein, is it idolatry to really really want my neighbours cow? Maybe I just like the cow. But it's not mine and I can't rightly dwell on it.

So...I think the idolatry bit is helpful, but not all encompassing, nor even necessary to the definition of covet.
So I don't think it clears the deck quite as neatly as you'd like it to.

I think relative value of the bet might matter, but if so, then why don't chips and potato pealings get it done?

That's my issue. When someone says "it's not the same without money", that puts it immediately into the love of money/covetousness category (even given the definition you provided, moreso in fact) for me.

Frank Turk said...

Obadiah:

You are killing me.

I'll be back.

Obadiah said...

Chad

Careful, that same logic applied to marriage would suggest that you would be thrilled by your wife in the first year of marriage only to grow bored of her over time and "trade up" so to speak.

Logic must be able to be applied laterally. Daryl's son could get addicted to gambling and risk unhealthy amounts of money as you seem to imply or he could be raised to responsibly understand the difference between risk and rewards applied to gambling and never suffer a gambling problem. I do not know Daryl but trust the later rather than the former.

Keyser Soze said...

I am interested to know - does anyone here know any godly men (or women)whose life demonstrates the fruits of the spirit and one whose life is above reproach that engage in the aforementioned activities? Does history show the godly beacons of the faith engaging in such? If not, doesn't it stand to "reason" that those cloud of witnesses should be our aim on these "gray" areas?

Obadiah said...

Frank

Why am I killing? What specifically is killing you?

I assume I am killing you because you disagree with my point but that simple statement could be taken by me to understand I am killing you because you have no valid counter.

Clarity is important.

Johnny Dialectic said...

So, it's possible to desire my neighbor's wife in a way that isn't covetous?

No, because the thing desired is unlawful, and any quantum of desire in that case is sinful per se.

The "desire" for a small stake is not unlawful in any sense.

Daryl said...

Chad V,

Yes, in fact, it does concern me. I have plans to discuss that with him at some point.

Thanks for asking, I appreciate that.

For now, it's a game to him, like any other game. Perhaps we'll play for chips at home, perhaps not. But I'll be sure and keep money out of it, and explain why.

Chad, your comment made my day, really. Thank you.

Obadiah said...

Keyser

Martin Luther is known for telling dirty and quite scandalous jokes to dinner guests. Dirty joke is not gambling but I think it answers your question.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I am interested to know - does anyone here know any godly men (or women)whose life demonstrates the fruits of the spirit and one whose life is above reproach that engage in the aforementioned activities?

If by "aforementioned activities" you mean small stakes games, then yes.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Johnny Dialectic: "Sound biblical reasoning and application of wisdom is called for, not blanket condemnation that cannot withstand scrutiny."

Standing ovation. Gold medal clap. Can't say it any better or more succinctly than that.

"Wisdom. It's a beautiful thing. Use it."

To build upon Johnny Dialectic's exhortation here, there are two errors that need to be carefully avoided.

(1) To practice sin or to call something not a sin when it actually is a sin. (This is where Phil Johnson is coming from).

(2) To call something a sin when it actually isn't a sin. (This is what the prideful Pharisees did. This is where Phil Johnson needs to be careful.)

Obadiah said...

Frank

I'll be back later today, Monday, or in future posts. I have some things to attend to. Just thought I would mention this so you didn't think I just up and ran away.

Chad V. said...

Obadiah

Seriously....... what you just suggested to me is shameful.

You see, marriage doesn't teach me adultery rather it teaches me faithfulness and to love my wife as Christ loves the church. To cultivate those virtues is to fulfill the purpose of marriage. Marriage is a righteous thing which reflects Christ's love for the church. Adultery is a perversion of it.

Teaching a kid poker teaches him the foundational principles of gambling. Poker is designed to take money from others by deceit. To begin to play for money is to fulfill the purpose for which poker was designed.

Chad V. said...

Daryl

You're most welcome brother.

Daryl said...

Obadiah,

Luther was not God, and he was wrong to speak like he often did.

Don't make his bad qualities and example to follow.

Obadiah said...

Chad

I think you misunderstood my point. What I heard Daryl suggesting was teaching his kid not gambling but the good qualities of poker, math skills etcetera and now how to be responsible as he thanked you for moment ago. I do not know Daryl and he can confirm or deny this but I would be he did not sit down with his son and teach him how to become addicted to gambling and how to lose his money by risking it all.

The marriage illustration shows the same thing, when understood responsibly marriage is a good thing, a great thing, one of the premiere blessing God has bestowed upon my life. When gambling is understood responsibly it is, of course not as great as a healthy marriage, but it denies negative escalation it fosters a long standing understanding of what is healthy and what is unhealthy. I would even suggest the advantages of teaching children about gambling so that they understand what is healthy and what is unhealthy. That was the point of the illustration.

The same logic could be applied to teaching your kid about sex. You do not expect that them learning what sex is will result in them running out and looking to have sex as often as possible with as many people as possible do you? They are taught so they understand good and bad and boundaries.

Obadiah said...

Daryl

I was answering a question about godly men not God. Of course Luther wasn't God. Nor is Phil, or myself, or anyone else posting here. The question asked about the activities of godly men and women. I used Luther as an example.

As a side note: This is what happens when I leave a computer window open and walk away to try and do something else. I come back and hit "refresh" every few minutes! Now that is a vice well worth decrying!

threegirldad said...

No, because the thing desired is unlawful, and any quantum of desire in that case is sinful per se.

So, it's possible to desire my neighbor's ox, or donkey, or leaf blower, or anything that belongs to my neighbor without being covetous? What, exactly, does that kind of desire look like in practice?

The "desire" for a small stake is not unlawful in any sense.

What is your objective standard for "a small stake"?

Obadiah said...

Daryl

After a quick reread I missed the point of Keyser's post. My apologizes.

Andrew D said...

Chad,
When you regard the chips as something like "points" (rather than money or possessions), then it does not "teach him the foundational principles of gambling" as you stated.

E.G. You play the card game "Go Fish" with the strategy of taking all of the other players cards to win the game. This does not teach coveting.

Even with the game Monopoly, everybody knows it's fake money and that, regardless of who wins, all players walk away from the game with the same personal possessions they came with.

Any activity can be (and has been)used by corrupt man to do evil. That doesn't make the activity inherently wrong.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Andrew D.: "Any activity can be (and has been)used by corrupt man to do evil. That doesn't make the activity inherently wrong."

You said it.

Johnny Dialectic said...

A "small stake" is a matter of individual stewardship and wisdom. There is no objective standard.

To covet that which belongs to my neighbor is unlawful. To play for a stake that has been voluntarily put up is not unlawful.

This really is not complicated, unless one is committed to forcing "covet" into places it clearly does not fit. That's not sound biblical reasoning.

Chris said...

I am really amazed this discussion is still going on. Phil, you have basically had to nuance the terminology and frame the discussion within a set of parameters and definitions that fit your argument. Fair enough; that seems to be general debate strategy. Even if we accept the standard definitions you have proposed, I fail to see how they conclusively support your argument. You are falsely assuming that society and Scripture frames the argument in the way that you have. In the end, if Scripture is our guide, then we must find something better than a general (and I would argue questionable) application of the 8th and 10th commandments. While the commandments could faithfully be applied to the abuse of, and motives for, gambling, they cannot be applied not to the thing itself.

If we are going to label gambling as a sin based on your four points, then let’s be ready to open up our checkbooks and examine other areas in our life.

D.J. Williams said...

As I read this discussion, I'm reminded of a great quote by one of my college profs, Charles Draper, that I think applies here.

"He who defines the terms wins the debate."

In light of that, Obidiah - you're making an excellent case in a debate you can't win.

David Rudd said...

AndrewD,

You make an interesting point. I wouldn't have considered "Go Fish" to be gambling, but it does seem to fit Phil's definition.

The point of the game is to stake my cards against my opponents, and ultimately to win by taking his cards away.

I guess coveting is coveting whether I covet my neighbor's ante or my neighbor's go fish cards.

Seriously.

This is precisely why I'd love to see Phil back away from his "gambling is sin, full stop." stance and take an approach that relies on the Bible for it's foundation rather than his definition of gambling.

David Rudd said...

i should have added.

Go Fish does not create new wealth.

my bad.

Obadiah said...

DJ

And that is why I am asking for a central understanding of the terms. Until that happens no one is going to win the debate and everyone will be arguing different points. If this is to be productive in any way shape or form those definitions must be agreed upon by all parties. If I do not start seeing that happen. As Frank has been so helpful to respond to, then I at least will wash my hands of the entire premise and walk away.

Without agreed upon definitions both myself and anyone else may stand on whatever soap box they want and start decrying the ills of the world without having the ability to defend any of them. Of course Phil's argument is perfectly valid given the definitions as provided. That is why my very first post, disagreed with that premise. DJ, my friend, you are entirely correct and I hope more begin to realize the truth of your statement soon.

Andrew D said...

But David,

Go Fish cards and fake monopoly money are not "stakes" as defined.

So they don't fit Phil's definition of gambling.

Playing for pennies does.

Yay or Nay?

David Rudd said...

nay.

"stakes" as defined by Phil.

A stake is a prize one person stands to gain through the loss of others.

David Rudd said...

AndrewD,

but that's not really the point, is it?

Johnny Dialectic said...

Anyone want to bet against this meta getting to 100 within the hour?

Brad Williams said...

The major objections to Phil's argument makes about as much sense as those who object to pornography being wrong because they can look at it and not lust, and when taken to task about it they cry, "Aw! You Pharisee! Next thing you know you'll say I can't look at ankles! Or family photos. I mean, what if someone looks at my family photo pics and lusts? Should we stop taking pictures?!"

And TUaD wants Phil to tell him if it's okay that some guy looks at Popular Science, because, you know, there's pictures in there too.

And he's waiting...and waiting...and waiting.

That's how it looks from here, anyway.

Andrew D said...

Well my point to Chad is that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with teaching kids the game of poker.

The reason: no stake.

I don't think it has much to do with the question you asked Phil about the $5 stake.

Is there a specific reason your poker games fall outside the definitions Phil gave? Or is it that you disagree with the definitions? As I reread your comments I cannot tell.

Andrew D said...

That last comment was addressed to David Rudd
Sorry for leaving that off.

David Rudd said...

Andrew,

I'm not suggesting my example falls in or out of his definition.

I'm wondering where he would put it.

And thinking that the murkiness of the question may call for a relook at the definitions he's offered.

Whether or not he answers will not make or break my day, though!

Phil Johnson said...

I'm way behind this morning, but I'll try to answer a few things in order:

TUAD: I'm still waiting (and waiting and waiting) for you to answer (unambiguously) these two questions:

I don't know why you are waiting. I was crystal-clear in the previous thread: I'm not going to answer your off-topic and sideline questions until you deal with the previous issues on the table: You said you disagreed with my definitions, yet you have refused to say why. Either critique my definitions, or offer definitions of your own. That's all I will reply to from you until you give a cogent account for the comments you have already made. Your reply to that request and your subsequent comments were puerile. Your reposting comments over and over is about to get you banned until the end of this series.

Then if you still haven't dealt with the definitions, I will answer your questions.

TUAD: "are you consulting with your Pyromaniac co-bloggers to answer my questions or will you just answer my questions on your own without their input?"

Yeah, that's just what we always do. Because, you know, the questions you raise are so--what's the superlative of BRILLIANT?--and so far over my head that unless we all three talk about it, our brains are just tied up in knots. You should see our phone bills. We were up half the night, on a 5-hour conference call discussing how to answer THIS question.

Get serious. In nearly 4 years of joint blogging, I don't think any one of us has ever sought the others' permission or advice before writing a post, much less before answering a comment.

Now: either explain in a reasoned and reasonable why you reject my definitions or stop posting comments.

Phil Johnson said...

David Rudd: "I can see how this does and does not fall into your definitions. Having read this post, I'm still not sure if you would call this game 'sin.'"

I think it does count as gambling by my definitions. The entry fee becomes the winning--so it's a stake. It's admittedly a rather innocuous kind of gambling--not the sort of thing that threatens to unravel whole segments of our culture. As I said in an earlier comment, I wouldn't make an issue of gambling at all if it never went beyond that level.

Furthermore, I wouldn't say the "game" is sin. My critique has been focused on motives: greed, covetousness, and the love of money that fuel a person's desire to win not merely a contest, but a sum or an asset that belongs to someone else.

"Sin" sounds like such an ugly, hard-edged word, doesn't it? (Especially alongside the expression "rather innocuous.") But let's face it--as fallen creatures we wage a constant battle against sinful motives in everything we do. The best things we do are often tainted with selfish motives. Jesus said we shouldn't pray to be seen of men. Prayer can be motivated wrongly. Imagine that. Is it too harsh to call that sin?

But let me be clear: I think those who read my posts dispassionately will recognize that I didn't write this series because I'm on some campaign to stamp out small-stakes penny-ante poker games. What prompts my concern is a massive, widespread social problem, and I don't think most Christians understand how evil it is or take it seriously enough. Those who talk constantly about social justice never even give it a nod. Why is that?

Moreover, if we analyze gambling and discover there's one or more underlying principles in the activity that violate God's law, we ought to face it squarely. As I said (or meant to say) in an earlier comment, no Christian should ever buy into the notion that the pettiness of petty sins makes them tolerable.

DJP said...

Phil: "In nearly 4 years of joint blogging, I don't think any one of us has ever sought the others' permission or advice before writing a post, much less before answering a comment."

Well, there was that time when Frank wanted a consult on how to spell "i-n-s-e-g-r-e-v-i-o-u-s."

Jim Pemberton said...

Regarding godly men and entertaining competition with God's providence at stake, there are some forms of entertainment that are fruitful and some that are sinful.

If indeed we have been given so that we can give, then it goes against the nature of God to compete for the loss of someone else, even if they understand the risk to their own stake. This is not healthy entertainment.

I have no desire to engage in a game where any measure of God's providence is at stake because I'm compelled to throw the game so my opponent wins. I would rather suffer loss than for my opponent to suffer loss. It is rather more fulfilling for both of us to be good stewards and both gain.


Regarding truly high stakes:

One example of true high stakes competition is during a time of war on the battlefield when God's providence of physical life is at stake and elements of just cause and the command to be obedient to the government God has provided is relevant. Another is on the mission field where the battle is spiritual but life may be forfeited to win the battle. In this there is no gamble where the glory of God is the focus.

All this just to bring some perspective.

Johnny Dialectic said...

What prompts my concern is a massive, widespread social problem, and I don't think most Christians understand how evil it is or take it seriously enough. Those who talk constantly about social justice never even give it a nod. Why is that?

With this I absolutely agree.

David Rudd said...

Phil,

Thanks for the response. I think your answer is clear and helpful.

Particularly I appreciate your attempt to point to the societal ills of gambling as the real problem, not the grandmothers playing penny poker.

I think we probably are closer to agreement on this than I at first thought, but I still wonder if there is any room for you to move a little in your stance?

Would you be okay with saying something like:

"not all gambling is sin, but as with many other activities, it's practice can be sinful. gambling is definitely a behavior which can be addictive, dangerous, and which has become something in our society which the church should be addressing."

David Rudd said...

and of course, there should be no "'" in its.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "Now: either explain in a reasoned and reasonable why you reject my definitions or stop posting comments."

I did. But you just called them puerile.

Do you think this request by Jugulum is reasoned and reasonable or is it puerile:

"But I share one of TUaD's questions--"do you think fee-tournaments with prizes fit the definition of gambling?" And I can't meet your challenge to TUaD, because my question isn't based on finding your definition insufficient. You say the answer is in your definition; I want to know your answer, to help understand your definition."

That's interacting with your definitions and distinctions. How is that puerile?
-----------

Recap.

David Rudd: "I play poker a few times a month with a group of guys. We each pay in $5, and then use the pool to purchase gift certificates to dinner and a movie. The winner gets the gift cards, second place gets his money back.

I can see how this does and does not fall into your definitions. Having read this post, I'm still not sure if you would call this game "sin".

TUAD,

i agree that this falls into the #2 category..."


Phil Johnson: "I think it does count as gambling by my definitions."

Phil Johnson: "I would argue that gambling is a sin, full stop."

Thanks Phil for answering my question #2.

Phil Johnson said...

Obadiah:

Thanks for your comment about the definitions. Nice to see at least one dissenter approach the actual topic that was put on the table. I was going to reply to your comment with a source (they're easy to find if you Google it), but I see Frank already did. I would encourage you to research this question a bit, and you will discover there's quite a lot in print, especially dating from the years when government was trying to curtail and regulate gambling rather than sponsor it.

Obadiah: "No adequate distinction can be made between a casino as a form of entertainment and any other form of entertainment. The argument that the losers supply the financing is not a valid argument; it is a misunderstanding of entertainment and how casinos function."

Well, that's demonstrably false. How much gaming would take place in casinos if there were a small entry fee but no winnings? Granted, there is entertainment that happens in casinos, and there's even entertainment inherent in gaming. But if you want to see how the desire to be entertained weighs against the love of money as a motive for gamblers, eliminate the prize and see how much gaming will then occur. I don't think casinos would have miles of slot machines if the only reward for a win were the flashing lights and noises--or even if the prize were any fixed value, such as a free meal at the buffet.

Ben said...

What is wrong with asking if a pastor can day-trade?

If the stock market is not gambling the only difference between the long term trader and the short term trader is timeframe.

Each would use risk/reward strategies and play the probabilities.

Phil Johnson said...

Still reading through the thread. . .

David Rudd:

Andrew is right. "Go Fish" cards aren't a stake by my definition. See the post with the definitions. To wit: "When you gamble, you are risking money (or something else of value)." and, as you quoted, "A stake is a prize one person stands to gain through the loss of others."

You don't win the "Go Fish" cards as a "prize," do you? I. E., does the winner take the deck home? I don't know. I've never played the game.

David Rudd: "Would you be okay with saying something like: 'not all gambling is sin, but as with many other activities, it's practice can be sinful.'"

Is the argument 1. (as JD and others have suggested) that covetousness isn't really sinful if the thing you covet is petty enough? Or are you saying 2. that you think it's possible to gamble with no covetous motive at all?

Because if it's #1, I think that's already been thoroughly debunked, the protests in the comment-thread notwithstanding. And if it's #2, you'd need to explain how one can play a game whose sole object is to gain permanent ownership of some possession from one's opponent without being driven by a motive that has covetous desire at its heart.

I'd love to see you make the case for that. But remember: denial doesn't count as a reasoned argument.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Is the argument 1. (as JD and others have suggested) that covetousness isn't really sinful if the thing you covet is petty enough?

No. You've missed it. It is not covetousness at all. You have yet to prove that it is. And that's the foundational flaw of your broad stroke argument, as has been pointed out by several comments.

Phil Johnson said...

Ben: "What is wrong with asking if a pastor can day-trade?"

What I object to is using questions like that to avoid having to give answers to questions that are already on the table. Someone who refuses to answer a question that's already been raised doesn't get to pose a new question and then pretend I'm "evading" if I won't let him de-rail the discussion with his questions. TUAD is a serial offender, so I stiff-armed him this time.

He's banned from commenting on the rest of the posts in this thread.

Ben: "If the stock market is not gambling the only difference between the long term trader and the short term trader is timeframe."

What I said is that investing isn't gambling. Day trading isn't really investing; it's sheer speculation, and those who borrow money to day-trade are probably violating half a dozen biblical principles of stewardship. Is it "gambling" by the legal definition? No, and that's why the government doesn't regulate it as a form of gambling. Does that make it perfectly OK? Not in my view.

Could a shrewd investor who makes choices from the standpoint of knowledge and cautious wisdom (rather than sheer speculation) do day-trading in a way that is truly profitable and free from any moral taint? I suppose so, but I don't see how one could do it as a vocation, over the long term. But that sort of activity isn't the subject of my critique in these posts on gambling.

Ben said...

Thanks for heads-up and for the answer.

My point about investing/trading is successful traders/investors make their choices from knowledge and caution. Each will want to establish which way the market is trending, the difference between the two is one would use a monthly/weekly timeframe and another would use an intraday/daily timeframe.

Why would it be wrong to invest/trade using a shorter timeframe, if one makes choices from knowledge and uses caution by strict risk/reward strategies? Why is the long term trader off the hook?

Chad V. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Rudd said...

Phil,

My answer is #2.

the "burden of proof" you've asked for is how one can play a game whose sole object is to gain permanent ownership of some possession from one's opponent without being driven by a motive that has covetous desire at its heart.

i doubt a short answer can satisfactorily answer this question, but i'll suggest this:

1) i think the idea that any game (including poker games)has a "sole object" forces some false dichotomies. I think the objectives people bring to a slot machine or a poker table or a roulette wheel are often varied and muddled. While there may be "primary objects" there is certainly not a "sole object".

2)"Gaining permanent ownership of someone else's possession" is a fundamental misrepresentation of most gambling games. All parties willingly relinquish their stakes prior to the game beginning. They have in essence given up ownership before the game even begins. (this is a minor point, not worth much discussion)

3) I think "covetousness" is the wrong angle on this. Very few people are driven to gambling because they want what someone else has. Most people who gamble for gain do so because they want more of what they already have. This would certainly be "greed", but not "covetousness". I think you may be stretching to get covetousness because of your initial definition. You've mentioned greed in your arguments, I think that's a better direction to go.

I know I haven't completely answered you yet, I have a little more to say about covetousness, but I'm going to stop here, and post a second response in a bit.

Chad V. said...

Obadiah

Again, there's no comparison of sex or marriage to gambling. None at all.

God gave us sex and marriage as good and holy things. Those things are inherently good. Gambling is a perversion of the commandments of God. It is inherently bad. There is no responsible way to gamble and to do it at all violates many scriptural principles, as Phil has been trying to tell us.

Obadiah said...

Chad

We will not find common ground on this topic. Therefore I respectfully retract any statements directed toward you that may have caused confusion or hurt feelings, for that was and never is my intention. I attempted various angles to show my point and have failed. Despite my dislike for the program "Writer's Almanac" the sign off is appropriate. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. I of course won't hold you to the last one.

Obadiah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Obadiah said...

Double post, my apoligies

Jugulum said...

Re: Go Fish

However, there are games where you play "for keeps". There was "Pogs" during the 1990s. I believe there are also collectible card games that involve playing for keeps. (Collectible card games are games like Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering, and various Star Trek & Star Wars games with a similar concept. Each player has to buy their own packs of cards, which are randomly stuffed with characters, technologies, special actions, vehicles, weapons, etc.) In some games, you might end up gaining or losing cards during the game.

Note: The cards/pogs/etc aren't valuable for anything outside the game, are they? The point of gaining and losing the cards/pogs is to have better cards for the next time you play--and that starts to look like one long, extended game. So this might not fit Phil's definition. (Unless you decide the sell your cards, I suppose.)

Jmv7000 said...

107 comments before lunch (West Coast); I'm betting 200 by dinner!

juks said...

Phil is right. I had a restaurant in a large casino and used to walk around observing who was using all these slot machines etc all day long. I noticed that the majority were often less advantaged elderly people, mainly women. I wondered why and then realized that when you no longer have any hope in getting wealth you turn to means such as gambling and lotteries. Or word-faith preachers. wasn't a pretty sight. wicked exploitation at the expense of the mainly poor.

Jugulum said...

Johnny and TUaD (and others?) have said they're concerned about creating a category of sin that isn't in the Bible. Like stereotypical fundamentalism. People are concerned about his hard-line stance.

Even if you disagree with Phil, I don't see how you can rationally accuse him of doing this.

He hasn't created a new category of sin--he has pointed to well-known biblical categories of sin. Like coveting, sloth, etc. And he has argued that all gambling involves coveting. Even for small stakes. He has argued that any time you say, "It wouldn't be as fun or have the same thrill if we were just playing for worthless tokens," then you're revealing an unworthy motivation. And by going ahead and playing for stakes, you're nurturing that unbiblical attitude. (He has argued more than this, but this is a big part.)


We can argue about whether the motivations involved with playing for stakes really are rooted in covetousness & love of money. But we shouldn't come into the argument with a strong "Woah, you're being too hardline" reaction.

It's definitely right to be cautious about making sweeping judgments about motivations attached to certain kinds of acts. That's a real danger. But it's also a danger to dismiss things because they seem too fundamentalist.

Stefan said...

Phil Johnson is a pastor, and he has a call to minister to those in his charge, to preach the Word of God in season and out of season, exhort, and convict—and why? For the glory of God in His holiness, justice, grace, and mercy; and for the exaltation of Jesus Christ, our Lord, King, and Saviour.

We who read this blog are not under his care in the same way that congregants at his church are—indeed, we are under the care and authority of the pastors and elders in our own church—but insofar as he is a called pastor who uses this blog to teach biblical principles, he exercises a certain duty of care towards us as well: care for our souls.

Given the temperament of most of us who read and comment on this blog regularly, don't we expect stiff, convicting sermons from our own pastors? Wouldn't we be tempted to think that we weren't in a "biblical" church if we just got fluff all the time?

Is Phil Johnson our pope? No. Is he a talmudic scholar, arguing endlessly over the most tedious disctinctions between what qualifies as sin and what doesn't? No. He is arguing for certain biblical principles: no more, no less.

The Lord God knows that I struggle with all kinds of sins. I don't gamble (even for small stakes), but I spurn and denigrate the glory of God in so many other ways on daily basis that it doesn't really matter. I often act as if God's standard of holiness has no bearing on me as a New Covenant believer. Is that really the way I should be living as a Christian?

Independent of gambling, Phil's exploration of the biblical principles involved are still convicting me, in other ways.

Can we all take a pause, and consider if we're making too much fuss over the peripheral details around some pretty fundamental biblical principles?

David Rudd said...

Phil, here's part two (sorry so long)

In your post, I think your argument that gambling is covetousness is played out mostly from your statement, "Gambling is covetousness distilled to its very essence" to your statement "Sorry to be blunt about it, but that is sin." So I'm just going to address that segment.

I believe a fair summary of your points there is as follows:

1) People claim they gamble for entertainment and recreation, but their insistence that the game needs to be played for money (or some other stake) demonstrates a deeper motivation to play.
2) Since these people claim the game is made more fun by playing for money, they have demonstrated that the "fun" of gambling is the possibility of taking something from someone else.
3) Desiring to take something from someone else is covetousness.

I hope this is a fair representation.

I do think that your argument has some initial problems as soon as you run into people who gamble sometimes for money and sometimes for non-monetary stakes. Are you willing to call it sin if my neighbor and I agree to flip a coin to see who is going to rake both yards this fall? Remember, that we both agree before hand really changes the deal. (but this isn't my main point)

I also think you made a subtle but important shift in the middle of your argument when you quoted your opponent as saying, "the money at stake ADDS to the enjoyment of the game" but making your argument around the idea that the money IS the enjoyment of the game. Inherent in your opponent's statement is the idea that the game is fun with or without the stake. The stake just makes it better. (again, not my main point, but perhaps significant)

Here's my main point.

I just think you're missing the boat with the covetousness thing. Consider these two questions:

Is it covetousness to desire to take something from someone else?
Is it covetousness to desire to take something from someone else which they have offered?

I think the answer to the first question is most often "yes".
I think the answer to the second question is clearly "no".

So do either of these questions accurately represent the transaction that takes place in gambling? Probably not. Probably what happens in gambling is somewhere between the two. I think the suggestion that covetousness is the motivation that always brings people to the poker table, or into the casino is pretty tough to defend.

So, to restate and answer your challenge (#2) I would say,

one CAN play a game, the object of which is to win a pooled prize, without being driven by a motive that has covetous desire at its heart.

here again i'd ask you to soften your view just a bit.

Remember, it's not my intention to argue for the virtues of gambling. I think it belongs in a category with many other things that are not inherently sinful, but we need to be EXTRA cautious if we choose to participate.

I don't choose to avoid soccer because I'm afraid I might loose my cool and blow my testimony when the ref makes a bad call. I simply work hard to be aware of myself while playing soccer so that I don't lose myself.

I don't choose to avoid parenting because sometimes my children frustrate me and there is the potential that I could sin in my response to them. I simply work hard to be controlled by the Spirit PARTICULARLY in those tough parenting moments.

These are silly illustrations that don't do justice to the dangers and societal ills brought on by drinking.

BUT

I truly want us to be careful about statements that go further than the Bible does. I think there is much to be said about gambling and stewardship and resources, but I think our starting point should be the clearest Biblical passages.

Thanks.

David Rudd said...

err.. not drinking, gambling.

i guess i need more coffee.

Jugulum said...

Here's a couple thoughts.

1.) Take John Doe. Any time John playing any game of any kind, he wants to play for stakes. He's constantly saying, "Let's make this interesting." Every game loses its appeal to him, if there's no stakes.

Doesn't it sound like Phil's right about John? Why on earth does every game have to be for money?

2.) Take Jane Doe. She's trying to save money to buy an iPod. She hopes to expedite the process, so she invites a group of friends over and arranges a poker night. She does well, and next day she goes to get her iPod.

Doesn't it sound like Phil's right about Jane? What's going on with her attitude toward her friends? She's exploiting them. (Yeah, she could have lost, too--but getting their money from them was her hope.)


But I'm not sure about the next one.
3.) Take James Doe. Jim is having a game night with some friends, and has a selection of games--Apples to Apples, Settlers of Catan, Rock Band, spades/hearts/bridge/etc, chess, backgammon. They've played a few games already. They're deciding what to play next. Jim honestly doesn't care what game they play next. But if they play backgammon, he wants to play for penny stakes.

I'm not sure how to analyze that desire. But if it really was rooted in covetousness and desire for unrighteous gain--like Phil is arguing--then Jim would prefer to play backgammon, wouldn't he? If he's motivated by the desire to get his friends' money, he'll push for that game.

How can it be coveting, if he doesn't care which game they play?

John said...

Great Post, Phil! I am glad to see such plain language. However, I would like to offer some help:

"Why would the element of gambling make a game more "fun?" There is only one reason: because the "fun" is derived not from the game itself but from the possibility of winning something that belongs to your neighbor."

I playd poker for years, and in my experience it is not so much the possibility of winning that gives poker its edge, but the possibility of losing. This is why gambling can be so dangerous and addictive. Essentially, a man is taking the risk of losing his food and shelter. Survival instinct kicks in, and addictive hormones are released. Under this influence, men will behave in an extremely cutthroat sort of way, and the higher the stakes, the higher the angst.

Phil said...

The more I read these threads the more respect I have for Phil J. I don't think I could tolerate all of the comments ad naseum "but Phil! I gamble pennies because it's okay to love money just a little it makes life and the game much more fun."

Ever read C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce? Remember the scene where Napoleon is eternally pacing, restless, miserable, unable to stop himself? Always blaming other people or other things, all alone? That's the conclusion of the life of a compulsive gambler in the casino. Now tell me that just a little of that is a good thing because it makes life more fun.

Andrew D said...

I have laughed out loud TWICE while reading these discussions:

The first was when Ian said "I may want my neighbor's new leaf blower that in itself isn't inherently evil."

The 2nd was when David asked "Are you willing to call it sin if my neighbor and I agree to flip a coin to see who is going to rake both yards this fall?

It sounds like these scenarios are not just abstract/hypothetical!!

David Rudd said...

Andrew,

Full Disclosure: My neighbor did rake my front yard for me this year.

But I paid him, we didn't flip a coin!

Phil Johnson said...

David Rudd: "1) i think the idea that any game (including poker games)has a 'sole object' forces some false dichotomies. I think the objectives people bring to a slot machine or a poker table or a roulette wheel are often varied and muddled. While there may be 'primary objects' there is certainly not a 'sole object'."

I'll concede the semantic point. "Sole object" wasn't a great choice of words. "Central object" is more like what I had in mind. My point is that an illegitimate desire (covetousness, or as you suggest, greed) is the sine qua non of gambling.

David Rudd: "2)'Gaining permanent ownership of someone else's possession' is a fundamental misrepresentation of most gambling games. All parties willingly relinquish their stakes prior to the game beginning. They have in essence given up ownership before the game even begins. (this is a minor point, not worth much discussion)"

It's not really a minor point; it's an important one. The gist of your argument hinges on another idea: that if the transfer of assets from loser to winner is consented to beforehand by mutual agreement, then it's not tantamount to theft when the winner takes what the loser threw in the pot. I'll be dealing with that in Monday's post.

David Rudd: 3) I think "covetousness" is the wrong angle on this. Very few people are driven to gambling because they want what someone else has. Most people who gamble for gain do so because they want more of what they already have. This would certainly be "greed", but not "covetousness". I think you may be stretching to get covetousness because of your initial definition. You've mentioned greed in your arguments, I think that's a better direction to go."

Fair enough. Is "the love of money" mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:3; 6:10; and Hebrews 13:5 primarily an issue of covetousness, or greed? Can one be greedy without being guilty of covetousness? I don't see how. I've also said I think gambling violates the eighth and tenth commandments. In short, I don't think the problem with gambling is one-dimensional.

Jugulum said...

Phil,

"Can one be greedy without being guilty of covetousness? I don't see how."

If coveting is about wanting what others have, then yes, one can be greedy without being covetous. (Greed can motivate you to create new wealth--without taking any from anyone else.)

If coveting includes wanting something too much, then no, one can't be greedy without being covetous.

Phil Johnson said...

From the Oxford English dictionary:

greed n. Intense or inordinate longing, esp. for wealth or food; avarice, covetous desire

lawrence said...

Frank,

Quick question. I play basketball all the time. I've played in many different leagues, and I play pickup a lot. Why do you think I, and most people, derived much more fun out of playing basketball in leagues, with refs, or in high school, than we do when we play pick up games at the park?

wordsmith said...

Not a Biblical languages scholar here, but I can't help wondering if there isn't some reason why the 10th commandment specifically targets covetousness rather than greed.

I think the whole money-enhances-the-entertainment-aspect argument cuts to the heart of the matter. If it were purely for fun, Granny wouldn't even need matchsticks or buttons, let alone legal tender (of any denomination).

Daryl said...

I think David Rudd's point #2 gives just as much justification to million dollar stakes as it does to penny stakes.

I see two main arguments being presented in the meta:

1. It's OK if we consent.

2. It's OK if we covet just a little bit.

OK, maybe 3 points:

3. I don't covet or love money, but somehow adding money to the equation make is more "edgy" and therefore more fun.

Is there another argument I'm missing? Because none of those really seem to work, at least for me.

David Rudd said...

Daryl,

1. million dollar stakes to billionaires is penny stakes to grandmothers. it isn't about the size of the steaks.

2. yes, you're missing a lot. the discussion here is not about "consenting" at all.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Daryl, what's wrong with your #3 then? It's lawful, it's not covetous or greedy. It is not sinful in any way. Why is such a game any more wrong than paying for a "thrill" at the movie house or Disneyland?

Jugulum said...

Wordsmith,

Also not knowing the relevant Hebrew, I'll guess: Because it says "covet" because "greed" doesn't have a verb form. Maybe the commandment could be translated, "You shall not be greedy for your neighbor's wife."



Phil,

That seems to work because "covet" has both senses--to earnestly desire something, and to long for what belongs to someone else.

You can be greedy-as-in-want-excessively without reference to anyone else. But the "selfish" connotation involves someone else.

Tim said...

Lawerence,
I know your question was to Frank, but I must interject as a brother. Surely you realize that even engaging in the devil's game of "basketball" is a peril to your soul, though I know of many so-called "christians" who think it is just fine. This is to their great shame and I only heap scorn and contempt upon them.
Let me ask you this. When you play defense do you ever at any time want to take the ball from the offense? Sinner! Do you not understand that the ball is rightfully theirs? The ball is the sole possession of the offense. If you desire to have that ball you covet. If you take that ball is it not called stealing? You cannot possibly play that ghastly sport (or any other of the devil's "games") without coveting something that is not yours. Sure it may only be a ball, but what are you saying? A little covet is okay? It's fine as long as its a game? Anathema! That ball rightfully belongs to the offense and yet you would gleefully cheer when your team "steals" the ball. Another commandment torn to shreds! You may as well rip the Bible asunder. Repent, and become a true clean brother like us. By all means cease playing "games" that will ultimately require of you your soul.

donsands said...

Another thing I used to do was play football pools.

A friend would pass them out at work, and I'd take one, and put $2 on four teams.

I never won any money, and didn't really care to be honest.

I did want my picks to be right though, so i could impress my friends with my picks.

I did see some of the guys get very caught up in it though. Of course they had a lot more money down, and they wanted to win big.

I know it's all sin, but for me at the time i didn't think so.

Now i simply tell people I don't gamble, basically. Like I said before, I would accept a gift of a lottery ticket, which i have. And I have put a Super Bowl pool together when we had friends and family over. We all pitch in a couple bucks. I suppose that could be sinful. But I just don't see it yet.

I covet your prayers. Just kidding.

Have a wonderful Lord's Day, and thanks for allowing us to discuss this subject.

All kidding aside, it is serious, and sin is always serious.

But i thank the Lord Jesus for His forgiveness, and for His never leaving us, and always working on us, to conform us into His image.

Jugulum said...

I just noticed a comment with a thought that hasn't been discussed so far:

John said,
"I playd poker for years, and in my experience it is not so much the possibility of winning that gives poker its edge, but the possibility of losing."

If that's true, there may be no coveting at all, right?

Jugulum said...

In other words:

Suppose Johnny D played his backgammon with penny wagers--but if he loses, his opponent doesn't get to keep his money. (Maybe they drop the winnings in a charity donation box.) He's defending his pennies, but he's not trying to get his opponent's. The same "bite" would be there, wouldn't it?

I realize that would no longer fit the definition of gambling. The point is that the thrill in penny-stakes gambling doesn't have to come from the winnings--it can come from defending something.

Frankly, that fits with Johnny's description of why he plays backgammon for penny stakes. So, it seems credible.


If this is valid, I'm not sure it's valid for all forms of gambling. It's hard to see a "defensive thrill" would work in penny-slots... There's not contest involved.