Who’s the Radical?

It was fascinating to witness the shock on the Internet among theonomists and some Neo-Cals over a suggestion I made a few years ago that as a political libertarian I leaned toward the government not seeking to punish sexual perversity such as adultery, homosexuality or bestiality; that some things are better left to God to judge. My point was simply to say there is freedom for Christians to disagree on how government should enforce against these types of perversions.

When one does a little research one learns that Americans have always sought criminal enforcement when human beings are physically harmed or forced against their consent to engage in sexual related activities. But in matters of adultery, fornication, homosexuality and bestiality, that has not been the case.

Often conservatives lament how far we’ve come from the time in America when sins like sodomy and the like carried swift penalties, even the death penalty. But a look at the actually history paints a very different picture. Though laws in the colonies usually did prohibit perversions like sodomy and bestiality, rarely were these laws enforced. It seems in the U.S. there has been a libertarian zeitgeist when it comes to sexual matters; though these sexually-related sins remained on the books for a few centuries, and in some states they still remain, they were rarely, if ever, enforced.        

Historians can only find five to ten instances of executions for sodomy or bestiality throughout the entire seventeenth century in the Untied States, even though the penalty for both was often death. And it was not because townspeople were unaware that there were men sleeping with other men, or being perverse with animals; the literature shows the people of a town knew something fishy was going on between Frank and Henry. But both government authorities and local people were more content to gossip about it than seek to enforce any civil penalties. 

Americans in the 18th century were even less likely to enforce sodomy laws. I could find only one known case during the entire 18th century of death for sodomy – a slave named Mingo  was convicted of “forcible buggery.”

As Yale historian William Eskridge notes “After the Revolution all thirteen states revoked the death penalty for sodomy convictions, although all adopted laws criminalizing anal sex (whether the recipient was male or female, adult or child, man or beast). Those laws were maintained into the nineteenth century, when they were used in cases in which the sex enacted was either violent or extremely public. Immigrants and men of African descent were most commonly charged with the crime. But the general pattern was non-enforcement. In practice police rarely enforced sodomy laws against anyone before 1880, even when such illegal activities were notorious in the community.”

Georgia is an interesting case also.  Georgia did not include the sodomy laws of South Carolina (where Georgia received its charter) when Georgia received her charter in 1732.  But local authorities could still punish sodomy if they desired because there was disagreement in Georgia over what laws they were really under. But there were only two known cases of punishment for sodomy, one in 1734 and the other in 1743. The first resulted in a whipping in a local settlement that was theocratic in nature; the second resulted in the death penalty. There are no other records in the colonial period of any enforcement of sodomy, and sodomy was never listed as a crime on the books until 1816, where Georgia adopted its first anti-sodomy law.

One write notes -  “This sexual freedom (in Georgia) lasted into the 19th century. A criminal code adopted in 1816 included Georgia’s first sodomy law, which provided a compulsory sentence of life imprisonment at labor. For some reason, this code never was enforced.” (George Painter)

Though penalties for sodomy laws varied from state to state, records from every state reveal that few had the desire to actually enforce those laws. Maryland for example, only recorded three sodomy convictions in its first 160 years.

All this to say, in American Christendom, modern 2kers that are bent toward political libertarianism when it comes to government enforcement against sexual perversions are anything but radical. This in itself does not necessarily make the position correct. The correctness of the position will depend on one’s view of the relationship of the Bible, church and state.

But the historical evidence does reveal that those who label the libertarian view as radical need to do their historical homework, and see that both Christians and non-Christians in America, from the colonial period on, have valued privacy in these sexual matters over government involvement and punishment. It is those who would seek enforcement of actual criminal penalties, even the death penalty, for such sexual perversions as sodomy or bestiality, who would be considered unusual, or even radical, against the tradition of our nation which has historically desired as little government intrusion as possible in what they considered private sexual matters.  

Todd Bordow

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Patristic Evidence for Penal Substitution

Image from jsvalent

I guess JJS’ discussion over at CCC is finished, but obviously I’m not persuaded away from Penal Substitution (PS). Here for your enjoyment is a pile of quotes from early writers on the topic.

Note 1. I did not do the legwork to find these myself; they are from a Reformed friend (who has for a few years been exhaustively studying the notion of the merit of Christ’s sacrifice outweighing the demerit of our sins). Therefore I do not have any links. I can ask my friend for further info if necessary.

Note 2. “Catholics believe that the cross quenches wrath, that Jesus died as a Substitute, and that he bore our curse [but definitely was not cursed] and took what we deserve. But none of that necessitates the logical contradiction and Trinitarian impossibility of the Father judging the Son a guilty sinner.” So what I’m focusing on here, are quotes that point in the direction that Christ not only suffered a punishment that happened to be similar to the punishment due to us for sin, but that he actually suffered the punishment that belonged to us. Therefore, all emphasis is mine, along with [a few interjections].

“He therefore took upon Him your curse, for ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a gibbet.’ He became a curse on the cross so that you might be blessed in the kingdom of God.”
– Ambrose, Letter 46

“He, Who bore our curses, became a curse”
– Ambrose, On the Christian Faith 11:94

“He Who in his flesh bore our flesh, in His body bore our infirmities and our curses . . . He was not cursed Himself, but was cursed in thee.” [there's the inherent/imputed distinction there, a.k.a. "legal fiction"]
– Ambrose, Sermon against Auxentius

“For even the Lord was subject to death, but not on account of [His own] sin: He took upon Him our punishment, and so looseth our guilt.”

–Augustine, Expositions On The Psalms, 51

“whom, though He had done no sin, God made sin for us”
– Augustine, On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, 3:13 (7)

“Christ, though guiltless, took our punishment, that He might cancel our guilt, and do away with our punishment.”
–Augustine, Against Faustus, 14:4

“dying for our offences, He submitted as man, and for man, to bear the curse which accompanies death. And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offences, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment.”
–Augustine, Against Faustus, 14:6

“Christ is not reproached by Moses when he speaks of Him as cursed, not in His divine majesty, but as hanging on the tree as our substitute, bearing our punishment . . He, without taking our sin, took its punishment. . . . . The curse is pronounced by divine
justice . . . He bore the curse for us
–Augustine, Against Faustus, 14:7

[How about 'made sin for us' = 'made a sin offering for us'?]

“Indeed, under the old law, sacrifices for sins were often called sins. Yet he of whom those sacrifices were mere shadows was himself actually made sin. Thus, when the apostle said, “For Christ’s sake, we beseech you to be reconciled to God,” he straightway added, “Him, who knew no sin, he made to be sin for us that we might be made to be the righteousness of God in him.” II Cor. 5:20, 21. . . . He himself is therefore sin as we ourselves are righteousness—-not our own but God’s, not in ourselves but in him. Just as he was sin–not his own but ours, not in himself but in us” [beautiful expression of inherent/imputed distinction in both directions]
–Augustine, Handbook ["Enchiridion"] on Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapter 13,
Section 41

I’d like to close with a thought about “what’s the point”? Why all this fuss about the atonement? I mean, no Reformed person is going to object to Christ’s sacrifice being so meritorious that it outweighs our sin in the Father’s sight. So why work so hard to draw the line there, and separate substitution from penal substitution? On the one hand, there’s a cleaner doctrine of the Trinity, if you can somehow wrap your mind around the paradox of the Trinity in the first place, but have trouble with intra-trinitarian wrath for the purpose of providing a ground for mercy for us. (Even on this point however, the extra trinitarian simplicity comes at the cost of an incredible amount of ‘rational’ization in the Original Sin department.)

But really, the point is to avoid imputation. If our sin is not truly imputed to Christ, then his righteousness is not imputed to us; we can’t count on any ‘legal fiction’ to save us, we’ve got work to do to become inherently righteous enough to inherit the Kingdom of God. (Unless, of course, we’re Muslim, then probably we’re OK…)

PS I just looked up Augustine’s Against Faustus. The snippets above don’t do the whole thing justice. Here’s more:

If we read, “Cursed of God is every one that hangs on a tree,” the addition of the words “of God” creates no difficulty. For had not God hated sin and our death, He would not have sent His Son to bear and to abolish it. … Cursed [of God] is every one that hangs on a tree; not this one or that, but absolutely every one. What! The Son of God? Yes, assuredly. This is the very thing you object to, and that you are so anxious to evade. … And as He died in the flesh which He took in bearing our punishment, so also, while ever blessed in His own righteousness, He was cursed for our offenses, in the death which He suffered in bearing our punishment. And these words “every one” are intended to check the ignorant officiousness which would deny the reference of the curse to Christ, and so, because the curse goes along with death, would lead to the denial of the true death of Christ. … If, then, you deny that Christ was cursed, you must deny that He died; and then you have to meet, not Moses, but the apostles. Confess that He died, and you may also confess that He, without taking our sin, took its punishment. Now the punishment of sin cannot be blessed, or else it would be a thing to be desired. The curse is pronounced by divine justice, and it will be well for us if we are redeemed from it.

PPS: My friend sent me also this gem from Athanasius:

Psalm 22, speaking in the Saviour’s own person, describes the manner of His death. Thou has brought me into the dust of death, for many dogs have compassed me, the assembly of the wicked have laid siege to me. They pierced my hands and my feet, they numbered all my bones, they gazed and stared at me, they parted my garments among them and cast lots for my vesture. They pierced my hands and my feet- what else can that mean except the cross? and Psalms 88 and 69, again speaking in the Lord’s own person, tell us further that He suffered these things, not for His own sake but for ours. Thou has made Thy wrath to rest upon me, says the one; and the other adds, I paid them things I never took. For He did not die as being Himself liable to death: He suffered for us, and bore in Himself the wrath that was the penalty of our transgression, even as Isaiah says, Himself bore our weaknesses. [Mt 8:17].

Posted in Justification, Protestantism/Catholicism, Quotes | 4 Comments

When did God make America?

It’s over a week out of date now, but I ran into this trail of 4th of July tweets and found them amusing.


I don’t know how many of these tweeters were Leno-man-on-the-street level idiots, but it turns out this particular one was actually making a sarcastic joke, and spent her 4th enduring all the hate the internet could spew at a 17 year old girl.

So I guess there are a lot more of us R2K crazies than I thought, if so many are coming out of the woodwork to criticize the notion that God made America!

Posted in Church and State, Civil religion, Friday fun, Humor, Outhouse Quick Hits, Quotes, Some fun | 3 Comments

the myth continues

Haven’t posted in a very long time. Actually forgot I was part of this. But here are a couple of videos selling Christian America you might like.  





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I’m Glad Somebody Else Said It


The Ecclesial Calvinist (William B. Evans) is always worth reading, especially when he says something one has always suspected but been reticent to say aloud. Whenever the issue of creation and length of days comes up in conservative circles, one can’t swing the proverbial dead cat and not hit someone who will eventually sound like he’s more or less still fighting the early twentieth century culture wars. Evans reminds us that fundamentalism is alive and well and finds expression in the religious celebrity of Al Mohler, who by the way is also mysteriously referred to as “the most important Calvinist on the planet” (for some good reflection on that oddity, see the Curmudgeon):

Having read Mohler’s lecture carefully several times, I’m driven to the conclusion that when all is said and done this debate is really not about exegesis or theology.   He simply has not engaged the theological and exegetical state of the question.  Rather, it is about the sociology of knowledge, and more specifically the cultural threat of Darwinism and the need that some conservative Christians feel to exclude it a priori via LSDYEC.

Mohler is quick to accuse some evangelical scholars of capitulating to the spirit of the age in order to avoid marginalization, and that may well be a problem in some cases.  Such pragmatism should have no place in believing scholarship.  On the other hand, given the fact that Christians in the past have sometimes embarrassed themselves by their opposition to science, he would do well to heed these wise words of Herman Bavinck:

It is nevertheless remarkable that not a single confession made a fixed pronouncement about the six-day continuum, and that in theology as well a variety of interpretations were allowed to exist side by side.  Augustine already urged believers not too quickly to consider a theory to be in conflict with Scripture, to enter the discussion of these difficult subjects only after serious study, and not to make themselves ridiculous by their ignorance in the eyes of unbelieving science.  This warning has not always been faithfully taken to heart by theologians.  Geology, it must be said, may render excellent service to us in the interpretation of the creation story.  Just as the Copernican worldview has pressed theology  to give another and better interpretation of the sun’s “standing still” in Joshua 10, as Assyriology and Egyptology form precious sources of information for the interpretation of Scripture, and as history frequently finally enables us to understand a prophecy in its true significance—so also geological and paleontological investigations help us in this century to gain a better understanding of the creation story (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols., trans. John Vriend (Baker, 2003-2008), II: 495-96). 

Posted in Christian Curmudgeon, Creation, Culture, Culture War, William Evans | 5 Comments

Who Said That


Upon reading this…

Books about Christianity and culture often spend much time speaking about cultural activities such as education, vocation, and politics but say little about the church…many of them seem to treat the church as of secondary importance for the Christian life and the various activities of human culture as where Christianity is really lived. In this book, I defend the opposite position. The church is primary for the Christian life. Every other institution—the family, the school, the business corporation, the state—is secondary in the practice of the Christian religion. The church is where the chief action of the Christian life takes place. If we do not understand that fact, then we will also fail to understand secondary aspects of our Christian life, such as studying, working, and voting.

What exactly are you doing when you go to church on Sundays? If you had to analogize going to church with something in everyday life, what would that analogy be? One popular analogy is that going to church is like stopping at a gas station. Church is a place where we stop to fill up our tanks after a tiring and stressful week and thus get recharged for the week ahead. Another analogy compares going to church a huddle in a football game. Church is the gathering of all the team’s players so that they can regroup, encourage each other, and prepare for separating again and facing the opponent through the coming week. Are these effective analogies for understanding the church?

I suggest that these analogies are radically insufficient and misleading. Perhaps most obviously, these analogies portray going to church as a human-centered event. Going to church is not primarily about me or even about us, but about God. I go to church not first of all to benefit myself (though that is a very important secondary effect) but to worship the Lord. A second deficiency in these analogies is that they place the real action of the Christian life somewhere other than in the gathering of God’s people for worship. Athletes do not play football in order to huddle and fans do not attend games in order to watch the huddles—what athletes and fans really care about are the plays executed when the ball is snapped. People do not go on road trips in order to stop for gas—drivers and passengers set out to enjoy the scenery and to arrive at their destination. Huddles and gas stations are mans to an end. The life and ministry of the church are not means to an end. They do not exist to recharge our batteries or to give us a strategy for facing the week ahead. The church’s worship and fellowship are ends in themselves. Nothing we do in this world is more important than participating in these activities. Participation in the life of the church, not participation in the cultural activities of the broader world, is central for the Christian life.

…I was reminded of this…

While revivalism upended Protestant patterns of worship wherever it went, thus making evangelicals hostile to accepted liturgies and re-defining the meaning of worship, it also proved to be destructive to a proper understanding of the work of the church. One of the curious features of the relatively recent novelties associated with church growth is the decline in the use of the altar call in churches desiring to reach unchurched harry and Harriet. This is curious because the first seeker-sensitive ministers and churches were those who took an active interest in the work of revivals. Revivals, after all, were the way to reach the lost. But in an era of refined consumer tastes and sharp competition for market share, altar calls do not appear to be effective anymore. Why would the owners of a half-a-million dollar home in the suburbs want to subject themselves to the embarrassment of walking down the aisle to pray a prayer of conversion in a place where they are strangers? These same homeowners would probably be just as reluctant to walk down to the front at the end of a PTA meeting to volunteer to assist with the school lunch program. Such an act is too uncomfortable and exacting for consumers who want the comforts of faith without the commitments.

Consequently, many churches that want to grow and make an impact (or “transform the culture,” in Reformed coinage) sponsor a variety of programs designed to meet the felt needs of residents in the vicinity. This way of growing the local church has had a profound effect on worship and says volumes about the way evangelicals regard the task of the church. If the real work of the church is the ministry that all the saints perform for each other throughout the week, whether in a Christian aerobics class, a story hour for preschoolers, classes on parenting for first-time fathers and mothers, or even the more legitimate evening Bible study, then the weekly gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day takes on a much different character and purpose. Word, sacrament, and prayer, the traditional marks and purposes of the church and, as the Westminster Shorter catechism describes them, “the outward and ordinary means whereby God communicates to us the benefits of redemption” (Ans. 88), become less important. Ministry is no longer defined by these means of grace but rather by all the things that believers do in times of fellowship and support groups…In the process, worship becomes not a time for the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament but a time to rally support for all the programs of the church. In other words, worship in the “successful” church becomes homeroom.

Homeroom, as all graduates of public high school know, is that time usually at the beginning of the school day during which the logistics of the educational enterprise are addressed. The teacher takes attendance, pupils say the Pledge of Allegiance, and the administrators or teachers make announcements about upcoming school events and programs. In many churches, this is exactly what worship has become. The attendance pads at the ends of the pews provide a record of individuals present for church. Praise songs projected overhead are the equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance. And the announcements that come in a variety of forms perform the function of—well—announcements. It is interesting to note the many ways in which announcements are given in evangelical worship. Ministers or various heads of committees talk about upcoming events in the church. Testimonies become plugs for a specific program in the church. Then there is the time for recognizing or even commissioning various workers in the church, whether Sunday school or vacation Bible School teachers, which also draws attention to church programs and the need for more laborers.

The significant differences between evangelical worship and public high school homeroom are the collection of the offering and the pastor’s message. Public schools rely on real estate taxes and therefore have no need to pass the plate inn homeroom. Public schools also have the sense to put lectures in real class time rather than mixing them with the details of operating the school. But the message in evangelical worship does allow the pastor to give a pep talk that will inspire church members to become involved in the weekly activities of the congregation, much like the high school principal’s pleas for volunteers during homeroom. In the process, the means of grace become the means of motivation. Rather than regarding the proclamation of the Word as the way of “convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness and comfort (WSC Ans. 89), preaching is a tool for inspiring believers to become involved in the real work of the church—that is, all the activities and programs throughout the week. As a result, preaching and the other elements of worship, indeed, the entire liturgy, suffer. People no longer see them as the means of being nurtured in the faith but instead perceive “special ministries” as the ways of reaching out, growing the church, and making members more devout.

Posted in Church, Ecclesiology, Quotes, Who Said That, Worship | 10 Comments

Plus ça Change

With apologies to T. David Gordon (and Nicholas Carr and John McWhorter and Neil Postman and Jacques Ellul)…

I couldn’t decide on a title for this post. I was thinking also of “Nothing New Under the Sun”, but when I found I could copy&paste the funny french ç, the decision was made.

To be fair, I think really this acceleration of life began with the industrial revolution, and hasn’t stopped since, which would explain why we can probably find quotes like this continuously up to today (and beyond)

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Humor, Irony, Outhouse Quick Hits, Quotes, T. David Gordon | 7 Comments