24 February 2012

After All, I'm Not a Pragmatist!

by Frank Turk

I'm loading this in today's queue, but under Phil's post as.  His post isn't bumpable, and I'm not up for manning the top headline today.

As many of you know, Youcef Nadarkhani has been held for almost 900 days in an Iranian prison, and has now been sentenced to death for renouncing Islam and refusing to recant his new religion. If he's put to death, it will be the first time since 1990 that an Iranian will be put to death for apostasy. Our friends at TGC reported on this matter this way on Thursday, 23 Feb 2012:
Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces imminent execution for charges of abandoning Islam and refusing to recant his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reports. The 34-year-old husband and father of two, whose case was temporarily delayed in December, may now be executed at any moment without warning, according to a new---and apparently final---trial court verdict. Unfortunately, many of the details surrounding the case remain unclear.
Our other good friend and mentor James White tweeted the clarification that Nadarkhani was an anti-trinitarian heretic without further comment (disclaimer: that's via twitter anyway and I am not current on my DL podcasts, so if I missed something I will gladly update and amend this report). His tweet was retweeted by a few people, and I admit that I was under-edified overall with the net effect.

UPDATED: To make good on the bold/underlined promise, above, our alert readers have found the comments from James on the DL yesterday, and they underscore the on-going good judgment of Dr. White.


Quoth James: "I think it is important information to know. It would be a little bit, like… We don’t want to see stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons in that situation. Religious persecution is religious persecution, and if the Muslims are going to persecute heretics they’re going to persecute the orthodox as well. But it is somewhat different to pray for someone who is opposed to your faith and someone who is your brother. That fundamental connection - as in that of a common faith - is not there. So I had a number of people on Twitter say, ‘Well, are you saying we shouldn’t pray for him?’ And of course I never said anything of the kind. As someone else rightly pointed out, ‘Well, this helps my prayers even more, because now I’ll pray for his salvation as well.’ I never said, ‘Oh, well we should pray less,’ or ‘We shouldn’t worry about this guy.’ I just pointed out, I would think you’d want to know something about where this guy really is."


Compare that to the comment from Marcus Pittman to me on Twitter:
God wasn't concerned with death before repentance what if's. He commanded men to give death penalty for idolatry. Called it just. 
I am not advocating the re institution of ceremonial laws. I [am] saying God's requirements for civil justice are eternally just.


The net effect of Marcus' point of view is what I am here blogging about; using James' Tweet/Link to advocate Marcus' position (or one like it) is what I am talking about. The pastoral and Gospel-centered view of James White is not what I'm talking about.

Now, why be under-edified when the truth is being spoken?

Let's take it as utterly-unimpeachable that Nadarkhi is a hardened Modalist, a renouncer of trinitarians and all churches with non-modalist theology, and an apologist for Jesus-only baptism and baptismal regeneration. Let's simply admit that while Franklin Graham may be having some pastor qualms about impugning the Christian confession of anyone, the secular press has absolutely no discernment on the matter of who is and isn't a Christian, and they almost always get it wrong. I stipulate these points with no qualifications.

Let's consider a few things:

1. Which is more important at this moment: untangling the cultural and philosophical confusion of Islam toward the Christian faith (especially about a complex and nuanced doctrine like the Trinity), and the secular ignorance of the press in general, or seeking to influence our government and the government about to execute this man for frankly-unjust reasons? If we really are working under a deadline which, at the end, leaves a man dead and in unrepentant sin, should we be working to clarify the Iranian religious courts' view of what is and isn't Christian apostasy, or working to influence them to release this man to a country where he doesn't need to be executed? Because in point of fact, they don't care if he's Christian or Buddhist or a priest to Quezacotl -- they care that he is apostate to Islam, and that's his crime. To save the man, body and soul, we have to first gain mercy, or at least some sort of stay of execution or alternative sentence, from a court which, frankly, has a lot worse problems than what is sizes up as just punishment.

2. Is it merely pragmatic to save this man's life without correcting both the inaccuracies of the Press and the Iranian courts? I'll bite: sure it is. But it's not a rote pragmatism -- a mere appeal to expedience. To say, "first we must save this man's life -- both for the sake of his mortal life and immortal soul -- and then we can continue the apologetic fight against heresy and public ignorance of our faith," is setting priorities, which is not a disgraceful thing but in fact stewardship of resources, and putting God's view of human life and of human justice in the right place in our apologetics.

3. This goes back to my post regarding Nuance from earlier this week: at some point, whatever it is we are doing has to represent the whole counsel of God and not just our pet projects. At some point, we have gotten our few favorite pixels of the whole picture of theology right -- and lost sight of the whole picture, presenting to the world instead a jumble of squares which demonstrate Pantone-precision for their colors, but an utter lack of context and clear-sightedness about what we are actually supposed to be doing. You may not realize this, but this is exactly how we look to people in this situation:

Like it? Create your own at GoAnimate.com. It's free and fun!

And seriously: I know you don't want to be that guy on the right. Think harder about this issue and this situation. Sometimes getting both/and means you have to get one and then the other -- rather than all or nothing.








40 comments:

Robert said...

I guess my main hope is that people will both fight for his freedom and find a way to say that while we don't think he is a Christian, we still want to stop religious persecution and hopefully proselytize him and others.

Frank Turk said...

I think it can be both/and without being all or nothing. The problem is making a stink over the media and Islam's ignorance of Christian categories when someone is about the be killed for leaving Islam.

Frank Turk said...

BTW? I now have a 2-month subscription to GoAnimate.

Commence with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Robert said...

I agree, Frank. I probably should have nuanced my comment a bit by saying that we can be a strong witness for how Christ has changed our lives by campaigning for the freedom of this man...even though we think he is a heretic. And also that we'll be praying that his beliefs change to those of orthodox Christianity.

Tom Chantry said...

I really haven't followed this closely on Twitter, so I can't really comment on what was said there. From the bare notice which I gave to the matter, I came away with two impressions. First, that the man's theology does not appear Christian is a worthwhile thing to know in the midst of repeated calls to pray for the man. It affects how one prays. Second, though, it has no effect on the justice or lack thereof of his conviction and pending execution. I didn't pick up on anyone suggesting that because he isn't a true Christian we shouldn't care as much, but as I said, I didn't pay that much attention. If that was said, it was simply incorrect.

The injustice of religious persecution in some ways transcends the boundaries of Christ's kingdom. In the past some unbelievers have taken a real interest in the fate of Christians facing persecution in the world. (Jewish senator Arlin Specter comes to mind.) It doesn't take a believer to recognize the injustice of religious persecution. Further, as believers we ought to oppose not only the persecution of believers, but of anyone of any faith. Our faith does not advance by the sword, and we ought to oppose the application of the sword against any person of any faith - excepting of course those perversions of faith which demand violence or crime.

Mike Riccardi said...

James White did offer further comment briefly on the Dividing Line, starting at around 8:00.

Tom Chantry said...

Thanks, Mike.

James opens by talking about how he first mentioned this in a prayer meeting before tweeting the next day. Then he says the following:

"I think it is important information to know. It would be a little bit, like… We don’t want to see stories about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons in that situation. Religious persecution is religious persecution, and if the Muslims are going to persecute heretics they’re going to persecute the orthodox as well. But it is somewhat different to pray for someone who is opposed to your faith and someone who is your brother. That fundamental connection - as in that of a common faith - is not there. So I had a number of people on Twitter say, ‘Well, are you saying we shouldn’t pray for him?’ And of course I never said anything of the kind. As someone else rightly pointed out, ‘Well, this helps my prayers even more, because now I’ll pray for his salvation as well.’ I never said, ‘Oh, well we should pray less,’ or ‘We shouldn’t worry about this guy.’ I just pointed out, I would think you’d want to know something about where this guy really is."

From there he made some interesting comments regarding the struggle between orthodox belief and the cults in places where both are persecuted. (Classic James White: "Let’s just put it this way: The evangelical church in Iran would not be confused by T.D. Jakes and Elephant Room II." You've just got to love the man!) He also talks about the need to be careful that co-belligerence doesn't prevent our ability to share the gospel.

Then, in conclusion, he says this:

"We need to certainly pray. We do not want to see this evil regime murder someone for apostasy from Islam. Even though it’s apostasy to untruth. We still don’t want to see that happen, but we want to see him converted as well. And that’s what we want to do. So, I found that interesting: that some folks just read into my making note of it, ‘Well, are you saying we shouldn’t pray for this?’ No. But it does change what you’re praying. You obviously have much more of a connection to someone who confesses the same faith that you confess."

So, for what it's worth, that's his "further comment."

Tim Graham said...

Right on Frank. Heretical beliefs are truly important to deal with, but frankly, irrelevant to the situation at present. A man is about to be killed for leaving Islam to embrace (perhaps a false conception of) Christ. The most urgent thing is to seek to stop the execution. Heresy (if substantiated) can be dealt with later.

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank,

Do you think any of your three points could be used to justify participation in the Manhattan Declaration? I seem to recall a number of concerns raised about co-belligerence in the fight against abortion when such activity involved a potential (probable?) confusion of what the gospel is, no?

Turretinfan said...

Frank:

Why should it be the U.S. government's responsibility to promote justice in Iran? Isn't that rather like you going over and telling your neighbor that she's wrong to spank her kids over something you think doesn't merit a spanking?

The reason Americans are upset about this particular Iranian injustice is precisely because of the apparent misperception that the victim is a Christian being persecuted for his faith.

-TurretinFan

Lane Chaplin said...

Dr. White clarified yesterday that the reason he posted that is so we know what to pray for: The man's temporal life and his eternal life ie. salvation.

Frank Turk said...

Andy:

{sigh}

Here's what I said about that question when it was relevant.

I stand by it.

Frank Turk said...

TFan:

I didn't ask the US government to do anything. I didn't imply that the US government should do anything. I petitioned the Iranian UN ambassador to do something as a human being with a common interest in civil rights, as the link at TGC said to do.

What did you do? And why do you ask?

Frank Turk said...

Lane, Chantry:

Got is. So noted. Post amended.

Mizz Harpy said...

I was not sure what to think about the accusation of modalism. At some point a few years ago I had read the Iranian government was using modalism as a false charge so American Christians would not care about what happened to these people. I've prayed that Yousef would know Christ and His love. Don't forget to pray for his persecutors though. They are blinded by the god of this age and will persecute true believers as well as false. They must hear the Gospel. I know my great weakness in praying for persecuted believers is in praying for persecutors and remembering to pray for purity of doctrine. I think it's very tempting for people evangelizing Muslims to soften the doctrine of the Trinity since it is such an offense to Muslims but then again a modalist doctrine is as well.

Tom Chantry said...

Thanks, Frank.

You know, I had a feeling I was missing something.

I am not advocating the re institution of ceremonial laws. I [am] saying God's requirements for civil justice are eternally just.

Wow. Not sure where to go with that. I have a feeling neither One Kingdom nor Two Kingdom folks would particularly care for that application.

Frank Turk said...

Whoa - wait a sec:

I did in fact say, "seeking to influence our government and the government about to execute this man for frankly-unjust reasons." (I thought I changed that; wrong draft made on-line. I own it.) I wanted to avoid saying that to avoid the rabbit trail we are about to journey on here, but, here we go.

It's ironic that we think that our governments should be concerned only with justice in the smallest possible scope when we believe in an ultimate Government under King Jesus which has the broadest possible scope. King Jesus will not be ruling in a Libertarian paradise. He will be sitting on the eternal throne of David.

That said, The US President should not have the power of the Son of David. But: he should be concerned about justice. That doesn't mean he's starting WWIII every time there is foreign injustice, but when a foreign government is looking to abandon justice for the something else (omitted for the sake of charity), he should speak up. He would be an unjust man to fail to speak up.

I wonder why anyone would say otherwise?

Turretinfan said...

"What did you do? And why do you ask? "

I did nothing. I don't have a dog in the fight.

I ask because you wrote: "seeking to influence our government and the government about to execute this man for frankly-unjust reasons?" in your original post.

Was "our government" there not the U.S. government?

But now you say: "I didn't ask the US government to do anything. I didn't imply that the US government should do anything."

Seems hard to find consistency between your post and your comment now.

-TurretinFan

Robert said...

Frank,

I'd add that our Secretary of State feels free to travel the world and condemn nations for how they treat homosexuals and women, but is virtually silent on this issue. Maybe there is an agenda there...

I am not advocating the re institution of ceremonial laws. I [am] saying God's requirements for civil justice are eternally just.

I'm curious to see how that statement reflects the mercy of God with respect to this situation. Especially when any of us saved sinners considers how we were enemies of God before He changed our hearts.

~Mark said...

Blogger Lane Chaplin said...

Dr. White clarified yesterday that the reason he posted that is so we know what to pray for: The man's temporal life and his eternal life ie. salvation.


That is exactly the reason I shared it on Facebook. It IS important to know, it doesn't mean we stop acting and praying, and it allows us to act and pray more accurately and thus, effectively.

Frank Turk said...

Goo think you read my correction before commenting T-Fan. You sure told me.

And just to say it openly: I like my way of doing it meagerly and poorly as compared to your doing nothing. Nice to see the death of a father and a husband for an unjust reason means nothing to you.

Turretinfan said...

Frank:

When you see a comment from me posted only seconds after your comment posts, it's safe to say that it wasn't on the page when I started typing my comment.

I'm fast, but I'm not that fast.

It's called "cross-posting." Surely you've been around the Internet long enough to be aware of this.

(incidentally, if in the last few seconds, you've posted a further correction, realizing that it was a cross-post, realize that it wasn't on the comments page when I was typing this response)

As for the substance of your response that the president of the U.S. has a moral obligation to speak up regarding the injustices in Iran. I take it you likewise think that the presidents/prime ministers/kings have the duty to speak out against the perceived injustices occurring in every other of the 200+ countries out there. I mean you would think that, if you were to take your position to the logical conclusion.

But the logical conclusion is absurd, which suggests that it is wrong to say that just because the execution in Iran is unjust, the U.S. Commander-in-Chief is morally obligated to say something about it.

On a side note, since I'm WCF1646, the "Libertarian paradise" arguments are obviously irrelevant to my position.

-TurretinFan

Frank Turk said...

I love logic. It always causes us to choose to do nothing.

Always.

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank,

Why the [sigh]? Did I exasperate you? Wasn't my intention as I had an honest set of questions.

Thanks for the link. Am I correct to understand that your objection to what you say is the flaccid efficacy of "declarations" does not negate your willingness to actually do something with non-believers to advance just causes?

In reading the comments at the linked post, you said this:

The question is not “can we take politically-active measures to right societal wrongs?” The question is in fact, “Should we dilute the definition of ‘Christian’ to a merely-sociological meaning in order to join together to right societal wrongs?”

Again, not trying to annoy you, but I'm trying to understand how to prioritize "not obscuring the gospel" v. "saving the mortal life & immortal soul."

I'm a medical student. My Roman Catholic colleagues are far and away more vocal and active in fighting abortion than my Evangelical colleagues. Is it WRONG to partner with my RC colleagues if anyone will get even the hint that we share the same gospel, or when there is a explicit statement that we agree on the gospel, or some magical place in between?

I hope you can tell I'm trying to make real application out of my questions, and not win Internet philosophy awards.

Frank Turk said...

Andy -

The whole discussion exasperates me.

It is easy to do socially- just things and not use that activity to nullify or obscure the definitions necessary to proclaim the Gospel.

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank,

At the risk of further exasperating you, could you comment on the following real scenario that played out yesterday at school.

Med Students for Life (at USC composed of RCs and Evangelicals) hosted Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason. He spoke on campus to about 40 pro-choice future doctors and 5 MSLF members concerning the scientific and ethical case against abortion. When my pro-choice friends ask me why MSFL brought him on campus, is the answer simply: "Members of MSFL all believe the unborn are empirically distinct, whole, living human beings deserving full rights and protection." [Basically a purely secular argument with no true authority???]

Or, must I include a statement to the effect that "We have value and deserve protection because we are God's image bearers?"

Do I need to then make explicit how Jesus' redemption of a broken world relates to my motivation to be a part of MSFL?

Or do I need to add additional commentary that makes sure my pro-choice friends don't think that the RC and Evangelical members of MSFL believe in the same gospel?

At what point does "just doing things" become obscuring the gospel? Have I obscured the gospel if I leave out any theological position in motivating the actions of MSFL? Have I obscured the gospel by including theological foundations without any qualifiers? I'm not trying to strain at gnats, I'm trying to gain wisdom from one I highly respect.

Neal Doster said...

I'm a Trinitarian that hasn't seen Modalism as salvific. I understand they advocate every thing we do (deity of Christ/Holy Spirit ect.) except the distinction of person hood within the godhead. It seems to me that many trinity advocates explain the trinity in modalistic language (God in three personalites instead of God in three persons). Does this make them unsaved?

Frank Turk said...

Andy --

What's the mission statement of MSFL? I couldn't find it on-lne.

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank: http://med.studentsforlife.org/about/

Billy said...

I am always skeptical about what VOM is willing to call Christian. It seems best that we always pray for their safety and that the Lord draw them to Himself (a universal prayer that both Christians and non-Christians need prayed on their behalves). However, I would also add that we should pray, if the heretic would otherwise simply continue to spread his heresy and will be unwilling to repent, that God take them sooner than later. That way no further spiritual damage is done by them. Such prayer is certainly biblical.

Frank Turk said...

Andy --

Because the mission statement of the organization is wholly- secular, there's no mention of the Gospel. You might even have Islamists and Hindus in this organization, and if you're saving babies, that's good work -- not Christ's work.

Do you see the difference between the mission statement of MSFL and the MD? The MD calls all manner of conflicting creeds, confessions, and human works the Gospel, and labels all of the adherents of these things "Christian," and then starts its moral reasoning. That's flawed at best -- and it literally does confuse the answer to the question, "What is the Gospel?"

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank,

Thanks for your patience. I do see the difference in mission statements, and I'm fairly confident I understand the practical distinctions you are drawing. Although I'm not totally clear in my own thinking about how there is "good" work that is "not Christ's work" I'm content to cover that another day. It's the weekend, and you should be with your family, and as you are fond of saying, with the Lord's people in the Lord's house. Thanks again.


Shine on,

Frank Turk said...

Andy -

I'm at a Lego robot competition this afternoon, and it's educational but not hardly requiring a planet-sized chunk of brain or emotion to stay engaged. :-)

Let's make sure we don't get too overcome with the idea of good works. It's a good work of any person to save the life of another person. It's good to the person saved in any case, and good for the sake of those who might love the one saved. That doesn't mean it earned the person saving the other a mustard seed of credit toward his sin-debt before God.

We can admit one can do nice things for others - even externally- moral things toward them - and not undo our theology. Rom 2 says that the few times we obey our conscience only convicts us more seriously of the time we don't.

Andy Dollahite said...

Frank,

Yes, that explanation continues to clarify my thinking.

Perhaps the only rock still in my shoe presently is trying to identify when co-belligerence is likely to obscure the gospel. You focused on the official mission statement of MSFL, something 99% of my pro-choice friends would never look at. But they do know that I'm an Evangelical and most of MSFL is RC. Should my discussion about MSFL activities be framed strictly in secular terms, or do I risk confusing people if I talk about Jesus' redemption of a broken world as a personal motivation too?

Enjoy the robots! I'm sitting in at the coffee shop studying GI physiology ;)

Tom Chantry said...

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XVI, Paragraph 7


Oh, the helpfulness of precision in theology. There is an intrinsic goodness in doing what is right, and the unregenerate ought to do what is right, and we ought to both encourage them in it and do it with them, even though it in no way earns merit before God's eyes.

The implications for Andy's situation are that it is right for anyone to oppose abortion, and it is further right for Andy to participate along side even unbelievers in that righteous work. If anyone asks, "Do you do this because you are a Christian?" he can answer, "Of course. The Scriptures tell me to honor life." Will some then presume that to Andy, Christianity is defined by being merely pro-life? Possibly, and it is up to him in his testimony to make it clear that he is saved by God's grace through faith in God's Son, and that only in this way will men be saved. He doesn't need to quit an association which is committed to doing a good work in order to testify to that, nor does he need to preface every word of support for the association by saying, "You're not really Chrsitians, but..." If the association required him to admit unbelievers as Christians who promote the gospel, then there would be a problem. But it does not, so he is free to participate in what is an intrinsically good act.

The application to Nadarkhani is similar. Stopping an unjust execution is an intrinsically good work, and the unregenerate magistrates of Iran ought to do it, although it won't merit their salvation. Frank is right to urge them to do so.

If our gospel-centered-ness has reached a point that we cannot ever encourage unbelievers to do what is good, both according to the law God revealed in nature and that He revealed in Scripture, then we have in fact become semi-antinomian. We have discarded the first (civil) use of the law in its entirety.

Andy Dollahite said...

Tom,

Thank-you for your commentary as it was very edifying. Sadly I did not grow up with any formal catechism, and thus I am in sore need of building a stronger foundation for thinking through these issues. [Incidentally, the cited portion of the WCF touches on a topic my buddies and I sophomorically discussed in college - Can an unbeliever really love someone else...like their spouse? We kept concluding that superficially yes, but ultimately they couldn't outside of Christ.]

The remainder of your comment was also beneficial to me. Blessings.

Butch said...

I have done mission work in several different 3rd world countries. I have found that much of what they believe is suspect. Not because they choose to believe a lie but it's just that they haven't been blessed with so much good Bible teaching as we have in America. All many of them, even many pastors, know is that Jesus died for them and they believe that. Beyond that many of them don't know much. They want to know but don't have access to good teaching. I don't know about the Pastor in question as to where he has been exposed to sound doctrine or not.

Frank Turk said...

you know, for he catechism-impaired, there's this great blog that Tom contributesto called "The Calvinist Gadfly" which is about one-third of the way thru the Westminster Larger Catechism.

It publishes about 3-5 times a week, and it is 15% Calvin, 65% very good, 10% stellar, and 10% purple and green.

And none of the posts are too long.

Turretinfan said...

"Nice to see the death of a father and a husband for an unjust reason means nothing to you."

I was going to point out that it's illogical of you to assume that the death of a god-hating stranger means nothing to me, but then I found this:

"I love logic. It always causes us to choose to do nothing. Always."

Which I understand to be intentioned sarcastically.

If you decide to consider the matter rationally, you have my email.

-TurretinFan

A Berean said...

I contacted Voice of the Martyrs in regards to Yousef Nadarkhani and they say that he and the Iran Network that he is associated with are not anti-trinitarians nor are they associated with the United Pentecostal. They directed me to this article. http://presenttruthmn.com/blog/iran/church-iran-network/