Posted by: donaldmcconnell | October 8, 2016


In this election cycle there are many people who are justly disgusted by both major candidates and both major parties. They feel they, or the groups they belong to, will be morally tainted if they vote for either candidate. So, they are considering not voting for either candidate. Then, in the ensuing disasters following the new President’s inauguration, they can brag to their neighbors that it is not their fault, as they did not vote for either candidate.

I would like to give you five reasons to reconsider this path, and to cast a vote for the candidate you hate the least.

  1. Voting is not about you. The advertising campaigns of the last one hundred years have shaped culture to make us feel that all our acts and choices are public personal expressions of who we are as a person. What we wear or eat or drive reflects on our value, prestige, morality, flare, panache, and the like. The problem is that this is a lie. Not only does your shirt color not change your value as a person, neither does your vote.

This is in part because voting is done in secret. Unless you go around blabbing who you voted for, no one will know except you, and God. We will address the God part later, but suffice it to say; voting is not about personal expression. So what people would think about your candidate choice is not a reason to abstain from voting.

  1. Voting is about a choice of which of two people running is going to be best for the country. So as a citizen, you ought to make that choice.

You may be wondering about third party options? I am sorry. In America, unless a party is founded by the defection of a huge chunk of current office holders, the way the Republican Party arose out of the ashes of the Whigs, the third party candidate has no chance of winning and voting for them is merely a way of voting for the person you favor least.

After all, Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most vigorous and effective presidents ever. His likeness is on Mount Rushmore. He created the national park system, the modern navy, and much more: Teddy was the man for whom teddy bears were named. He was a man who really changed the world. Even though he had been President; even though he was running against a corrupt corporate fat cat and a stuffy racist; even though he was one of the coolest and most iconic people to ever run for president; even though he was so tough he finished a speech after being shot in the chest: still, he lost badly when he ran for president on a third party ticket. If Teddy Roosevelt could not get elected on a third party ticket, whoever you are supporting this year definitely will not.

  1. Voting is not about voting for good people and it is not about voting for evil people. Voting is about choosing the better of two choices.

I know, I have seen all those mems that say we should not vote for the lesser of two evils because it is still voting for evil.

The problem with the mem point of view is two-fold. First, it pre-supposes that if we do not vote for less evil people, a good one will come along to vote for later. History does not support this view. Evil people who get elected work to make sure only people like themselves get elected in future elections. If you allow the evilest person to win, cycle after cycle, you merely hasten the day when a really evil person will come along and make sure no one ever votes again.

Second, everyone is evil. What are you thinking! That you are going to get a perfect candidate? Even the greatest people to hold public office were considered evil in their time by a large portion of the electorate: Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth I, John Adams – even the best seem like a lesser evil to many people – and why: because we are all human beings. We all make mistakes. We all have shortcomings. We all do things we, and/or other people, wish we had not done. We all feel it a struggle to justify our existence. The God of the Bible is good. All we can have in a Presidential candidate is a lesser evil.

Neither the Bible, nor any other traditional moral code, addresses the secret ballot as a litmus test for virtue or good character. This makes sense because if we could only vote for good people, we would never vote, and republics would be impossible.


  1. Voting for the less evil person (the lesser of two evils) may be difficult but it makes sense in historical perspective. Throughout most of history, people did not get to vote on who would run their country. Just think of how much less death and suffering there could have been if people could have voted for a lesser evil?


What if you could have voted for Claudius to be emperor instead of Caligula in ancient Rome? Both were imperialistic pagans, but Caligula was an insane homicidal megalomaniac while Claudius was a pretty run of the mill Roman aristocrat.


Suppose you could have voted in a merely domestically bloodthirsty French republican in place of Napoleon Bonaparte as emperor of France? Hundreds of thousands of lives which were lost when Napoleon invaded Austria, Spain and Russia probably would have been spared.


What if you could have kept the Shah of Iran in power instead of the current regime of the Ayatollahs? Remember Jimmy Carter did nothing to help the Shah because he considered him evil. If the Shah had remained, the world would be a different place. The wars we now have in the Middle East might never have happened and the threats we face might never have arisen without the aid, shelter, inspiration and threat of the extremist regime in Iran.


No, when you get a chance, always vote for the lesser evil. Elections are too important to sit out.


  1. Not only are elections in general too important to wait wishfully for perfect candidates, but this election in particular is one of the most important in American history. The next President will probably decide the makeup of the Supreme Court one way or another for decades to come. The court in turn could radically alter the meaning of the Constitution and the future of the nation.

While the Senate can affect the appointments to the court, in the strategic scheme of things they never do. The U.S. Senate does not have the courage to refuse all appointments of a President for four years. Whoever wins will appoint a tie-breaking justice to the Supreme Court and in all probability, two more justices to replace the oldest members of the court.

Many issues hinge on the makeup of the court. Abortion vs. the right to life, quality medical care, religious liberty vs. erotic expression, socialism vs. free markets, executive power vs. legislative power, regulation of education vs. access to education and academic freedom, the rights of women and children to protection from predators vs. the rights of gender self-identification. These are only the easily foreseeable conflicts. In our rapidly changing world, important unforeseeable conflicts will come up too.

But the court is only the beginning of the list of great issues at stake. One side in the election wants to try to solve all social problems and ills using the money of taxpayers plus the regulatory power of the government, the other believes business and individuals are the best bet, or that in some cases, problems cannot be solved but circumstances can be improved. One side believes our Constitution, as written, is obsolete and needs to be ignored and/or reinterpreted in radical new ways. The other says they believe the Constitution is important even if they apparently don’t know what it says. One side believes peace and harmony will come from reducing American sovereignty and pushing abortion, gay rights and government regulatory power on other countries, as well as us. The other believes in American sovereignty, seemingly to the exclusion of the welfare of other nations and peoples. One believes in saying whatever he is thinking at the moment, while the other believes in never telling us anything but what we want to hear. Perhaps neither tells the truth. Perhaps both are in politics for personal gain. One is a true believer in the radical left. The other is a true believer in business. Perhaps both believe too much in themselves. But the choice is a radical one which will have radically different consequences. As citizens, we need to get our hands dirty and be a part of that choice, not sit on our hands, and in effect, vote for the greater evil.

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | June 8, 2016

The Common Law and the Great Legal Synthesis

The Anglo-American Common Law system of legal interpretation is accepted and applied in the most unlikely combination of places. From India, to Belize, to Fiji, to Singapore, to Zambia, a Common Law system is used. The Common Law way of thinking and arguing has become a trans-cultural practice. This way of thinking is odd to most persons not educated as Common Law attorneys. It has been criticized in numerous articles and books, satirized in comedy shows, and pummeled by television news pundits. But the Common Law way of thinking has survived. Where did it come from to have so great an impact? The Common Law way of legal thought is the product of many influences from multiple cultures itself. One of the most important influences was a synthesis of thought that occurred in the Middle Ages, a synthesis known to legal historians as the “great legal synthesis”.

The unique way in which Common Law thinkers advocate and explain the law is a product, not of a strict human design, but of a confluence of historic circumstances and reasons. In the eleventh century the settled order of European authority was riven by the Papal Revolution: a claim by the Pope to temporal and legal authority over all persons and things closely associated with the church. This was no small demand. The secular clergy and monastic houses, together with their holdings in real property and chattels, amounted to somewhere between a quarter and a third of all persons, land and farm animals in Europe at the time. It was a Papal empire, not a mere denomination. In order to effectively rule over this empire, the Pope needed a comprehensive legal system. To create it the church founded the first modern European law schools. These law schools taught a medieval hybrid of Roman Law (as understood in the medieval interpretation of Justinian’s Digest) and Christian theological and philosophical thought. The way of thinking that emerged from the new law schools was medieval scholasticism: it was also a major component of the way Common Law lawyers came to think.

Every king in Europe, including the kings of England, retained men trained by these new law schools as judges, chancellors, and legal advisors. The legal schoolmen also wrote treatises on English law, like Henry de Bracton’s de Legibus, which had profound influence on the Common Law scholastic thought. Scholastic legal thought was also characterized by the extensive use of the unpacking of ideas and definitions, applying the implications to new circumstances. Even more than these, scholastic medieval thought was characterized by an effort to synthesize and harmonize conflicting authority. The techniques used to accomplish this task are still the mainstay of lawyers today.

Unlike the Postmodern and late modern skepticism that dominates our time, medieval people took authority seriously. Their difficulty was that they had multiple conflicting authorities. On the one hand they believed in the Bible and took the authority of scripture very seriously. On the other hand, the authority of the living and dead church hierarchy was given great deference (indeed the reformation would be a struggle over which – scripture or tradition – would have the primacy). Medieval people respected the ancients. The writings of the Greeks and Romans passed down to the medieval world were thought to possess great wisdom and authority: so much authority that challenging Aristotle might get you in as much trouble as challenging the authority of the Pope. (Galileo managed to do both – offering his own private interpretations of scripture that contradicted the ones steeped in Aristotelian cosmology.) If all this were not enough, the Medieval person was also confronted with strong social customs, mores and divided political authority. Every man in the medieval hierarchy swore personal allegiance to some overlord. But then the aristocrats higher up the chain had their own authority as well.

So what did you do if your feudal overlord wanted you to help him rebel against the king? Your local bishop might agree and tell you there was good cause, because according to Cicero, the king was behaving as a tyrant. But your local priest and the much respected abbot of the nearby monastery agree that the Bible says you should not rebel against the king. On yet another ground, citing Aristotle, the local Dominicans are for the revolt, provided certain restrictions are observed. The king says the traditions of the kingdom support his position. The powerful earl of X, the king’s cousin, says the law requires that the king be deposed. Who are you to believe and what should you do? This sort of conflict of laws and concepts led the medieval lawyers to take refuge in the application of the scholastic method.

The scholastic method sought to take all knowledge and combine it into a systematic and harmonious whole. Scholastic lawyers used concepts like jurisdiction, classification, purpose, and genre, among many, to harmonize diverse authoritative claims and evidence into a functional seamless web of thought. In the law this allowed not only the reconciliation of conflicting rules, but the extension of law to deal with novel cases and social change in a way statute-based systems could not.

In addition to this penchant for synthesizing, harmonizing and reconciling conflicting authorities, scholastic legal thought was characterized by compartmentalization of legal concepts and issues. Sets of “elements” or criteria for a case belonging in a particular legal cubby became an important part of the Common Law largely through Roman influence. Scholastic law also was characterized by the discovery of overarching legal concepts behind the rules. Ironically, the Romans do not appear to have thought there were overarching and unifying concepts behind the statutes of their civil law. But medieval legal minds saw the underlying purposes of the divine nature behind all of creation. They reasoned accordingly that laws, even man-made laws, if they were reasonable and for the common good, must also have deeper unifying concepts behind them – concepts that were not merely arbitrary, but flowed from the natural order of things and the divine nature of the creator Himself. Today, this pervasive faith behind the law makes truly traditional legal thought unpopular in postmodern circles. Scholastic legal thought also proved difficult to reconcile with the rising tide of nominalism. But while nominalism swept much of the academy, it had little effect on legal thought until the 1920’s when American legal realism tried unsuccessfully to change the character of legal thought and argument.

In the early years of this process when the great legal synthesis of the Common Law was coming together, in England there was some pushback against the scholastic lawyers’ conscious or unconscious influence over the development of law in England. Legal education for the bar of England took place not at university law schools, but at the Inns of Court, where young would-be barristers where apprenticed into the ways of the legal guild. Royal proclamations and protestations were made to the effect that English legal traditions would be protected from contamination by the Roman Law. But despite the efforts at purity, the Common Law way of thinking was cast from an alloy of thought from the Scholastic law schools and the ever English Inns of Court. As time passed, that alloy was forged in the furnace of the English and American revolutionary periods, but its character remained largely constant. Even today when lawyers do intellectual combat before a Supreme Court or Court of Appeals, the weapons of their wit are still made of the stuff that came together in the great legal synthesis: Roman Law as described in the Digest of Justinian, Christian thought and theology, an Augustinian understanding of Plato and some other classical philosophy, and the cultural/political events of the Middle Ages that combined all of them.

In the centuries since, a long line of skeptics has complained about the odd nature of the legal way of thinking that emerged from the great legal synthesis, but no one has succeeded in replacing it with anything better.

Additional Reading:

Harold Berman, Law and Revolution; the Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983)

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | July 25, 2011

Thoughts on Creation Views

Last week Rivendell Sanctuary’s inaugural cohort read about the debate over creation. Students need to know all the arguments and hear them presented in love. After hearing many of the arguments I wanted to add a few here on my blog. Hopefully these are also presented in love. These are not new arguments, but I hope I am expressing them in a helpful way. In this article, my main target is theistic evolution. As a person who leans toward a six-day creation, I have less of an argument with those who believe in an old earth, but believe man and the animals are a result of special creation. I also have no real objection to the various gap theories. Though I suspect both really old earth and gap theories involve unnecessary hypotheses.
Today, many accept the notion that God used billions of years and macro-evolution (evolution across species lines) to create the world and its inhabitants as we know them today. In a way, I believe in being gracious to people who hold this view. They are trying to avoid the anti-intellectualism that has plagued the Church over the last century, and to avoid the (mostly fictitious) unthinking approach to Biblical interpretation made infamous by movie makers and odd cults. Creation method views are not an essential for salvation or an area where we can have the same certainty in interpretation as with the gospel. But, I do disagree with theistic evolution, and I believe there are important theological costs to just accepting theistic evolution. By contrast, I have reasons for not accepting macro-evolution.
1. Christians should admit God is present and involved with creation. Given that, a non-macro evolutionary account is a much simpler solution than explaining why God would create through evolution.
2. The actual historical origin of species and the cosmology of the universe are not within the true realm of science as a discipline. Science is about the experimental and observational support of working hypotheses about the material universe. History is not subject to experimental verification – especially if an infinitely powerful volitional being (God) is involved in the events. You can tell from experiments what a physically possible and repeatable historical explanation is. But you cannot obtain certainty about what actually happened. And, macro-evolution is not currently subject to experimental verification anyway. No one has seen a random evolution across species lines. No one has been able to produce all the circumstances for evolution across species, let alone for life from non-life, despite the massive effort of intelligence and resources martialed to duplicate a process that can allegedly occur by chance. Some people still make much of the lab production of some DNA components. But this is like advocates of the geocentric universe rejoicing in the supposed fixed relative position of the stars. It is only a tiny part of the problem, not conclusive “proof” of the evolution hypothesis.
3. Most of the insistence on macro-evolution and the age of the earth flow not from data, but from the disciplinary presuppositions of most scientists. Science works with the material world. It deals with material causes. Divine causes or even causes by less than divine powerful volitional actors, are not only inaccessible to science, but ruled out in advance by the commonly maintained boundaries and methods of science. It should not even be necessary to point out that a limited discipline cannot make conclusive statements about reality in an area where there are reasonably possible, let alone probable, causes beyond the limits of the discipline. If a rock appears on the side of a smooth monolith, science can hypothesize that the rock got there through the action of an ancient glacier. But it cannot be certain the rock had to be deposited by a glacier if a human being, not only could have, but claims to have carried the rock there and left it on the monolith.
4. Many Christians who believe God created through billions of years of cosmic and macro-evolution argue that it would be dishonest of God to create a world that had the appearance of age. The trouble is that it is not reasonable for us to demand a universe that looks its own age. God has no obligation to create a young looking universe any more than he had an obligation to avoid wave partial duality or to make sure we had a way to determine both the location and velocity of electrons at the same time. Some facts are simply beyond the methodology available to humans. Such limitations flow from the functional nature of reality as designed, and do not reflect on God’s “honesty”. One can expect that when God created the trees, he created them full grown with rings inside because that is what trees are like. God probably created full grown animals, not eggs or embryos, because the full grown animal is self-sufficient in a way the embryo or egg is not – creating adult animals is functional. If God created the world in a short period of time, why should He have been forced to forgo the beauty of layered sandstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, gemstones, and the Alps merely because scientists would project an age for the earth based on the time it would take such features to appear “by chance.” Why can’t God create light in transit from distant stars so we can enjoy it, instead of needing a tiny universe to let the star light reach earth before He brings down the curtain on human history, and to avoid the wrath of scientists who will only believe if the most distant stars are less than a hundred thousand light years away? A demand for a young looking universe is also not so easy to meet. Scientists who insist on doing cosmology from a perspective of chance material causes will see even the existence of a planet or a light source or anything God created by fiat ex nihilo as evidence of age because they expect all things to slowly assemble from smaller building blocks over time. So no instantly created universe would please the cosmologist who is looking for a non-instant creation. The “honesty about time” position is really a demand that God create the universe slowly over long periods of time or completely give up his “hiddenness” and force us to see him create. Ultimately that is not a reasonable position. Why do Christians think it proper to limit God based on the boundaries of our academic disciplines and opinions? Why should God have to make the theories of carbon 14 and geologic dating work accurately just because we insist they must?
5. As for the macro-evolution of animals, why does anybody think similarity of structure is indicative of common ancestry? The variety of plants and animals and insects in the world is incredible. And through micro-evolution we do see new hybrids and varieties appear within certain genetic limits. But surely the reason birds all have wings might be so they can fly rather than because they were descended from a common ancestor. If the universe is designed, one would expect a designer to make elegant re-use of the same ideas in variant themes and variations. Common features serve common purposes. DNA held in common that can be turned on or off is an elegant solution to the problem of communication of patterns and variations in different creatures. There is by contrast no logically necessary link between common DNA structure and ancestry unless one starts by assuming the necessity of a creation over time by chance and evolution.
6. The evolution myth is not clearly described in the Biblical creation account. Even given that the Genesis account is theological in purpose and poetic in form, squeezing the current understanding of evolution out of it is a stretch. If God created over eons through time and chance He could have said so poetically. But He did not. In fact, some ancient creation stories sound a lot like the big bang or like macro-evolution. If it were so Genesis could have said “So long ago we cannot count the years, God created a cosmic egg. The egg exploded like lightning with a big bang. The bang spread light and dust across the void. Over billions of years the dust clumped together and became earth. God made the lighting hit the puddles on the earth, and life emerged from the puddles. First came bugs, which gave birth to the fish. Then the fish gave birth to the creeping things. Then the creeping things gave birth to the animals. The animals gave birth to the monkeys. God took two monkeys and breathed on them and made them the first humans. This all took so long we cannot reckon it or imagine it. The years were like the dust on the plain.” So God could have said if He created as the materialist scientist supposes He should have. But the Genesis account is not like that.
7. You may now reply that there are theological consequences to the Genesis account not present in the myth of evolution – and you would be right. The main reason I do not tend to believe in theistic evolution is that Genesis is meant to set out the Biblical view of God, man, creation, good, evil, and much more. Genesis is theological in import and I believe in that Biblically supported and expounded set of theological implications. By contrast, we have to do a lot of extra explaining to get to the truth about such matters while accepting the evolution myth. I am really certain human beings have moral knowledge and were created in the image of God, but damaged every aspect of their being when they fell into sin. I am certain death and suffering were caused by human sin after God created a good universe. I am certain God is good, that He is a Trinity, that He reveals Himself to man through the Bible, and that the second person of the Trinity became a man, died for our sins, and rose again from the dead. The Genesis account, as commonly understood fits in with all of that. The evolution myth – not so much.
I hold my Biblical interpretations on the non-essentials loosely, recognizing I could be wrong in supposing the Pharaoh who took the golden shields from the temple may have been Ramses II, or that John Mark might be both the “rich young ruler” and the man in the sheet who appears in his gospel. While I am an historical pre-millennialist, I won’t feel shocked and disappointed if another view of the end times is right. I won’t stomp out of heaven in anger if I finally learn the universe really is ten billion years old. But for the present, I see all sorts of good reasons for believing God created everything by His word in six periods of time unlikely to be ages of the earth in length, perhaps with or without a gap for a prior world. I see no compelling reasons to believe in macro-evolution or to even believe macro-evolution is “scientific.”

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | July 15, 2011

California Bans Plato

Governor Brown of California has signed into law a new bill (Senate Bill 48) that prohibits the use in California of any instructional material with negative references to homosexuals, lesbians and the transgendered, and also requires students to be taught the positive contributions of persons with such lifestyles.

Of course this means that, unless they are edited to deceive students about their real content, many of the classics of western literature cannot be used as instructional materials. Plato’s The Laws, the writings of Christians such as Augustine and Aquinas, some Islamic and Buddhist texts, and much old popular literature takes a negative view of homosexual conduct.

Of course the real casualty of this book banning is the Bible. Despite the warped understanding of the First Amendment to the US Constitution believed by many school officials today, the law plainly allows students to be taught about the Bible as an important document affecting western civilization, and as a great work of literature.

Banning the Bible and Plato to protect the feelings of an interest group with a set of particular lifestyle choices is not a wise or a constitutional choice. Where are the advocates of radical free speech and press now? Will they ban criticism of adultery next? Will they burn copies of Dante on the statehouse lawn?

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | February 1, 2011

Rivendell Sanctuary this Summer

After ten years of full-time service at Trinity International Universitiy’s Trinity Law School, and over ten more years of part-time teaching for Trinity and Simon Greenleaf Law School, I have been called to a new teaching ministry. We are moving to Minnesota this summer, where I will become a tutor at the new Rivendell Sanctuary program. Rivendell has an 18-month great books program that is designed to satisfy college undergraduate general education requirements. The program has many innovative features, including devoting time to each subject in turn in a systematic fashion that unites and organizes the whole curriculum so each subject is in context and builds on each of the prior subjects. Students stay together in a cohort with two faculty tutors and two mentors throughout the program. There is a focus on the whole life of the student, including spiritual life, interpersonal skills, and perspective. The goal is to produce capable men and women of honor, depth, and virtue, not to just check the boxes of fulfilled units. Part of each cohort’s experience is a trip to Italy for six weeks during the art section of the curriculum. I am looking forward to being part of the Rivendell team.

Learn more about Rivendell at :

Nancy Pearcey’s new book Saving Leonardo; A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning is an excellent book that proves God has given her a double portion of the spirit of Francis Schaeffer. The book is an exploration of the common secular worldviews in our culture, how they have affected culture (and even the church), and how they contrast with the real Christian worldview.

Pearcey helps us learn how to do worldview analysis on our own with examples of how to evaluate movies, books, art, and more. She shows how approaching the arts as though they were only entertainment can be dangerous. This well-researched guide is of great importance because what we believe matters: it affects our behavior and choices. What we believe can undermine effective actions of love for our family and our neighbors. What we believe can affect our relationship with God. And what we believe can impact our feelings and motivations in ways that make Christian practice and growth more difficult.

Mrs. Pearcey starts with examples of how Christians can be deceived into exposing their children to secular worldviews if they lack parental commentary and support. She counters the cultural claim that neither truth nor ideas are important with wise counsel from figures like C.S. Lewis and Socrates.

A key set of insights in the book is an exploration of the major ways in which our culture divides life into “upper and lower stories” – dichotomies in which the lower story is accepted as the exclusive source of facts, and an upper story designed to deal with the rest of human experience without giving those areas traction in public policy, business, and critical choices. These bases of the so called fact/value spilt are a hydra of personal and social problems in the contemporary world. They include the current dualist acceptance of postmodernism in religion and morality while we still use modernism in science and industry. In a similar fatal division, the liberal view of the human being divides personhood (realm of the “autonomous self”, entitled to freedom and dignity) from the body (a mere “biochemical machine”, and hence, disposable and manipulatable). This false dichotomy facilitates the rationalization of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research on a public policy level, and the dehumanizing “hookup culture” of sex separated from relationship. It goes even further in allowing the separation of identity and desires from biology and reality.

A magnificent panorama of history unfolds as the author describes the major paths to the secular worldview – the ideas of the enlightenment, such as empiricism and rationalism on the one hand, and romanticism on the other. She traces these roads, not only through their expression in art and literature, but as they changed philosophy. Pearcey illustrates how changes in the world of philosophy had real impact on “everyday” life and thought. She also explains the philosophical fork which leads to the split between analytical philosophy and European philosophy.

We are guided from Kant’s dualism of freedom and nature through the two major streams of modern art – one protesting the scientific worldview, the other portraying the scientific worldview, or in other words, expressionism and formalism. The book sails through the seas of art handing out broadsides and laurels to both sides of the great split. The analysis will please non-artists who have any interest in worldviews, theology, philosophy or apologetics as well as providing a fascinating perspective to those who do know and love art of all sorts. There are also surprises. It never occurred to me to class the Pre-Raphaelites (my personal favorite in art) on the “science” side because of their romantic subjects from myth, legend, and literature, but Pearcey’s analysis is persuasive

Pearcey also deals with so-called Christian art, and attacks head-on the need for good art as opposed to the cloying saccharine sweetness of so much craft devoted to Biblical objects. She gives some excellent examples of quality art by Christian artists such as Fujimura.

After a well thought-out discussion of worldview in movies, the book concludes with a challenge to believers to be makers of quality culture ourselves instead of responding with reaction and criticism to the values of secular culture.

Throughout this whole expedition into darkest culture Nancy Pearcey is remarkable in her attitude of charity and understanding. The book points out what happened and how it happened, but does not condemn anyone for the roles they played. Pearcey seems to expect that we cannot just break out of the confines of the current ideas. She understands that the most godly, talented and creative of Christian artists will still create art in the traditions of expressionism and formalism even while exploring new directions and pushing the envelope of culture because we are where we are, culturally speaking.

The book is very well-written and communicates complex ideas in understandable ways without reductionism. While Schaeffer was a true prophet of the problems of the church, he was often criticized for some controversial opinions in intellectual history. Nancy Pearcey’s book is far above possible reproach in this area. She bases her conclusions on the writings of a host of eminent and well accepted scholars while at the same time holding fast to the truth in her critique of the church, her explanation of secular beliefs, and her diagnosis of how Christ’s people can escape seduction by the spirits of the age.

It is, almost always, only by understanding the false categories that have led us into bondage to the spirits of this age that we can be free of them, and not cast them out only for them to return and find a tidied up vacancy ready for them to move back in. We need to know them so we can pray for God’s help, and receive the mind of Christ, to reject the false ideas of our time and to fill our minds with the genuinely good and true and beautiful. Without analysis like Pearcey’s we are like the church of
Laodicea. So often, our society has taught us to say we see and are clothed and in our right mind when we are spiritually blind, wretched, poor, and naked.

The good, truth and beauty really exist, and are to be found in God Himself. We can know Him by knowing Jesus. We know Jesus by believing and understanding what the Bible actually says. The Bible assures us that if we seek Him we will find Him, indeed because it is God who draws us to seek Him in the first place. When we believe God, we suddenly begin to see that all creation also speaks of Him. The knowledge of God already covers the earth as the water covers the sea, but we deny that we are wet. When we believe God and acknowledge that all the problems and pain we experience come from human sin (Adams, ours and other people’s) and that while mysterious and often unpleasant, the ways of God are just and good, not in error, Jesus cleanses us from our sin, corrects our errors, and slowly restores His damaged image – always there, but twisted and under a lot of gunk. We can then participate in Christ’s work in the world; work that includes not only preaching and helping the poor, but growing things, making things, doing art, writing, teaching, serving, designing everything from beautiful buildings to beautiful spoons, and glorifying God in all we do. Christianity is infinitely simple-those who call on the name of Jesus will be saved-but it is also infinitely complex. Learning the fullness of the Christian worldview and applying it to every area of life is the life’s work of a civilization, not even an individual or many individuals. But the gemstones we uncover in the search are well worth the effort. We need to return to the Christian tradition of searching out the precious stones of beauty, truth and goodness, polishing them to luster and displaying them for all to enjoy for the glory of God.

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | January 4, 2011

>Why Do Many Protestants Christians Fail to Believe in Natural Law

>One of the strange questions in Christian legal philosophy is why most Protestant Christians no longer believe in the doctrine of natural law – the idea that there is an unwritten identical trans-cultural objective moral standard accessible to all human beings. Evangelicals frequently associate natural law with Roman Catholicism, even though the doctrine of natural law is actually a better fit for Protestants than it is for Roman Catholics. After all, Rome believes we need a Magisterium to tell us what to think. It is Protestants who have stood up for the idea that ordinary people can figure some things out on their own – at least with God’s help. J. Budziszewski in his book, Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, argues that natural law “is not just a Catholic thing.” Stephen Grabill, Harold Berman, John Witt, and others have written extensively on the history of Protestants and natural law, showing that the Protestants of the reformation period took it for granted that natural law was a biblical doctrine, not a matter of Roman Catholic tradition to be rejected by the Protestants. So why do so many Evangelicals still feel uncomfortable with natural law? What are the deeper reasons for the discomfort?

One major reason Protestants tend not to believe in natural law is they think natural law is incompatible with a strong view of the fall. These natural law doubters maintain that since Adam’s fall, human beings are so sinful they cannot even know right from wrong. This belief assumes no view of mankind’s sinfulness can be zealous enough. This view neglects a couple of things. First, the Bible does not teach that humans are as sinful as they could be. We can easily imagine a state of even greater degradation in which the maintenance of families or societies was impossible. So, even though human beings may not do anything which is purely good because they always act with impure motives, human beings actually do some things that are somewhat “good” by nature of the act. They do give to charity, they do love their children, they do nice things for their spouses. They may do so out of impure motives and hence even sin in the doing of these good acts, but nevertheless they do such acts. As Jesus said, “You, being evil, still know how to give good gifts to your children.”
In addition, the Bible clearly teaches human beings do have moral knowledge. There is a very important theological reason for this. God does not send the human beings who reject Him to eternal punishment merely as a matter of caprice. He does so because human beings are morally accountable to Him. In order to support that moral accountability, human beings have to have known something of the difference between good and evil and to have deliberately chosen evil. Adam did so and all of us are in his sin (apart from Christ). But we all also do the same thing in our individual lives. We do know some of what God wants and we deliberately choose not to do it. We know much of what God hates and we deliberately choose to do it. We act this way almost from our very conception.
Some of the Christians who have the view that the fall cancels out natural law have tended to believe having moral knowledge would somehow mean man also had the ability to keep God’s rules. This simply isn’t true. The Bible says knowledge of good and evil actually seems to promote a desire to do evil in fallen human beings rather than empowering them to do good. Paul says the command, “Thou shalt not covet”, inspired all sorts of coveting in him. Knowledge, by itself, is not moral power. An understanding of what is right and wrong is needed for virtue, but does not create virtue. Beings know right from wrong, and because they choose wrong they are morally accountable to God for their choice (apart from God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ). No human being, apart from God’s help, has the power to consistently choose to do good despite whatever knowledge of God’s will they have. To confuse knowing what is good with doing what is good is a category error. You can believe in natural law and still believe in total depravity – the idea that all human faculties and all of our being is affected by sin.
A second reason many Protestants do not believe in natural law is kindred to the first: this is the belief man’s reason is fouled by sin and hence does not support moral knowledge. The first objection to natural law, which I have just discussed, is often an attack on the version of natural law (yes, there are many versions, or theories of natural law, although the content is the same – more on that later) which says moral knowledge is somewhat innate in human beings. This second attack, based on the fallenness of human reason, is a criticism of a second view of natural law: the view of natural law that man’s moral knowledge flows from man’s reasoning power. The view of natural law as innate in the human mind is in some ways platonic and has tended to be associated historically with Protestants. The view of natural law as flowing out of reason is more Aristotelian and has been associated to some degree with the Roman Catholic Church. Robust theories of natural law held by Protestants often accept that innate knowledge or knowledge by illumination, and reason both play a part in natural law.
It is true the fall affected our practical reasoning. Human beings often insist two plus two equals five, even though it does not, because of the way our sinful natures have affected our will and caused our will to impinge upon rational reasoning. It is important to realize real reason comes from God and is not fallen in its pure divine form even though the examples of it we see in human beings are affected by the fall. If we agree we reason correctly when we say two plus two equals four, we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him, as beings made in the image of God were originally created to do. That we do so in only limited areas and for limited amounts of time because of our human sinfulness ought to be fairly obvious. But, it is true we sometimes agree with God about very basic items, such as some of the rules of mathematics. We also agree with God when we agree with the things in His revealed word, the Bible. Though our reasoning is damaged by sin it is not so fouled that it has no ability to tell us some of what we do is wrong or some of what we omit is right. Paul, in Romans 2, talks about how the Gentiles’ conscience pleads for them and against them in various circumstances. God says in Isaiah, “Come and let us reason together.” Our reason is damaged by sin, but it is not so annihilated that we have no knowledge of right and wrong. Based on the work which Christ and God’s Holy Spirit does in our lives, God’s elect can also have their reason enhanced beyond its previous fallen state, although it will not reach perfection this side of the final resurrection. And, our primary concern in discussing natural law is the reasoning level available to the non-elect.
Some will object that the moral knowledge of sin only comes to those under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. But the Bible does not say this. Saving faith requires the Holy Spirit. But there is no biblical reason why condemning knowledge should be exclusive to the elect of God rather than those to be condemned. Some will then say this knowledge of good and evil which results in condemnation may exist, but all it does is condemn, it never enlightens. But knowledge is knowledge. It makes sense to say non-believers resist practical benefit from their knowledge of God’s laws, but it is going too far to say a benefit is impossible. Do not nearly all nations ban theft and murder? Don’t they do so because God teaches them in general revelation that it is wrong? If unregenerate humans have no benefit from general revelation why does John say Jesus was “The true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9) even though not all men are saved? Does he not say this about general revelation through Christ?
The third reason many Protestants do not accept natural law is that they have never heard a proper explanation of it. Many times the only arguments Protestants hear about natural law are straw men. A common argument made against natural law is one that defines it as a separate law from the law of God as expressed in the Scriptures. While there are some people who claim natural law exists as a separate law from the law of the Bible, this is not a preferred natural law view and was not the common one in most of the history of natural law. John Calvin and Philip Melanchthon, for example, both believed in natural law and believed the content of natural law was identical with the content of the moral law expressed in the Bible. They did not think natural law was some sort of separate autonomous law that could be different from the laws God has set forth elsewhere. It is making a straw man argument to critique all natural law as though it fell in this questionable definition rather than in the definition held by Calvin and Melanchthon. Those who use the straw man also often seek to press the attack by saying that because the Scripture is sufficient we don’t need natural law. I find though, it is an incorrect view of God to see him as a minimalist who only creates the minimum of what we need in any area. One type of beetle would have been enough for me. But God wanted more types of beetles than we can count. I could live with thirty or forty kinds of fish – mostly the edible or attractive ones. But God made thousands of kinds of fish. He never seems to do only what is sufficient. Instead He does immeasurably more than all we ask or think.
If, by “natural law” one meant a law separate from the law of God and of differing content, then it would make sense to deny the existence of such a law. But historically, natural law has not been regarded as such an independent law. Rather, it is the expression of God’s law in general revelation. There is only one God and he is consistent and agrees with himself. If we claim the content of special revelation and general revelation are at variance, it is our understanding which must be at fault. The law of God is consistent whether revealed in the Old or the New Testament and whether revealed in the book of Deuteronomy or by the song of creation as in Psalm 19.
A fourth opposition to natural law comes from an imbibing from a particular theological stream, that of voluntarism. Many proponents of natural law have classically believed the law of God flows from God’s own nature. While God can, may, and does make positive commands that are not purely based upon morality, God’s commands are an expression of Himself, of His goodness, justice, love, mercy and holiness. As a result, we can determine in many instances what is good and evil by looking at what God would do or not do, or by deciding what courses of action are in accord with all of the united attributes of God. An act cannot be unjust, unloving, or merciless and still be in accord with God’s natural law. Although, merely because some act exemplifies a particular virtue does not mean it is permissible if it conflicts with God’s law in other ways. The murderer or thief who acts with courage does not have his crime vitiated by the virtue with which he pursues it. So, classically understood, God’s nature is behind God’s will, and He expresses His moral nature in His law, both in Scripture and in natural law.
By contrast, voluntarists reject this idea. They believe God’s will is more important than any other aspect of God. The voluntarist believes God could have made a world in which murder, adultery and deceit were good and commanded as such. But such a belief makes God’s freedom prior to God’s eternality. The Scriptures teach us God is not only good and just and merciful, but that God is forever the same. His nature does not change. God is consistent in all He does and wills. Some people believe that belief in such a consistency is a belief which, in some way, binds God or weakens His freedom, thereby making Him in some way less divine. I do not believe this is true. Instead, a belief that will is more important than any other attribute denies God’s eternality and transtemporality. It treats God like a being in time who can change, rather than acknowledging that although God is everywhere, including in time, God is beyond time and is its creator. As a being beyond time, God does not change, He acts eternally. He expresses His emotions eternally, and He expresses His decrees eternally. They all flow forth from who God is. Just as God’s law flows forth from who He is.
Fifth, just as the last objection to natural law involved a theological presupposition, this next one involves a philosophical one. Some Protestant Christians reject natural law because they have come to believe in the philosophy of nominalism. Nominalism is the belief that there are no universals: that objects or concepts or attributes we cannot see do not really exist. There are concrete actions which can be described as loving but there is no objective universal idea of love according to the nominalist. Likewise, the nominalist does not believe there is any objective definition of justice, property, unity, or beauty apart from concrete examples. Instead of the existence of objective ideas, the nominalist believes only in the sense experiences we have in the world and the pressures of social community which cause us to associate certain sounds or names with certain concrete things. Hence, the term nominalism comes from the idea that universals are merely names, not objective ideas.
For hundreds of years most Christians have rejected nominalism. Godly men, like Augustine of Hippo, Philip Melanchthon, Calvin, Francis Turretin, and many others, rejected nominalism. Nominalism appears to be contrary to the logos doctrine, to the idea that Christ is the embodiment, not only of God’s communication to man, but of God’s logic, reason, order, definitions and concepts. The mind of God, and by extension, the mind of Christ is the receptacle of the objective ideas which make up the true universals. Justice is justice because it defines the way God is, with respect to justice. Beauty is beauty because God is beautiful and creates beautiful things. Goodness is good because it defines its example and definition in the nature of God Himself, and on and on. As Plato said, even though he did not understand God, “God is preeminently the measure of all things.” Because God is the definer of universal concepts, they have an objective existence in Him. Because human beings were created in the image of God, even though that image was damaged by sin, we have some access to universal ideas. We have some ability to understand concepts like truth, goodness, beauty, justice, etc. Although our understanding is affected by the fall it is not fully effaced. We have the ability to communicate with one another using these universal concepts, albeit in an imperfect way. But universals also have one other effect – they are interconnected with the natural law. If you know what is good, true, beautiful, just, merciful, etc. you know what you are supposed to do in order to do what God would want. If you know that, then you should not do things which are ugly, unjust, cruel, and evil, as well. Knowledge of universals and knowledge of the moral law e.g. the natural law – are inextricably intertwined. Nominalism is not really a biblical doctrine. Recognition of God and the objective ideas that exist in God is contrary to the spirit of nominalism.
A sixth objection by Protestants to natural law comes from the effect of culture upon them. Today, many Protestants have bought into post-modern culture. They feel it is somehow arrogant or unjust to claim there are objective moral standards, objective ideas by which cultures and societies or individuals can be measured or evaluated, or objective truths which can not only be identified as true, but by their truth identify some other ideas as false. They find the notion of objective measuring to be somehow embarrassing, neocolonial, or bigoted. This is the effect of post-modern culture, which teaches all of these things for even more complex philosophical reasons which are, for the most part, incompatible with Christianity. While it is true that human claims are often expressed in an arrogant way, this does not mean truth does not exist. If truth exists, it is extremely unloving to ignore and deny what is true since truth provides for the best and safest life. Who would tell someone that it is safe to walk through a mine field merely because that person did not believe the mines existed? Who would tell someone who wished to pick up a poisonous snake that it was acceptable for them to believe the snake was not poisonous merely because they firmly held to that belief? While truth needs to be expressed lovingly rather than arrogantly, truth does exist and it measures the actions of individuals, cultures and societies. We can find truth in God and in His revelation. God has revealed truth to us in the Bible and through the natural law. We know the natural law because of our ability to reason from cause and effect, our conscience, from the creation of mankind in God’s image, from the order of the creation God has made, from the evident purposes of the things God has made, and because the Bible discusses the idea of natural law even though it does not use that phrase to describe it.
The seventh objection to natural law which we will address here is rooted in the notion that man cannot understand the revelation of God apart from the regenerative activity of the Holy Spirit. Some people believe this means the natural man cannot understand the natural law. The Scripture is full of passages in which God points out that only his elect will understand and believe his message. But it is the message of grace – the gospel – non-regenerate man fails to understand. The unregenerate are perfectly comfortable with the idea of law. Every human religion capitalizes on man’s knowledge of law and tries to parlay some limited obedience to a distorted moral code into a claim upon a god or gods who are less holy and more arbitrary than the God of the Bible. Law is the very stuff the Muslim, the rabbi, and the student of dharma all depend upon. They forget what the whole book of Romans tells us – it is not those to whom the law came who are justified by the law, but only those who keep all of it – a thing no son of Adam or daughter of Eve can do apart from Christ. God gave humans knowledge of law so they could rule over themselves and the creation as his regents, and so that they would know how they are separated from God by their sins – not as a means of salvation. There is no passage of Scripture which denies to mankind knowledge or understanding of the law. In fact, as David Van Drunen has pointed out, when God’s people have assumed the ungodly have no knowledge of the law, God has proven them wrong, as we see in the histories of Abraham and Abimelech, and Abraham and the Pharaoh.
An eighth reason many Christians fail to accept the natural law as real is that a belief in a structure of eschatological change or evolution is seen as incompatible with natural law. This is the class of objection whose proponents, Karl Barth and others, Carl Braaten described in his 1992 First Things article on Protestants and natural law. Such theologians and ethicists articulate in many different ways that while natural law might have made sense in the past, now for the church in Christ today, it does not. I believe this error has at its root not a commitment to some portion of Scripture, but a hidden commitment to the philosophy of Hegel. We live in an age so saturated with the ideas of evolution, dialectic, construction, development and change that we even try to place God on this Procrustean bed and force him to go through process and development. But the God of the Bible does not change. His laws and institutions do not change. Abraham was saved by faith just as we are saved by faith. Christ came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. I know the brilliant men who propounded neo-orthodoxy and other such views were far smarter than I and spoke in language far more elegant and irenic than I can muster. But in the plain meaning of Scripture I find all humans were made in the image of God, and still retain a distorted version of that image after the fall. I find the Gentiles who did not have the law still had a conscience which served them in the same office. I find pagan kings knew what God did and did not want even when they ignored that knowledge. I find all humans are morally accountable to God. I find all governments are God’s servants – and how can they carry out his service unless he has left one and all of them, from Rome to Cathay and Siberia to Patagonia, a set of instructions and orders through general revelation. And I find none of this changes the gospel or the role of the church. To borrow a metaphor from Calvin, the fact that men have occasional strikes of lightning in the night does not obviate their need of the greater light of the gospel.
In conclusion, there are many reasons why Protestants do not believe in natural law, but most of them are not particularly biblical or Christian. By contrast, because the Bible does teach the existence of natural law and the ideas behind it, it is a very Christian thing and a very Protestant thing to believe in it – as properly understood. It would be wrong to think the existence of the natural law, as revealed by God in general and special revelation meant human beings could save themselves. It would be wrong to think God is not really God. It would be improper to be arrogant in our expression of our ideas to others. But, avoiding these errors does not warrant the opposite errors of claiming that man has no moral knowledge, that God is not consistent with His own nature, or that God is not the source and definition of objective ideas. Nor is it appropriate to reject natural law because we recognize only a false version of it, such as the false claim that natural law is independent of God’s moral law or of God’s nature. There is indeed objective truth in God that He has revealed to us. And so I commend to you a belief in natural law.

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | October 7, 2010


>Truth is to be found in God Himself. He is the definer of all else. God is the central reality of the universe. All other truth is subsidiary to Him, either flowing from His nature, His decree, or the actions of the order He created. We can know truth only because God made us in His image, with mental faculties, that though puny and damaged, still reflect His own. That a human being can know truth was proven by the incarnation of Christ, when the One who was truth also became a man.

Posted by: donaldmcconnell | September 29, 2010

>Legal Change in Moses Time

>A commenter recently said they did not believe the law of ancient Israel was allowed to incorporate change. As this is an important issue, I thought I would say something about it here on the main blog.
Deuteronomy 4:1-2 says:
“ 1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
By this God meant that no one should claim God gave commands he did not give or claim that commands God did give were not given by Him. He clearly did not mean there would be no additional revelation from God because there obviously was additional revelation. He also did not mean to bar common law judicial decisions or additional human laws for Israel. I have reasons for believing this:
1) Look at the example of the case of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers chapters 26, 27, and 36. The law was modified to deal with a new circumstance, thereby setting the precedent of common law development.
2) Historically, the Mosaic Law did provide for common law style human legal additions. The rabbinic method of expounding the law to new circumstances actually influenced the development of English and American common law methodology.
3) That is how ancient law codes of this type worked and were understood. The Ten Commandments, or the ten words and they are known to the Jews, are the core principles of the code. The other “commands”, like “if a man steals a sheep . . .” etc are exemplar analytic dispositions to serve as guidelines for judges on how to apply the principles in the central Ten Commandments.
4) In practice it has to be that way. No legal code can deal with all possible future human conduct. Additional common law rulings and or statutes will be necessary to deal with new technology, new scams, new threats, and new business patterns that did not exist when the code was made.
5) Better and brighter men than I have interpreted scripture this way. For example, look at the collective teachings of John Calvin in the Institutes.
The Bible also never says other nations have to have exactly the same laws as ancient Israel. These laws were given by God to Israel. Because they came from God, it makes sense to pay attention to the timeless truths they embody. But, a code for an ancient agrarian people is not adequate for a country with cars, computers, nuclear reactors, and banks.

>Laurie Higgins from Illinois Family Action writes:
“The Republican governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, recently called for a “truce” on the divisive social issues. Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, concurs saying, “Any issue that takes people’s eye off of unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts is taking your eye off the ball.”
Earlier I asked, if one of the “social issues” that divided the country were not the slaughter of the most defenseless but were instead the enslavement of African Americans, would these same “moderates,” be chastising conservatives for refusing to subordinate social issues to fiscal issues?
When social conservatives retreat from the cultural and political debate, the cultural and political views of the public are shaped by those who are publicly engaged. Our retreat creates a vacuum that leftists are only too glad to fill with false moral propositions and destructive legislation. Soon there won’t be enough conservatives who think rightly on fundamental social issues, and the ones who do will lack the courage to speak. Society would be much better served by heeding the words of John Adams who said, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody….If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”
It should be noted that a truce requires that both sides agree to a cessation of activity. Surely, some have noticed that Democrats aren’t participating in the truce. In fact, carnivorous leftists are licking their chops while waiting to devour the carcass of social conservatism. And while they await its demise, they engage in ever more fevered efforts to advance their pernicious goals to preserve the right to annihilate the unborn and destroy the family.
No, Daniels and other likeminded conservatives are not calling for a truce; they’re effectively calling for a forfeit.”
While economic issues are important, I believe Laurie is correct. While social conservatives are pressed to drop their issues and vote for so called moderates, the other side is going on the offensive to dominate social policy and the party. The Manhattan Declaration signers and others have made some progress in refusing to be cowed and continuing to press on social policies as well as economic policies. And it is well that we should.
The reasons America is in trouble in our time are not purely economic. America is in trouble because Christians who believe in and live out the Christian world view and Biblical ideals are not the dominant culture makers and leaders in our society. Instead the church is often failing to teach the truths of the Biblical world view and how they apply to life. We in the pews are failing to learn and live as we should. And in the end, we do not even take significant part in most of the institutions that shape the culture. Without more really Christian University professors, artists, movie makers, and writers doing high quality work that reflects the good in a compelling way (e.g. Bach and Burke), it is no surprise we cannot find solid Christian candidates for political offices who understand law, human nature, and the limited ability of governments to solve problems.
In turn, if we keep electing people who believe the wrong things about human nature and human dignity, about rights and the sources of rights, and about governments and what they can and cannot accomplish, we will continue to get corruption, bad laws, foolish priorities, and selfish “legal” graft from our law makers. Social issues ARE important, because they are bellwethers of a person’s true beliefs and priorities. A politician who does not understand why he should be against abortion on demand and against gay “marriage” does not understand human dignity, human rights, and the rule of law. Such a person is not going to make wise choices in the long run about “economic” issues either, no matter what they tell you between now and Election Day.

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