The National Security Debate We Should Have Heard Last Fall

news-graphics-2007-_648206aPresident Barack Obama and former Vice-President Dick Cheney squared-off on Thursday in a pair of dueling press conferences. Cheney and Obama advanced national security opinions that are diametrically opposed to one another. It was close, hand-to-hand, political combat. It was a good, clean fight and exactly the kind of debate that we should have heard last Fall during the general election but didn’t. In case you missed the speeches, I’m posting audio, video, and transcript links below.

President Obama (audio), (transcript)


Vice-President Cheney (audio), (transcript)


President Obama Video

Vice-President Cheney Video


  • Jan D.

    You are right about this being a good, clean, fight. As a matter of fact, I was surprised that in a few cases, the media coverage wasn’t all one-sided.

    It does make me wonder though, given the media bias of last fall, would the coverage have been presented in the same way as last week, and would these speeches have made a difference in the outcome of the election?

  • Daniel Doleys

    While it would probably not overcome Obama’s policies on abortion, if anything I hope his refusal to torture would have improved Obama’s stock with Evangelicals.

    What I find interesting is the inconsistency of thought from both men. Cheney is pro-life and does not want to kill living humans, rightly so, but has no qualms about torturing people. On the other hand Obama refuses to torture, but is quite alright with killing babies through abortion. Neither has a consistent platform and and they each use same worthless arguments to justify their immoral policies.

  • Darius T

    “no qualms about torturing people”

    Since “torturing” people could lead to the saving of innocent lives, it would seem to be decidedly pro-life.

  • Daniel Doleys

    Calling torture “pro-life” is ludicrous. Are so serious. Pragmatism is a horrible ethic system.

    That is the same logic pro-choice people use when they say killing the baby saves it from a life of poverty of abuse. Good ends never justify evil means. Evil means are still evil.

    Being pro-life does not mean you simply seek the least amount of deaths, that is the exact error Obama makes when he only wants to reduce the number of abortions and not make it illegal. Even if his policies did lead to fewer abortions, that does not mean it should be legal. In the same way, just because torturing saves others lives does not mean it is right.

    Being pro-life is standing for the right that all people are made in the image of God, whether unborn or criminals or terrorists. They may forgo their right to life via capital punishment by taking the life of another but there is no Biblical warrant whatsoever torturing someone.

    You need to find your ethics in the Bible, not in some loyalty to a political party or nation. What Biblical basis could you possible provide that would support torture?

    That is not to mention that it was illegal.

  • Darius T

    First of all, it’s debatable that any of the interrogation methods used on terrorists amounted to torture. But perhaps some did.

    Second, you talk about finding your ethics in the Bible… tell me where you find it that momentary pain or discomfort is wrong. Here is the question I posed on my blog recently (I have yet to find someone able to answer it): are humans morally and Biblically justified in executing terrorists? Assuming that is the case, then why is it okay to take their lives but wrong to inflict some momentary pain?

  • Derek Taylor

    There was no debate last fall, mostly because McCain also opposed Cheney and Bush on things like waterboarding.

  • Tom 1st

    We are not morally and (especially) biblically justified in killing terrorists. Killing anyone was NEVER part of Jesus’ plan…never. In as far as we do so, we are not loving our enemies nor being like God.

    I’m not advocating inaction, but neither will I say we are morally or biblically justified in killing terrorists. That’s ridiculous.

  • Tom 1st

    There are numerous points of contention I have with you, DT. But I suspect it will not matter, given my previous discussions with you.

    Your appeal to the passage in John is weak. The point of that passage is elsewhere and you know it which is why you have to say ‘implicitly.’ At best it’s an argument from silence (which is always suspect!) and at worst its complete prooftexting.

    Your appeal to Romans 13 is expected. But that passage is highly debated and as it is the ONLY passage that seems to explicitly indicate your position. I would argue that it is dangerous to base such an important ethical decision on that single passage.

    I will not argue with your assessment of the OT texts. On that, you are absolutely right. However, I would point to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mt, especially the end of Chapter 5 where the character of God is linked to loving enemies (not killing them through some abstracted notion of ‘justice’.).

    Just as importantly, however, I could contend with your statement that the execution of criminals is societies ONLY way to deal with these people. First, that is simply not true. Our job as Christians is to fight for people’s redemption. We are a people of mercy. We love our enemies. We are not showing love, mercy, or fighting for redemption when we execute terrorists or torture them. We are not.

    What I would like to see from you, besides the worn out arguments for Capital Punishment, is a cogent argument on how executing terrorists is an act of love for one’s enemies. Now that would be interesting to see.

    Alright, that’s all I have time for right now.

    Cheers brother.

  • Nathan

    “We are not morally and (especially) biblically justified in killing terrorists. Killing anyone was NEVER part of Jesus’ plan…never. In as far as we do so, we are not loving our enemies nor being like God. I’m not advocating inaction, but neither will I say we are morally or biblically justified in killing terrorists.”

    Tom: So how would you even support putting criminals in prison where their freedom, voting-privileges, health, and family are being taken away?

    The same arguments you just hit Darius with on capital punishment can no be asked of you in regards to imprisonment of non-capital crimes.

    So how is a life sentence in solitary loving your emeny in accordance with your argument against capital punishment.

    As you said, “Now that would be interesting to see.”

  • Darius T

    “What I would like to see from you, besides the worn out arguments for Capital Punishment, is a cogent argument on how executing terrorists is an act of love for one’s enemies.”

    Here ya go, off the top of my head. Looking at it slightly differently, capital punishment is primarily loving toward innocent life, as it protects those who would otherwise be murdered at the hands of the executed. That’s the primary aspect of a love-based argument for the death penalty. If one truly treasures life and loves others as he does himself, he will protect them from the violent.

    A question for you… why do you take Biblical verses which are clearly speaking to us as individuals and apply them to the ruling authorities and governments? Our familiarity with democracy has warped our understanding of the Bible’s approach to politics. And why do you ignore Romans 13? Just because something is only explicitly mentioned once in the Bible makes it okay to ignore? I understand it if it’s not clear what the text is saying or if there’s figurative language involved, but in Romans 13, it seems pretty clear what God thinks of government and what He expects of it. I imagine you don’t actually treat the Word so flippantly on other issues.

    And you didn’t discuss Acts 25.

    I don’t like pitting the God of the OT against Jesus, like they’re different beings. The same God who said to Noah that any man who killed another should be executed also told Christians to love their enemies. We don’t ignore one over the other because our modern cultural sensibilities can’t stomach it.

    Obviously, if you won’t grant the right for the state to execute murderers, then my question regarding “torture” is moot and doesn’t apply to you. I meant it for the typical conservative Christian who supports the death penalty but doesn’t know where he stands on “enhanced interrogation techniques.” To be logically consistent, one should accept both or reject both. You have chosen to reject both; I disagree, but at least you’re consistent.

  • Darius T

    Nathan makes a very compelling rebuttal of the “love your enemies” policy you’re subscribing to, Tom.

    Thanks for the discussion, I’m always interested in sharpening my views and being shown where my arguments are weak. I don’t recall our past discussion(s), but perhaps I wasn’t charitable with you previously?

  • Tom 1st

    Thanks for the discussion, DT. You are right – I reject both.

    Here’s the thing – I understand that you have redefined the question. As far as that goes, if I accept your redefinition, then I see your point and I think you are logically correct.

    That said, the question is not about loving innocent life. Jesus, of course, would want us to love innocents. The radicality of Jesus statement, however, is that he calls us to love our enemies. And this is the point of the question – can you make a case that executing terrorists it he most loving thing FOR THEM.

    (On a related note – I have a very good friend who was a US soldier in Iraq. When I asked him this same question he came up with an interesting answer – one that I find repulsive, but it was at least one that ‘justified’ it all in his mind – he said that killing terrorists was loving b/c the terrorists were bringing the wrath of God on themselves and he, in killing them, was cutting that wrath short…thoughts?)

    Next, I couldn’t agree with you more that the American political system has skewed our ability to see and apply the truth of Scripture. If you knew me, you would know that this is a main theme of my rants when surrounded by friends.

    That said, I don’t think the call to love our enemies is for us as individuals. It is a communal – for the Christian community. Governments do not love their enemies – But Christians do. So my question is not really whether or not Govenments can/should execute terrorists, my quesiton is whether Christians should participate in that execution. The world is not called to love their enemies – we are!

    For me, the Christian community is a polis to itself. It operates in secular politics, but in a different, subversive way.

    Next, Romans 13 does have a figurative aspect (contra your statement). The ‘sword’ is a metaphor. But of what? Some have argued it is war or CP, and others that is something small like a tax collectors sword. I’m not being flippant – I’m merely saying that Paul applied these things to secular governments, but notice in the last vs. of chpt 12 that he says overcome evil with good, not with evil – then immediately he moves from that statement to submission to government. I think the connection is telling, don’t you? (This, of course, means the chapter break is extremely unfortunate!)

    Finally, I’m not pitting the OT God against the NT….well, not anymore than Jesus did when he said, ‘you have heard that it was said, but I say to you.’

    In other words, Jesus supercedes a number of OT laws. Jesus, not Torah, is the supreme revelation of God’s character. And Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (the innocent). This is who God is.


    Will go check our your argument from Acts 25…must’ve missed it.

  • Tom 1st

    Acts 25 – interesting thoughts, my friends. Please allow me to consider them some more.

    First thought – I would argue again that the point of the passage is elsewhere, not with CP. While I think you are correct that we may be getting at Paul’s assumptions about CP, we cannot say that we are getting at something Paul intended to teach. I think this is an important exegetical distinction not only here but elsewhere.

    Second, I find it interesting that Paul is appeal to the ‘rights’ before the state. If we have this discussion in the realm of ‘rights’ then we are leaving all the power of life and death in the hands of the state. However, for Christians, I think life is a ‘gift.’ It is a gift from God – and human beings do not have the ‘right’ to take God’s gift b/c they did not give it. The subtleties of the rhetoric are important – especially in the realm of the abortion discussion (which we are both in agreement on.)

    But those are my initial thoughts. I’ll try to come back with more on that later.


  • Tom 1st

    Nathan (and Darius),

    I think you’re right. I don’t disagree that that KIND of punishment is unloving.

    For me, a ‘Christian’ form of punishing criminals is redemptive and reconciliatory in nature. It seeks not merely to ‘punish’ but to actually reform. So, thinking in terms of reform instead of punishment, it is easy to see how that clearly IS a loving action.

    But you are correct – if we’re just working with a Western conception of justice and a Western imprisonment paradigm, then I think that is unloving.

    Finally, this reform model would not be ‘solitary.’ It is completely communal. It makes no sense to punish someone solitarily, then ask them later to return as a functioning part of society. A reformation model would be communal in nature.

    Was that interesting enough? 🙂


  • Nathan

    Yes, I didn’t mean to imply that in a bad way. I really do find your logic interesting, though I must admit to disagreeing with it.

    You had said earlier that governments do not love their enemies, Christians do, but I don’t think that alleviates you from my question. So should Christians in a democratic society vote against incarceration?

    Or, in light of your response that solitary confinement is not loving, but a communal form of punishment would be, I take it you have never visited a prison. Inmates choose solitary confinement to keep themselves from abuse, etc. In a perfect world your statements merit consideration, but this is not a perfect world and many criminlas have no desire for your theories. As for a Western form of justice, if you think we are unloving, you really haven’t read too much on prison systems around the world.

    Plus, since the government is wielding the sword and you said Christians should not, how can you discipline individuals that would bring them to reformation. Paul speaks of kicking people out of the church in order for Satan to have them in hopes of reform. Paul also said that anyone not willing to work should not eat (not very loving).

    Finally Anninias and Saphira suffered capital punishment under the hand of Peter by the power of the Holy Spirit (not the governemnt).

    Will look forward to your conclusions.

  • Tom 1st

    Nathan, thanks for the response. I will try to answer clearly and graciously, brother.

    I don’t think Christians should vote against incarceration…we can only use what we have. That said, I think we need prison reform – And I think Christians should vote for that. It is lamented by both liberals and conservatives that our prison system, as it stands now, does not work as we would like. Incarcertation, in itself, is not the problem. Our particular system of incarceration is.

    That said, our system may be better (maybe) than others, but that doesn’t make it anywhere close to what it should be.

    Have you ever studied Japanese cultural conceptions of justice? They are based more on honor and shame than on guilt and innocence. They emphasize communal restoration and reformation over mere punishment. The difference is quite important for notions of punishing the guilty and what to do with offenders.

    I grew up in a family of prison guards. My g-pa and 2 uncles are prison guards. I know well how prison’s work. That prisoner’s feel the need to get away from other prisoners just demonstrates my point that our prison systems are NOT working b/c they do not reform people, they only punish them. This is very sad.

    Also, I do not think my finding our system unloving is antithetical to finding the prison systems of other countries unloving. Both systems are flawed – one is just more flawed than the other. But that doesn’t mean either qualify as ‘loving.’

    Now onto your citations of Scripture…

    Paul does advocate church discipline. But the point is ALWAYS reconciliation, NOT mere punishment. This is important to my argument, and I think it actually works against yours.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the reference to those who do not work. Can you explain a little more what you mean? Calling people to participate in the church society as responsible members, acting like believers, is not antithetical to love. It is a call to make sure they persevere in the faith in practical ways. To refuse to do so is to be worse than an unbeliever. Such a call is supremely loving.

    Finally, the reference to Anninias and Sphira isn’t helpful to your argment unless you can demonstrate clearly that every instance of capital punishment is explicitly enacted by the Holy Spirit. This instance is soooo different than anything else we’re dealing with.

    Cheers brother.

  • Nathan

    Tom, thanks for the response.

    Since you do have an idea of prison life then I don’t have to tell you that reform will be next to impossible because we are dealing with criminals who couldn’t care less about reform (at least the majority). I think we can attribute this somewhat to their desperate need for Christ, but you are right to call for reform. However, I think my ideas for reform would still step outside your original argument.

    As for the reference to Paul saying believers should not eat if they will not work, if we are only to have love for people without discipline, how can we keep food from them. But if people don’t want to persevere and participate, are you not left to punish them by withholding food or, at the extreme, to remove them from your presence and hand them over to Satan?

    You will have to help me understand how your unconditional love for your enemy means not to punish them on the one hand, but does allow the church to punish (withholding of food) and excommunicate (if necessary) on the other hand. You seem to be caught in a quandry?

    My point with Anninias and Saphira was merely to point out that extreme punishment did take place in a New Testament model. And I don’t think that every capital punishment has to be proved to be the specific work of the Spirit. Depending on your view of Romans 13, the Holy Spirit has revealed to Paul to give this right to the state. Obviously the state will be judged by God for how it wields the sword.

    However, and this is really more to my argument as a whole. Acts 5 states that this act (capital punishment) caused reform for many, leading many to Christ. Just as Paul expects discipine and punishment for those who are contrary to the gospel and the framework of the church, so too many others will reform because of the discipline they see.

    So discipline, even capital punishment, can be loving to both the perpetrator and those who witness it. The perpetrator (like the thief on the cross) does have opportunity to repent. Some will not repent regardless of the non-disciplinary love shown them. Some will not even if you show them disciplinary love. However many others will.

  • Darius T

    I better comment before I fall too far behind… 🙂

    Tom said: “he said that killing terrorists was loving b/c the terrorists were bringing the wrath of God on themselves and he, in killing them, was cutting that wrath short…thoughts?”

    Actually, I started writing out this point before, but decided against it since I’m not sure that I am fully capable of defending it, though it does seem to have some truth to it. Personally, I don’t think “loving one’s enemies” AT ALL factors into how the government should handle terrorists, so it doesn’t really matter much to me. Loving those who are innocently dying is of first importance, and it is missing the point to apply Jesus’ words on the Mount to the rulers and authorities. The point was that each of us as individuals act meekly toward those around us, even bullies and enemies.

    “So my question is not really whether or not Govenments can/should execute terrorists, my question is whether Christians should participate in that execution. The world is not called to love their enemies – we are!”

    Then why are you demanding that our SECULAR government love its enemies? If all you’re saying is that Christians who find themselves interrogating a terrorist should refrain from torture (however that is defined) or taking part in an execution, then I am closer to agreeing with you (though I would still say that in most cases, I don’t see the moral harm in carrying out one’s duties as a servant of the state with no personal vested interest in the terrorist). But you seem to be saying that a secular government like our own should live by Jesus’ words to Christians.

    I believe you’re reading Romans 12-13 incorrectly (though I would agree that the chapter break is unfortunate). At the end of Romans 12, Paul is discussing not retaliating against an evil person. To someone back then, an evildoer was likely to be an agent of the state or church (think tax collectors, soldiers, pharisees, etc.). Paul then reaffirms this view in 13 by reminding his readers that the authorities, even the ones who abuse their power, are put there by God and have power to punish evildoers. David is a great example of this in the OT… he knew that Saul was committing evil acts, but he was livid with (and executed) the guy who claimed to have killed Saul (I believe he acted similarly on several other occasions with the murderers of an authority figure).

    “human beings do not have the ‘right’ to take God’s gift b/c they did not give it.”

    See Genesis 9:5-6. God specifically gives ALL men (not just Israelites) the authority to take God’s “gift.” This is part of the Noahic covenant, NOT the Mosaic covenant, so it still stands as God’s command to everyone.

    Lastly, Tom, you say you want a prison system that reforms people and reconciles people. But that’s the job of the Church… saying that prisons should be about restoration neglects the fact that man is fallen and many (if not most) convicts will never reform.

    Throughout your argument, you apply Biblical principles to the State which are intended (and you admit this, which makes it even more confusing) solely for the Church.

  • Darius T

    If you want to argue (like Jim Eliot) for Christians removing themselves from democratic politics altogether, I could understand that (though I would disagree), since then you would be avoiding the conflict (that you perceive) between what Jesus wants you to do as a Christian and what God expects the government to do as the ruling authority.

  • Tom 1st

    Thanks again for the response.

    The appeal to the impossibility of prison reform is weak in my estimation. That the prisoners don’t see the need nor care for reform should not inhibit our attempts. I have a friend who is anorexic. That she doesn’t want to change doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need to. Her apathy toward the problem is a symptom of the disease. Reformation involves more than a mere change of action – it involves a change of thought. So their lack of desire for reformation means nothing to my argument. They don’t think rightly and I’m not expecting them to at this point.

    Next, withholding food from people who can access it (quite easily) elsewhere, is not the same thing as killing people. Again, though, the emphasis is on calling them to act as the people of God by functioning within the community appropriately. CP leaves no room for future communal participation. So I don’t think this is a quandary at all. I am NOT advocating inaction or not punishing. I am against CP as a form of punishment.

    I see nothing in Romans 13 that indicates the state is being led by the Spirit – especially in the way Peter was in the book of Acts. This is a highly suspect and dangerous argument, me thinks. I am willing to hear you out more on it, but I think it is far, far removed from the rest of the witness of the NT to the dangers of Rome and its imperial agendas and laws.

    Furthermore, Acts 5 is not ‘Capital’ Punishment. It’s divine punishment. This works with my prior comment to Darius that life is a gift not a right. God gave the gift and he is free to take it. This is a far cry from Capital Punishment where the ‘right’ is reserved by the state.

    I still fail to see how you can say CP is loving toward the perpetrators…though, I can see why you think it is for society and the victims. The opportunity to repent is not the same as reform, and it is not demonstrable that all offenders have the opportunity to repent.

    Besides – repentance involves, implicitly, reformation of action and thought. How are the executed afforded that opportunity again? It seems to me that they are not.

    All that to say – discipline and love are not antithetical. But discipline is for the purpose of reformation, not merely punishment. God’s discipline is for holiness (ala Hebrews 12).

    Sure, some might behave rightly in response to CP, but that won’t change their hearts. As Christians, our goal is not mere adherence to laws, it is actually being good people (in the biblical sense). Character transformation (which is what I’m calling for) is not the effect of CP, even if a transformation of action is.

    Would be happy to clear any of this up, brother.

    Thanks for the discussion, man. Enjoying it.

  • Tom 1st

    I think you have pointed out my quandry quite nicely. I actually find myself more leaning toward Jim Elliot’s position. (Though I am increasingly questioning that position….I’m in process on this one.)

    However, I have engaged people (yourself and others on this page) who don’t agree with that position. Therefore I have attempted to postulate my arguments where YOU ARE, not where I am. Does that make sense?

    I understand you to be a Christian participating in the American political system, thus I engage you on a level that suggests – not how the government should act – but HOW YOU SHOULD.

    When the gov. executes terrorists, I expect nothing less. When Christians advocate that action I have a problem.

    I do not believe in a 2 Kingdoms theory where our Christians ethics are permitted to be inconsistent with our political involvement.

    So, if a Christian is to be involved in politics, then I think s/he should participate in a certain way – in a way that advocates Christian morality. This is not forcing a secular government to do anything – it is acting as a responsible citizen in a way that is consistent with my religious values.

    I think a secular government is incapable of loving its enemies. But I think Christians who participate in that gov. ought to be a voice for mercy and love if they choose to participate. Our moral imperatives do not lie with supporting the state’s decisions, they lie with a Christian ethic which will lay its life down before its enemies in hope that God will vindicate. Can you demonstrate for me where this is contrary to the NT or the example of Jesus?

    If we are in disagreement about a particular political philosophy, then that’s fine. But I fail to see how my position is inconsistent with the NT.

    Finally, I’d like to say again (like I did to Nathan) that I have a huge issue with the ways in which Christians participate in the political process. I believe our involvement in this way has blinded us to the ways in which we might live out the ethics of Christ.

    Cheers guys.

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st,
    Although I disagree with you in various ways, I appreciate that you’ve given a lot more thought to this topic than most people (from your viewpoint) have.

    I’d like to point out a few things:

    1. The Biblical perspective on forgiveness is NOT analogous to the Biblical perspective on sowing and reaping or justice or punishment of sin. From a Biblical perspective, consequences and discipline and punishment reinforce the importance of our ultimate accountability before God. It also has the effect of highlighting God’s overwhelming mercy and grace towards man.

    2. I would agree with you that our culture warps our understanding of these things. But I would argue that no culture on our planet has a greater sense of entitlement or is more divorced from the concept of moral culpability and accountability than Americans. Can anyone deny our heavy aversion to accountability in our board rooms, class rooms, bedrooms and yes, our churches? This is not healthy and it is man-centered. It is ultimately destructive to feed on a steady diet of consequence aversion when we will in fact stand before a Holy God and give an accounting for every idle word, not to mention evil action. That includes every follower of Christ. It’s called the white throne judgment.

    3. I would also point out that the “Just war doctrine”, which Christians (including many U.S. presidents, including Bush) have relied upon for many centuries. It is a well thought out and comprehensive framework from which to view capital punishment as well as war. It draws upon the entire canon of Scripture, not just a few proof texts. It honors essential Christian doctrines and concepts, including forgiveness, justice and a guidance for leaders who face cruel enemies and have innocent people they are obligated by Scripture to defend.

  • Tom 1st

    I deeply appreciate your comments. I have found them gracious and thoughtful.

    Response to 1: Which biblical principles get to be supreme here? The principle of loving our enemies so that the world may know we are sons and daughters of God or the principle of an eye for an eye (sowing and reaping)? I think Jesus overturned that old eye for an eye paradigm with his comments in Matt. 5 and the witness of the rest of the NT. I am unclear how CP communicates God’s mercy to humanity. Can you explain this more?

    Response to 2: You have no disagreement with me here. Again, I’m not advocating inaction. I’m advocating a different kind of action. My position is not antithetical to legitimate accountability – just CP as an appropriate kind of accountability.

    Response to 3: I think we’ll have to disagree about Just War Theory here. Many ethicists and philosophers have found JW to be logically inconsistent and weak at many points. Yes, Christians have used it. But it is far from the only position Christians have advocated. In fact, before Augustine theorized it, the church was overwhelmingly pacifistic. That he advocated it after the Constintinian take over of the church is quite telling in my estimation. So, I disagree that it honors Christian doctrine, including and especially forgiveness and reconciliation. The issue is much more complex than your statement suggests (which, I’m sure, you would agree).

    Also, the question is not whether we should defend the innocent. The question is HOW we should defend the innocent. I think with some creativity and prayer we can come up with better alternatives than either JW or CP allow.

    Thanks for the gracious response, brother.

  • Tom 1st

    I am enjoying our discussion. I am particularly grateful that it is gracious even in disagreement. I pray that this will be a good example to many who participate in the discussions on this page, but do so violently and unlovingly.

  • Darius T

    “The question is HOW we should defend the innocent. I think with some creativity and prayer we can come up with better alternatives than either JW or CP allow.”

    For the sake of the argument, I’ll leave aside the issue of justice for now and deal specifically with this: the protection of the innocent. What alternatives do you suggest that would affectively protect the innocent?

    Furthermore, on a side note, do you find it telling and/or disconcerting that your position is held by most unbelieving enemies of God while most of your Christian brothers disagree with you? In my view, all other things being equal, it’s usually (not always) a sign that a position is wrong if the unsaved world affirms it and the Body does not. Granted, you are perhaps arguing from different premises than the typical liberal pagan, but the end result is still the same.

  • Darius T

    In other words, if the “world” starts running after some issue, before I even think through the issue and come to a reasoned opinion, I tend to already shy away from the world’s view, since it is informed first and foremost by an idolatrous, God-hating heart.

  • Tom 1st

    Darius, I’m going to assume your connection between me and the ‘liberal pagans’ was not an attempt to turn the conversation negatively.

    That said, I don’t care who or what my arguments ‘sound’ like as long as I back them up with good exegesis and theology. I believe I have done so. Most may disagree with me regarding CP or JW, but the ‘most’ if far from all, to be sure. I am squarely within the Christian tradition here – even if it is a minority position.

    My position on this has the risen Christ as its sole authority. This is hardly anything akin to pagan liberalism, brother. Not even close.

    Finally, don’t leave aside the idea of justice. Just don’t abstract it – make it relational. Asian cultures are much better at this – justice and rationality must go together. Punishment, by itself, is not ‘justice’…it might even be injustice. Punishment must be in the context of reform and restoration.

    Genuinely reformed prisoners are not a threat to the innocent. Those who have undergone genuine character change are not a threat to society. Christians of all people have hope that this is possible for even the chief of sinners! But, again, this avoids my question, for it does not acknowledge that Christians are those who lay down their lives for their enemies in love for them. My question is not primarily about protecting the innocent (as important as that may be), but is about how to love our enemies.

    For a good example of protecting the innocent while reforming the guilty, I would point you to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work in Africa. I would also point you to Miroslav Volf’s work “Exclusion and Embrace” and a few others he has penned. He is one who is working creatively for genuine reconciliation and reform in the midst of war and ethnic violence.

  • Darius T

    Nothing negative intended, just wondered what you thought about it.

    “My question is not primarily about protecting the innocent (as important as that may be)…”

    It’s important, yet you ignore it? Yes, Christians are to lay down their lives, but they aren’t supposed to lay down others’ lives. Sure, focusing on reformation will change SOME, but many will never change (since few find the narrow gate). What is to be done for those who don’t change and continue to shed innocent blood? And how are we Christians supposed to protect innocent non-Christians (not discussing eternal innocence here)? Don’t they too have an equal right to reformation and repentance? Why is it okay that they lose their lives while we try to reform their killers? Where did Jesus say that we should value the life of a murderer over that of a relatively good (but equally doomed to hell) citizen? They’re both our enemies in a way, so why love one and not the other?

  • Tom 1st

    Thanks for clarifying your intentions, Darius.

    I am still not convinced that you’ve answered my question. As I do not think reformation of the guilty and preservation of the innocent are mutually exclusive, I don’t see a problem where you do.

    You are correct, many will not reform – especially in a Christian way. That said, our attempts are never futile. When we have worked to create a system of punishment that is based on restoration and not just punishment and is more communal then individual, I believe we shall have a higher ‘success’ rate than you allow for.

    Jesus never said to love murderers over good citizens. You are right. But he also identified with the worst of sinners, brought them into his presence and ate with them – treated them as human beings made in God’s image, and loved on them relentlessly. He refuses to allow them to remain how they are, but he also does not see loving them as antithetical to protecting the innocent (whoever those folks might be). That, and Paul says that Christ saved him to demonstrate God’s extreme mercy for the worst of sinners and his power to save even them. As long as God has the power to save someone, we have no right to take that option away from him or them.

    It is interesting, though, that we even speak of ‘the innocent vs. guilty.’ I believe that dichotomy is overused and not very helpful. There are few truly innocent people (eternal or otherwise). Often society produces as certain criminal. When that happens, the society is responsible to some degree. In this case, the ‘guilty vs. innocent’ dichotomy doesn’t help. I believe we need to move beyond that paradigm in many cases. There are more or less innocent and more or less guilty, but there are few, if any, purely innocent or guilty people. Christians of all people should see the pervasiveness of systemic sin and how we create and maintain systems the produce certain sins.

    I would recommend Volf highly. Have you read anything by him previously?

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st,
    Thank you and please allow me to explain what I mean in #1.

    Forgiveness does not necessarily imply diminished or abolished consequences for a crime. In some cases, it may even result in increased short term consequences. Allow me to illustrate: if my son steals a video game from a store and I catch him doing this, I will certainly forgive him when he apologizes. But this does not mean that I will not take him back to the store and expect him to apologize to the store owner and repay him for the damage he has done. I would also supervise him more carefully – not because I am unforgiving, but because this is a critical opportunity for him to understand the full impact his actions had on others, as well as himself. It will also help him understand the process of restoration and the rebuilding of trust, which takes a long time to rebuild.

    Any time we are quoting from Scripture, it is critical to understand context. The context of Christ’s comments in Matthew 5 are a rebuke of vengeance, not a broad repudiation of justice. Was Christ voiding the system He himself established in the Mosaic and OT law? No. He was rebuking the misuse of this passage because it was abused and distorted by those who would take matters into their own hands (i.e. personal vengeance). You will not find any Scripture that prohibits the pleading and pursuing of justice and law enforcement via government. Instead, you find many references where God demands action from Israel’s leaders, holds them accountable for perverted justice (particularly when the innocent are denied their day in court or when bribery corrupts a court) and then sanctions even secular governments to use the sword (Rom 13, I Peter 2:13). Read Jeremiah 22:3 and Proverbs 17:15 and you will get an idea how God feels about judges and leaders who deny justice to those who appeal for it through valid means. Read Genesis 14, where one of the great steps of obedience and faith on the part of Abraham was to use military means to rescue Lot’s family as well as many women and children. Read these passages carefully and in context and you will see that Christ does not revoke or condemn Abraham’s actions, nor David’s, nor Gideon, nor Samson, nor Joshua’s.

    Finally, you may find it helpful to think of it this way. Think of the damage and enormous pain endured by Nazi prison captives or families in the American South who have still not seen their grief and injustice validated or pursued. Try selling them on the idea that to be a follower of Christ dictates that they must forgive their captors AND fail to press charges or pursue justice through government. They will not accept your view of Christ or his teachings. They will recognize cosmic injustice when they see it. Why? Because it is a misinterpretation of passages like Matthew 5. Because it denies what Scripture teaches about the role of government and courts and is an ultimately distorted view – that of a God who is indifferent to our sufferings and who does not hold us accountable for our actions. On the flip side, if these who have suffered immeasurable harm and injustice can see that God cares about injustice and has provided for it not only in eternity, but here on earth, they might discover a new capacity to forgive, to accept God’s atonement and unmerited grace on their behalf and to trust Him even in the most devastating of circumstances.

  • Darius T

    “Christians of all people should see the pervasiveness of systemic sin and how we create and maintain systems the produce certain sins.”

    I don’t believe that any system causes people to sin… that way lies Marxism. People sin because we are evil. Society does nothing that makes humans more inclined to sin. Perhaps innocent isn’t the right term in this discussion… how about wronged versus wrongdoer?

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st – I do want to say that I agree with you 100% that we can and should pursue a criminal justice model that is far more restorative than it is today. America’s existing system is self-destructive and counterproductive in almost every dimension.

  • Derek Taylor

    Thanks, Darius. Appreciate the comment. I think you make many excellent points about the limitations of government’s ability to properly rehabilitate criminals.

    However, I would point out that our country could merely remove many of the obstacles that prevent Christians and churches from ministering to people in the prison system. Sadly, there are more obstacles than ever (for Christians who wish to operate effectively and to proclaim Christ) by those in government who are actively *limiting* the free exercise of religious expression, rather than protecting this essential liberty that was so specifically and forcefully defined in our Constitution. And perversely, these restrictions are done in the name of “separation of church and state”, which is a) not in the Constitution and b) was intended to protect religious expression, not limit it!

  • Tom 1st

    I had a longer response to your comment #33, but I lost it somewhere. Forgive me that I don’t want to rewrite it all. Trust me that much of it was in agreement with your affirmations…really.
    Here’s the gist:
    -I find your illustration about your son completely agreeable and not at all in contradiction with my position.
    -Again, I am not promoting an avoidance of justice or the pursuit of justice. I am defining justice differently than you do. For me, justice is relational, redemptive, restorative, and communal. It is a proactive justice, not merely a reactive (eye for an eye) justice.
    -Loving one’s enemies is a reversal of or denial of the eye for an eye method of punishment. Whatever that may mean for you theology, I don’t know, but Jesus is doing more than correcting faulty interpretation. He is eliminating certain possibilities (like he does with Divorce and the Mosaic law later). This is not an abrogation of the law, but a fulfillment of it – a heightening of it, if you will. (But this is a quite complex discussion, as I’m sure you’re well aware.!)
    – Again, I’m not intending to pit the OT against the NT, but the OT references to this aren’t valid in my estimation. I do not deny that they are there, but I deny that they are the model of Christians.
    -The role of secular government (as if such a thing exists…the Roman gov. certainly wasn’t secular!) is different than the role of the Christian polis. It is not their actions or rights that I am debating – it is how Christians should think and act in relation to these topics. Should Christians think JW or CP are justifiable, regardless of what the role of how ‘secular’ governments act.
    -That Christ does not rebuke the actions of these people is an argument from silence, really. And I think he does challenge the Canaanite genocides in his dealings with the Syrophonecian woman. If nothing else, this demonstrates that things are different NOW and his disciples should respond differently to those who are considered ‘enemies.’ But that’s a longer discussion.
    -Finally, (per your final paragraph) I’m not advocating that the families of victims not pursue justice. I never said that. The God incarnate in Jesus is far from indifferent. This is not the God I believe in nor is it the God of my argument. The God I believe in pursues justice and wants us to as well. The question is HOW we pursue that justice, not IF we will. I think this is an issue we keep confusing. Maybe it’s my fault – maybe I’m not being clear enough about that – but I am not advocating that Nazi victims be inactive or that American Slavery victims be silent. No, no, no. Pursue justice in a non-violent, loving way that seeks to restore and reconcile the perpetrators to a right relationship with society and God.

    For your comment #36…thank you. I appreciate that admittance. And, obviously, I agree.

    What I’m advocating is not Marxism. As I recognize sin and its effects I also see that society creates systems of sin that produce other sins. Some sins are more prevalent under some systems and others under others systems. I’m not advocating a Marxist stance where sin is not a reality. I’m making an observation that certain cultural systems make room, indeed encourage, certain sinful behaviors. A person’s sin does come down to their choice, but that choice is very much influence, encouraged, and sometimes ‘forced’ by the systemic sins of the culture. This is far from Marxist.

  • Tom 1st

    Man, guys, we’ve certainly turned this into a long discussion! I hope it has been as helpful for you as it has been for me. It’s really helped me articulate more clearly what I mean by certain things.

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st
    Those are helpful clarifications, brother.

    I do agree that our different approaches to hermeneutics shapes our discussion and accounts for some of our key differences. Now, even a strong dispensationalist fully acknowledges that there is a preponderance of examples of grace in the “age of the law” and vice versa in the “age of grace”. This idea that there is a major disconnect between God’s character or ethics in the Old and New Testaments simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It also gives us improper license to invalidate a lot of Scripture – for some people, most of the Old Testament practically speaking, becomes a moot point! The OT Scriptures I referenced give us an important view of God’s character and are substantively consistent with the NT. They aren’t legal stipulations that were specific to the Israelites or to covenant law.

    Now, is it really true that the “eye for an eye” principle ever provided license for personal vengeance and recriminations? No. Sadly, this is an oft repeated fallacy. The principle here actually provided for:
    a) a fair system of restorative justice towards those who had been wronged
    b) community and government to enforce justice, rather than individuals taking matters into their own hands
    c) actually had the intent and practical effect of preventing brutal punishment & retribution!
    This was a very “progressive” concept that God introduced, not a prehistoric ethic for cavemen and savages. It informs modern day jurisprudence and helps ensure that our legal systems are just, even to lawbreakers. (Here’s an interesting link that gives some perspective on this: http://biblicalresearch.gc.adventist.org/Biblequestions/eyeforeye.htm)

    OK – was Christ announcing some totally new concept when he taught us to love our enemies? Again, the answer is no. Proverbs 25:21 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Leviticus 19:18 strictly prohibits vengeance. Many of the Psalms that contain desperate prayers for justice also reinforce the importance of waiting for justice to be meted out God’s way in His timing (e.g. Psalm 35). The book of Jonah, or of the book of Hosea (perhaps the most challenging and heart wrenching story we have in the Bible, outside of the Gospel itself, of undeserved grace and forgiveness), or of David’s interactions with Saul, reveal God’s desire for his people to reconcile enemies and practice powerful acts forgiveness. Note too, that these Biblical narratives that Jewish children learned, such as the story of Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation, or of Joseph’s tearjerker story of betrayal and forgiveness, made these narratives incredibly personal and applicable within the family unit, where they are most effectively learned. These stories were fully woven into the fabric of Jewish culture. Many moderns such as ourselves often fail to appreciate the “progressiveness” of the OT! Have I made my case yet?

    I do agree with you that Christ and the NT “raises the stakes” for us – if anything, expectations of Christians are steeper than for Israel (Hebrews 10:29). But I don’t agree that the character of God changed or that He “reversed course” – that is, from an ethic of vengeance to an ethic of forgiveness.

    Blessings to you, brother. Like you said, we’ve gotten into the weeds, as they say – but I think we did get to the core issue here (of Biblical hermeneutics) which I think is an important thing to discuss here.

  • Tom 1st

    Thanks Derek.

    Let me just clarify that I do not think the character of God has changed from the OT to the NT (though I do think ethics have changed). And I am far, far from a Dispensationalist, to be sure.

    There is plenty of precedent in the NT for suggesting that OT ethics are superceded, and the OT itself is a lacking revelation of the character of God. See the entire book of Hebrews where Jesus is God’s final, authoritative word – not Moses or the prophets. These pointed to him, but are inferior to him. They are lacking in that they are not the apex of revelation.

    So when I say these things, I have no problems saying that the OT is a lacking revelation. The NT affirms this, as does Jesus himself. The church has always believed that the NT fulfills the OT and therefore the OT is lacking in itself.

    The problem, then, is not with the character of God changing. The issue is really that the NT, particularly the cruciform love found in Christ is a superior revelation of God’s character. This superior revelation implies a change in ethics…at least according to Matt. 5 (and other examples).

    I don’t think this is a hermeneutical issue. I think this is an exegetical one.

    Finally, I don’t disagree that the City of Refuge’s were what you have suggested. However, there is nothing in this that inherently must change a person’s character. As the Christian gospel is about character transformation, not adherence to particular laws, I think the City of Refuge model is lacking, too – good as it may have been in its day.

    Last of all – I never said that Jesus was preaching anything unique with his love your enemies statement. But Jesus statements about many things – including things in the Torah – were very unique. Especially considering that he completely ‘reverses course’ with certain ethical allowances in the Torah like the matter of divorce. So the question is not whether Jesus reversed certain moral obligations/allowance, the question is which ones and to what extent?

  • Tom 1st

    Derek – I am enjoying our discussion, brother. I’d like to see some more of your thoughts on other topics as you seem to be a pretty thoughtful guy. Do you have a blog page?

  • Tom 1st

    Oh yeah – one more thing to clarify…

    I don’t think the OT is a moot point. There is much value there. It points to the superior revelation of Christ, it reveals important aspects of God’s character (though in a limited sense next to Jesus), and places us in the larger story of God’s redemptive purposes.

    I just wanted to be clear that even though I see the OT as an inferior revelation to the Word become flesh, I still find it highly valuable and beautiful.

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st,
    First I want to say that I didn’t mean to imply that you view OT as moot. I understand your position a little better with this explanation. I appreciate that you don’t believe that God’s character changed from the OT to the NT. My intent here was to point out that many people and some theologians claim that God’s character somehow mellowed out or that He had some kind of epiphany that this whole judgment and law business “just wasn’t working out”. Your position is obviously a lot more nuanced and sophisticated than this, but sadly, many people do perceive a change in ethics based on this very cartoonish and flawed perspective.

    I would feel uncomfortable pitting books of the Bible as being inferior to one another. II Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, correction and training in righteousness. I fully accept and embrace the reality that God revealed many mysteries that were hidden in the OT. The NT contains many deep mysteries that we won’t understand this side of eternity. But I don’t think we would ever want to say that the NT is inferior or incomplete. God always reveals what we need to know when we need to know it. In many ways, we can appreciate the OT more in this age than they could in the previous, if for no other reason than we can see how the messianic passages and prophecies point to Christ. The OT ages like a fine wine, improving with time – not like a worn out garment.

    Thank you for the kind words, brother. I don’t have a blog- maybe some day soon I will start one. I look forward to future dialogues with you as well. Grace and peace to you.

  • Tom 1st

    I also look forward to future discussions with you, brother.

    As an aside – I don’t know if it was my typo or yours, but I would like to be clear that I do not consider the NT to be inferior. I consider the OT to be an inferior revelation only insofar as it stands in relation to Christ. Christ, not the OT, according to the book of Hebrews, is the apex of God’s self-revelation.

    Just wanted to clear that up b/c I can affirm all of what you wrote in your previous post as it delineates the meaning of II Tim. 3:16 – I believe that passage whole-heartedly!

    Cheers, my friend.

  • Derek Taylor

    Tom 1st – I can definitely see how what I wrote looks like a typo. I didn’t articulate as clearly as I could have. What I meant was this: when we see a much richer revelation of God on the other side of eternity, I don’t believe we will look at either the NT or the OT as incomplete or inferior revelations. I think we will see that they were the exact revelations His people needed – and that while specific covenants and practices varied from age to age, His character never changed. And that He always desired, from the time of Adam, for us to respond to His great love with faith, hope and love, not self determination and rebellion.

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