01 May 2006

Karate exegesis

by Dan Phillips

Yes, it's true: I "do" karate, using the verb in its very broadest sense. My three sons were in first, and then it became possible for me to join in and start making with the kiyai!

One of the (to me) counter-intuitive things one learns about sparring is to present a profile, not a flat-on wide target. That way, there's less to hit -- and you're positioned to move outside. So if your opponent lunges at you, you just let him follow his momentum, you step to the side, and you work a little mayhem as he passes. Remember that: let him lunge, then do some mayhem from the side.

This same principle -- allowed lunging, then angular mayhem -- applies well in exegetical debates. Too often, we allow ourselves to be put unnecessarily on the defensive. Somebody cites a problem verse, and we start with the 47-page frontal-assault exegetical answer defending our position... and when we finish, they just go on to the next attack unfazed, untaught, unchallenged. We stay on the defensive.

I probably shouldn't tip my hand so publicly, but here's the sort of thing I try to do. Say we're making the Biblical case for Purposeful Redemption -- that is, the view that our sovereign Lord died so as actually to save particular people (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 1:15), not everyone in general but nobody in particular. (Or "Effective Redemption," in that we affirm that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners [1 Timothy 1:15], not make it possible for them to add the necessary ingredient to save themselves.)

Our friend pulls out 1 John 2:2 -- "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" -- with the air of a gambler laying down the winning card.

"'The whole world,'" our friend emphasizes meaningfully, perhaps tapping the verse in his Bible. "'Not for ours only.'"

How do we answer?

Well, we could do a lo-o-o-o-o-ong riff on every occurrence "world" in and out of John's writings. We could go to John 11:51-52, and 12:19, and discuss them at length. We could do lots of frontal, defensive things, and take a long while and expend a lot of energy doing them.

Or we could step aside, let our friend plow on through... then work a little mayhem from the side.

That is, we could nod sympathetically and say, "Yes, I can see how that is a real problem for your position."

Our friend (if he's not read this post) will likely do a double-take, say "Yes, I... wait -- my position? Huh? It isn't! It's a problem for your position!"

You see, he has lunged. Now we make with the mayhem.

That is, with a puzzled look, we could say, "How so? Your idea is that 'world' means every human being who ever was, or ever will be born, right?" (Nod.) "So, do you believe that every human being ever born will go to Heaven?"

Our friend will assure us that he believes no such thing.

"I didn't think you did. But that means you have a real problem with this verse, don't you?" we could continue. "John writes that Jesus Christ is -- not 'would really like to be,' or 'wishes He could be,' or even 'stands ready to be,' but is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. What is a propitiation?"

Our friend, an astute soul, replies, "A 'propitiation' is a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God."

We agree. Then with knitted brow, we ask, "So, if you're right about 'the whole world,' then John is saying that Christ has turned away the wrath of God for the sins of every human being ever born -- you, me, Judas, the Beast, the False Prophet -- everyone.

"On that understanding, how can anyone be in Hell? Why are they there? For what are they being judged and punished?"

"For their unbelief," our friend may offer.

"Oh, I see. Is unbelief a sin?" we ask innocently.

Our friend may nor may not allow as much. If he does not, we could add, "From what I read, unbelief certainly is a sin. Or is it not a moral issue to call God a liar (1 John 5:9-10)? See," we can conclude sympathetically, "you have a real problem. On your view, either unbelief isn't a sin, in which case God is a liar; or everyone's going to Heaven, in which case, again, God is a liar; or Christ really isn't a propitiation for everyone's sins -- in which case, one more time, God is a liar. Do you think God is a liar?"

Maybe now our friend might be willing to consider that the text is capable of a better construction.

We might help him open up to the possibilities with another question: "I think it's your idea of what John means by 'world' that is giving you such trouble. Can you think of any verses where 'world' unambiguously means 'everyone who ever was born or ever would be born'? I can certainly think of many that do not. Maybe that isn't the best way to read that verse?"

At the very least, he'll now know that, if the verse is a problem for Calvinists, it isn't a problem for us alone. If he's honest, that is. (And why would we have dishonest friends?)

In your mind, try the same exercise with 1 Timothy 2:6 or 4:10, or other similar "problem" passages. I think you'll find it pretty effective.

Dan Phillips's signature


Jeremy Weaver said...

Yes...I could see how a full frontal method of debate could be a problem for your position...

donsands said...

I like this approach for sure. The one problem with it is my emotions sometimes don't let me sidestep. But I shall endeavor to "make with the mayhem".

Thanks for always givng our brains something good to think on.

DJP said...

Thanks, Don. I find for a lot of good folks, the hardest move is to ask questions, rather than go strictly and solely frontal. Think of how often Jesus did it, though. (That might make a worthwhile post in itself sometime.)

DJP said...

BTW, if anyone wants to debate Karate, the etymology of "kiyai," whether my black gi makes you think of Tolkien's "Black Riders," or whether happy faces make you think of Hindu idol worship -- get your own blog and have fun.

This post is about exegesis. Stick to that.


Momo said...

Dan, when I first saw this I thought maybe you put on the uniform as bus promotion for a big day. I was actually thinking of getting you to come out and do a demo for our teens. Can you tear a phone book in half? Bend an iron bar?

DJP said...

James, that is hysterical. Our minds run in entirely different directions.

No, I can't tear phonebooks in half -- but I can remove Contacts from Microsoft Outlook with a single click. Does that count?

(Now I'm beginning to worry whether whether this comment thread will ever be about what the post was about.....)

REM said...

By any chance are you part of the GMAU (www.gmau.org)? Just wondering.


REM said...

The post was great and I have some work to do on approaches.

Brad Williams said...

Grasshopper learn sidestep. Now, if I could only snatch the pebble from your hand...

Matthew said...

Using one's own words against them... how very Van Tillian. ;)

Jeremy Weaver said...

I think it might be helpful to point out that the approach you outline here is not sidestepping in the sense of 'avoiding the issues'. Rather it is simply smart confrontation.
That's my real comment. They usually come after digestion, just like other things.

DJP said...

Matthew -- no doubt. As in many things, I'm a bit eclectic in apologetics. Van Til was hugely influential, but I don't find he quite gets the whole of the Biblical response. His Defense of the Faith was a wonderful and thought-provoking book; his Why I Believe in God was one of the most disappointing things I've read.

Maybe now that I'm so much older and more mature < cough, cough > I'd think better of it.

Jeremy thanks for that very good observation. Yes, it really isn't sidestepping/evasion. If you're sparring anyone half-decent, the vast majority of your frontal jabs and kicks are simply blocked and anwered. You have to look for an opening. If he's rushing you, he's doing you a terrific favor... and it'd hardly be grateful not to accept the gift and make the most of it!


Supraman said...

DJP - A great post! My inclination has always been to respond with a massive novel of refutation. It should have been a "duh" conclusion to apply "karate exegesis". I look forward to utilizing your technique...

Miss Chris said...

I like how you relate karate to other aspects of life. As a martial artist myself, I can appreciate your mindset as I find myself thinking along the same lines as you. Especially when debating a non believer.

Char said...

Well that's a great approach. I am usually too blunt for my own good-I'm likely to say something like "Oh so you're Universalist then...wow that explains alot." then shrug it off. That generally just annoys people, so it's not a particularly good tactic (though I confess sometimes that is the point-I know I'm bad). Your way is much better. :)

DJP said...

Thanks, Miss Chris, I appreciate the comment. (I actually thought this post would stir up more commotion than it has.) I enjoyed a visit to your blog; you are one crazy chick. I admire your intensity and attitude... and it definitely sounds as if you could show me a few things on the mat.

Like circling stars and tweeting birds.


donsands said...

BTW, this verse [1 John 2:2] is quite the battlfield for purposeful redemption, or limited atonement, as you said.
I have been there with others who say Christ died for all people, and has made salvation possible, but did not determine to save people, and this verse proves just that, as well as John 3:16.

I want to also say thanks for the insights you put forth for this verse as well. Muy bueno mi amigo.

DJP said...

Thanks again, Don.

I may post sometime more generally just on the lost art of asking questions, rather than always being frontal.

For instance, I'd ask a person like that if he can think of any verse that says anything like "Christ made salvation available." I think there is one verse in the whole Bible with anything like that thought -- as opposed to the many effective verses. ("To save sinners," "He Himself will save His people from their sins," "to seek and to save that which was lost," "He called, He justified, He glorified," "having forgiven us," and so forth.)

This in itself was one of the things that leaned me towards Calvinism. When I first heard it, it sounded, genuinely, like heresy. It wasn't anything like the Gospel as I knew it! But then I started reviewing whether the preaching and writing of the apostles better accomodated the Four Spiritual Laws, or the effective view of the Gospel.

Unknown said...

Domo arigato gozaimashita, Daniel-san.

"Forgiving the unrepentant is like drawing pictures on water" (Japanese proverb).

Momo said...

Dan, I wanted to see you reach 20 comments with this and since I kind of felt bad that I posted over the top of you yesterday and wanted to make it up to you and since I've had this question nagging at me ever since I first saw that pic of you at the top of the post I decided maybe I could ask my question and get you over that 20-post hump all at the same time.

So here's my question.

Is that Cheech Marin in the white gi?

DJP said...


1. You should! (Feel bad, that is.)

2. No, that's Sensei Abe celebrating my high score (skipped a belt, glory to God). Sensei Abe is both the most competent and the most encouraging sensei on the planet... which is a really good thing, because I've needed a lot of encouragement. Prepping for a really big test right now, in fact.

Rick Potter said...

In 1986 my wife decided she wanted to teach dance. So, we purchased a studio for her and fixed it up. She was a very good dancer and taught tap, ballet and Jazz for many years. She decided to rent part of her studio to a Tae Kwon Do teacher - 3 days a week. As an added benefit my boys (all three of them) got free lessons as part of his rent. They had been taking lessons for a couple of years and one day my middle son (at the time about 10 years old) was showing off some of his "moves". I reached out and grabbed both of his wrists (in a full frontal fashion) and asked him "Oh yeah, what are you going to do now!"

One of the worse mistakes I have made in my life. I still remember the excruciating pain. The next moment I was on my hands and knees - as his kick landed squarely to it's target. Now, I know he didn't intend to hurt me but I learned to never make that mistake again.

Imagine in your mind a 10 year old boy standing over his crouching dad...trying to help him up and saying "Dad, are you okay....I'm didn't mean to hurt you."

I find it hilarious now but at the time...well, let me just say your analogy does not fall on deaf ears here.


DJP said...

Oh, Rick! LOL, that's a great story.

Yep, I've 6 and 10yo's in karate. One does have to keep in mind their natural target-height... at all times!

Ryan DeBarr said...


Exegesis from the side...

I have attained a fairly high level of skill in Okinawan karate. I earned respect in high school by throwing a lineman who put me in a full nelson. But there's one thing I fear: a football tackle or a good wrestler.

They don't teach you the football tackle in karate class... but you try to fight someone who knows he can use it. If it connects... you can't punch or kick no mo'. Karate, and even judo, is of little use against a good Greco-Roman wrestler.

There really is something to be said for brute strength. People who don't have it are _always_ at a disadvantage and have to make up for it in other ways.

Fortunately, most of the guys I went to high school with didn't seem to realize that.

Brotherhank said...

Well said, well put. Now, I too shall "make with the mayhem".

Carry on soldiers...

Ken Matsushi said...

Nice blog. I will keep reading. Please take the time to visit my blog about Karate

Kumar said...

Uh oh. Does Carla know you're participating in martial arts?

Watch the logic train...

Dan Phillips is participating in martial arts.

Martial arts are eastern.

Eastern is associated with Emergent.

Dan Phillips is Emergent.

In spite of Dan Phillips explicit statements that he is not Emergent, he CONTINUES to practice martial arts. His character is now in question. Why won't he separate himself from this eastern practice? Let's pray for Dan that he will fully repent of his engagement with eastern practices.

Now, I know many of you have affection for Carla Rolfe and/or what she does on her blogs. While I'm having fun in a Phil Johnson sort of way (difference being having fun at Carla Rolfe's expense, not one of Phil's targets), and I know I can't make an exact one-to-one correspondence comparison between Mrs. Rolfe's logic trains and the satirical one above, I hope readers see SOMETHING of a parallel.

And I have nothing against Dan Phillips practicing martial arts. I assume Dan's body can practice martial arts, or yoga stretches, and his soul and mind are free of worship for Eastern "deities."

Todd Lambert said...

thanks Dan, great article, great points, great advice.