Book Review – A Christian Manifesto

Francis Schaeffer wrote A Christian Manifesto in 1981 in response to a growing decline of morality in almost all spheres of life in the west, and especially in America. The premise of the book is that Christians have been largely asleep at the wheel while secular humanists have taken over the public square, and in doing so the control of all government and laws related to morality and right living. This occurred, he says, by Christians taking a myopic view of one issue at a time rather than seeing the broad picture of secular humanist philosophy which had it been seen from the start would have been vigorously opposed. The incremental approach taken by those opposed to God lulled Christians into a slumber that only the stark reality of where we are now can disturb.

My general impressions of the book are twofold. First of all, it is a really well researched and written text. It is short – only 138 pages – but covers a tremendous amount of ground. Much of the historical content is material I had heard before, namely that the founding fathers were generally committed Christians and had set up the United States with that mindset. I already knew that the founding fathers wanted the first amendment not to prevent religion from influencing the state, but to prevent the state from controlling religion as it did in much of Europe throughout the fourteenth thru nineteenth centuries. The detail Schaeffer presents to support this history is quite good, especially in such a little book. Did you know that while the federal government was prohibited from establishing an official religion, individual states DID have state religions and that was not deemed in conflict with the first amendment? In fact, Massachusetts used tax monies to support the state church until 1853.

My second impression is tremendous surprise at how little Scripture is actually in the book that promotes itself to be “A Christian Manifesto”. In the whole book I saw only one reference to how a believer should react to the government expounded from the Bible, namely how David responded to King Saul when he was wrongfully pursued. He ran rather than fought because he saw Saul as God’s anointed king. (of course he also ran from his son Absalom when he stole the throne from David but that was different). It isn’t that Schaeffer doesn’t make logical arguments from the character of God or the history of God’s people, he just doesn’t cite any actual Scripture to support his points. In a general sense I’m okay with that because we know we are to be salt and light to the world while we’re here. Salt is both a source of flavor and a preservative and Christians should take on both roles in the world. It just seems really odd to me that he’d go through all the effort to write this book and spend an inordinately great amount of time on the history of what preachers believed and taught in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without providing a basis. This is especially true given he pretty much slams the secular humanists for not having a basis for anything they believe about government and law (which is correct).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I kept waiting for him to explain why something like the American Revolution was justified in light of the fact that Rome was certainly worse to Christians under Nero than King George was to the colonists and yet the first century Christians did not revolt. Romans 13 is also pretty clear that we should be praying for and submissive to our government BECAUSE no authority exists except that which God himself has ordained. He does do a very good job of explaining the options a Christian under governmental persecution has available and promotes the idea of taking the least aggressive action that will permit obedience to God, but I’m not sure he ever convinced me that revolution is the way to please God in the case of an extremely ungodly government. He repeatedly goes to the concept of Lex Rex by the Scottish 17th century preacher Samuel Rutherford that claimed the law is greater than the king. Rutherford actually based that on Romans 13 in that kings can only make laws because they are given permission by the great Law Giver, God. Therefore, anything that would violate God’s revealed will must be opposed.

To buy into his argument for revolution, you first have to accept his presupposition (actually not his but Samuel Rutherford’s) that there is a difference between government’s oppression of an individual verses a corporate body. For example in current affairs it would be one thing for the government to force a Christian to have an abortion and another thing to force the State of Georgia to violate its own constitution in some way. This is the basic argument he extends to the colonial fight for independence, namely that England was trying to force unjust laws on the colonies as entities. In such cases, individuals who organize under lesser authorities (for example the Governor of Georgia) have the right and in many cases the duty to resist. That’s his point anyway.

I’ll close with this provocative quote from the last page before Schaeffer’s closing remarks.

If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in place of the Living God.

What can I say? I’m still not convinced but I know that after reading about a sneaky way some in Washington wanted to try to force government control of healthcare on the states who believe it is wrong to do it my reaction was “there will be a revolution if they do that”. Still, even with my uncertainty I recommend this book. Given the current times and polar political climate it was a helpful text to prompt questions in my own mind about the role of civil disobedience and even resistance by force by professing Christians.

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Political Christianity

Brian loaned me the book “The Christian Manifesto” by Francis Schaefer. I’ve been reading what I can of it these last few days. I expect I will do a book review on it, but sharing some thoughts on it may be worthwhile as well.

I am appreciating Schaeffer’s main point that if Jesus is Lord, then He is Lord of all. This includes mankind’s political ways. He highlights what happened between the 1940s and 1970s relative to the dramatic shift in Amerrica toward secular humanism, including how liberal Christians aided the movement. He describes liberal Christians as humanists with theological language who are humanists nonetheless.

I guess I will need to be thinking more and more about some of his points. If you read this blog at all, I hope you see a thought process that basically says Christians should not fret and fuss over politics because God’s purposes are not generally political – they are related to the Gospel. He does make a compelling point however that being salt and light means we must be engaged and use the freedom that is peculiar to very few countries to maintain the freedom we have as a result of our founding fathers’ belief that law is greater than king because law is provided first by the great Lawgiver, God Himself.

Overall, very thought provoking for me and I believe I will write more after I get my thoughts in place.

Health Care Cure

I wrote on someone’s Facebook page recently that it would be amazing what would happen if instead of these “comprehensive” health care reform plans (which are really mostly needless government meddling) Congress should decide what issues have 60-70% support and draft/pass one bill per month for the next several months. We’d have a better system that does repair some undeniable problem areas without utterly destroying a system that isn’t particularly broken for 85% of the population.

This post highlights some of what I think those areas are and invites others to chime in as well. When I say 60 – 70% support, I don’t mean me and the 60-70% of people who are closest to me politically – I expect some ideas would not sit well with me but have good solid support from the center-left “coalition”.

1) Let insurance companies sell health insurance across state lines. Even hometown newspapers agree this is a good idea. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-perspec0823insuranceaug23,0,2946061.story). It’s no surprise the Wall Street Journal supports it. We need to let the marketplace compete in real terms and stop forcing people to buy coverage they don’t want or need just because they have the misfortune of living in a certain state. Different regulatory requirements from state to state impede innovation because a company’s investment to creatively solve a problem can only be used in a fraction of the population. It also drives away hungry start ups who can’t compete with well established incumbents in one state. Granted the incumbents got there because they offered a consumer option that was better than the alternative, but that’s not the point here.

A separate but related point is that providers should be able to offer services across state lines. The Mayo Clinic offers remarkable service via tele-medicine to Qatar, but is not permitted to do it in North Dakota because of silly state regulators.

2) Decouple health insurance from (specific) employment. I understand that health insurance companies underwrite the total number of lives in an employee pool, but seriously if they insured me at $X when I worked somewhere they don’t lose any money to continue that same coverage after I leave. It would be so easy to extend COBRA benefits duration to double what it currently is as an interim step so long as you had all the rights as an employee (e.g. not being treated like a month to month customer). Experts have been saying this is an issue for 30 years for lots of reasons.

3) Pass tort reform that would apply to every state as demonstrated in California (very blue state) and Texas (very red state). Premiums have plummeted in these two places by simply capping non-economic damages to $250k (still a lot of money).

4) Do something to control insurance companies ability to revoke coverage from people once they get sick. Clearly if someone lied on an application they should still be able to bump them, but if the information was available to the company at the time they offered coverage and the company still elected to insure the person, they should be prohibited from dropping coverage. (P.S. Very grateful to a very liberal friend of a friend who pointed out to me that this issue – known as rescission – is a bigger problem than I ever realized.)

5) This isn’t something I’m very much in favor of, but there seems to be good support for creating a government funded high risk pool to let insurers hedge their bets against the kind of people they typically deny coverage for, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

6) Repeal the medicare payroll tax and the accompanying joke called “earned income tax credit” which just aims to repay lower income earners for what the government took from them in the first place. Rich people are already funding poor people’s social security and medicare so let’s just stop kidding ourselves. (okay – this is just something I made up but I will never understand why we tax people like crazy just to give them their money back so they can have a free ride)

7) Prohibit doctors from taking payment from medical device manufacturers so they do not focus on their meal tickets instead of better, cheaper or less invasive technologies/procedures. There are huge conflicts of interest in this area, especially in orthopedics but other practice areas also.

8 ) Find a way to promote total case management over the duration of an illness/condition. This would mean better cooperation between providers, capping the total monies available to all parts of the health care delivery system to help ferret out waste such as rerunning tests and doctors visiting patients on rounds not because of medical necessity but simply because they had free time and a charge code. It would help the problems of fragmented care and medical errors tremendously. (5x as many Americans die every year from medical errors than from being uninsured).

8a) We need to transform the current year by year pricing mechanism to a multi-year model. Paying for per patient per procedure on a yearly basis penalizes innovation, quality, results and entrepreneurship. No other segment of our economy acts so counter-productively. Creating a multi-year system will provide incentive to do something in year one that would reap medical and financial benefits in year 3, driving down overall costs in the process.

9) Promote transparency of provider quality so we can make educated consumer choices like we do everything else. I actually believe this is the #1 problem in the whole system – we live in a free market system but none of those principles exist in health care delivery. Paying doctors on results of their performance not number of procedures would be an attractive way to accelerate this idea.

Being Tolerant

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the liberal Democrat claim that conservatives ought to be more tolerant. What a joke.

A good friend of mine (AM) has a friend (DocJess, if you read that earlier post) who introduced herself to me because of some common interest. I was genuinely pleased that she felt comfortable doing so and told AM about it. He told/warned me that he didn’t know two people more politically opposed to each other. I appreciated that but given he’s pretty hard core Democrat and I love him to death, I wasn’t worried.

Well JW and I stated corresponding a little and she sent me (in her words) an opening salvo of information on why we ought to destroy the current health care system and move to either socialized medicine or at least single payer. I appreciated some of the information she provided and while suspicious of how skewed the data points were found that there were lots of things that I actually agreed with her on. Unfortunately, she never really seemed to care about the elements on which we would agree (e.g. de-coupling health insurance from specific employers, treating patients as one case instead of the constant handoffs from one provider to another with each one starting from scratch, etc.). Part of her plan to subdue me with salvos was pointing me to her far left blog which I began reading every day to get the side of the story I wasn’t going to hear on Fox. I’d actually started trying to watch CNN and even MSNBC but it’s so hard to stomach it sometimes (especially MSNBC).

So when I’d read something on her blog I’d chime in with another perspective expecting a tolerant exchange of information. Do you think that happened? Of course not. There were a couple of posters to whom I am very grateful for their patient explanations of their position but mostly what I encountered was a lot of hate speech directed at anyone who didn’t agree with their point of view. This included things like calling all people who disagreed with them “wingnuts” and linking to Youtube videos where creationists are deemed less intelligent than “retarded” people. Some other examples (directly from the blog of these enlightened tolerant people):

I’m hoping that President Carter’s comments lead to a legitimate discussion and condemnation of not just racism, but the misogyny, homophobia, Anti-Semitism and other bigotries that afflict so many Americans Republicans.

I listened last night to some of the right wingnut talking heads explaining how it wasn’t really racism, it was a true objection to “their country” being sold out from under them. Funny, all of the wingnuts seem to be white folks. Mostly men. One of them said Carter’s comments were surprising, since none of this came up during the campaign. Idiot.

all those good christian bible thumping republicans seem to forget to open the good book and read it…

I’ve written, oh…one or two posts on health care which provide base data. I thought it might be helpful to put them all in one place so you would have this data the next time you need to speak truth to morons power people with whom you come in contact.

I’ve bowed out as graciously as I know how to but to me the question is what is the response of a Christian to this type of political environment?

Well, first I wanted to remind myself that we are living as aliens and strangers in this world. We need to be far more concerned for the eternal home of people like AM and JW than we should care about whether or not we have universal healthcare or not. Sure, the Bible does indicate personal responsibility is important and each one should carry his own load, but the main thrust of the Bible is that sinners need a savior and absent true repentance they will all spend eternity in torment. We need to be on the search and rescue squad more than we need to be on the political debate team.

I was convicted that I should have been better informed about what I was getting into from the start. Jesus said “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I didn’t do that. A wise man would have looked harder into the history of the posts to determine in advance whether it was a place I would be accepted or even trusted. I would have soon found out that the vast majority of posters on the site pretty much disdain anyone different than they are and look down on conservatives with a self righteous moral superiority. I could have spared me and them the heartburn of the last week had I followed the Lord’s direction.

Of course I consider the fact that our Lord predicted we would be reviled. Unbelievers will revile us. People whose total hope is in this world will get angry when you challenge their ideas on how to improve it. They have no choice. God has planted eternity in their hearts and they are trying to respond to it by futile efforts to make this life better. Of course they will revile you if you stand in their way.

What’s the take-away? People are generally as intolerant as they are extreme. It’s true in all areas. Political liberals far left of the mainstream are not tolerant. Born again believers are intolerant. Hopefully it’s on those things that matter like how you get the heaven and the meaning of life, but we are just as intolerant as they are. Are we? When we meet someone who says something as offensive to God’s glory as “no universal healthcare” is to a liberal, what’s our reaction? Do we vehemently promote the glories of the King of Kings like liberals vehemently promote the wonders of government healthcare? Who do you think has the better reason to rise up to the offense?

Bibles and Backsides

So when I was preaching last week on the “one anothers” of the New Testament, I included Romans 12:10 as one of the passages I wanted to cover. Here’s what it says:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

When we talked about showing honor, I used the example prevalent at our church and many others of putting bibles, notebooks, purses, etc. on benches, pews or chairs to save seats for ourselves. I made the point that there may be reasons we do this other than outright selfishness, but that’s not the same thing as outdoing someone else in showing honor, or as some translations say “prefer one another in honor”. The practice makes it difficult for larger families to find seats together because groups of two or three people just take whatever spots are convenient for them or where they are used to sit instead of looking for the somewhere that there are only 2 or 3 open seats. It’s also intimidating to new attenders who don’t want to step on someone’s toes and so instead the wander around longer than they really should have to looking for a seat, the whole time feeling like everyone is looking at them. The point of the example was not that we should or shouldn’t put bibles on seats, but that we have many opportunities to obey the command to prefer one another in honor and when we don’t we are sinning.

I was actually quite flabbergasted by the responses I got from people. Rather than reflection on whether or not they were failing to honor their brothers and sisters, the vast majority of comments I got were sarcastic one liners about their bibles or excuses about how hard it is to get a seat when you don’t do that. Only a few people said anything close to “thank you for that reminder – I need to make sure I am not letting my casual behaviors demonstrate my lack of obedience to this command.” One person who I love dearly said we ought to do like the old Baptists did and buy seats and put our names on them, to which I replied “yes, and then let other people sit there instead of us.”

The thing this pointed out to me is how quickly people defend themselves when confronted not only with sin, but with the possibility of sin. I asked myself what would the godly response have been to that type of situation. I think King David nailed it.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24

There are lots of “judgment calls” we face on a daily basis as Christians. When I tell my son I can’t look for his toy right now, am I being selfish with my time or honoring my employer by working on this project instead? Is enjoying this dessert a moment of weak gluttony or a way to honor the person who made it for my enjoyment? I could go on forever with other examples. What should our response in these things be?

We should first of all know that even as Christians, our hearts try to deceive us and it is easy to get distracted in our battle against sin. Sin itself is especially deceptive and does what it can to fool us into thinking that we’re doing right even as we’re doing wrong. We need to be praying regularly that God would search us and show us our own hearts as He sees and knows them. We need to be asking those around us who love the Lord and love us to tell us whether they see sin in our lives. When someone does approach us with the possibility of our sin – whether personally or from the pulpit – we need to graciously accept and consider it so we can repent of any true sin. If our reaction to the prospect of our sin is to deflect it or defend ourselves we will never be transformed into the image of Him who knew no sin.

September 11 Reflection

I was working for Marsh and McClennan at the time and in Boston giving a presentation on business continuity management and crisis management. I will never forget the calls to our team outside the room about the first airplane strike. One of the senior people on our team interrupted the presentation with “A plane as just run into the World Trade Center in New York. This is not part of the exercise. This is real.”

The first plane hit our New York offices directly. I didn’t realize it at the time but one of my colleagues did. He was with us in Boston only because of screw ups that delayed the scheduling of this Boston presentation. Otherwise he would have been working in the office and killed in the attack.

There are far too many details to share in a forum like this. Marsh lost nearly 300 employees that day. It included hosts of people who came to New York from all over the country for training sessions and team meetings, including Bill Moskill who had the office next to mine in Cleveland and was in New York for a meeting of the Construction Industry Practice.

I wish I could say I saw nothing but people rising to the occasion but it wouldn’t be true. In addition to observing many people who tried to take advantage of the situation, I was surrounded by great people who simply broke under the enormous stress of such a harrowing event. I acted reprehensibly toward a colleague – completely insensitive to the likely loss of her friends while worried about recovering IT systems – which thankfully was brief and forgiven. I also was able to speak to wives of those lost who were misled by well intentioned but uninformed news outlets that their husbands were okay only to find out later that they were killed.

I suppose the biggest legacy for me having known so many who were killed is that none of those who perished thought that Tuesday would be there last day on earth. People often ask where God is in these things. The Bible is clear that sin has consequences both here and in eternity. God’s goodness is shown to all those who will listen in the form of His Son who took the punishment for our sin on Himself simply so we could live with him forever.

He doesn’t promise us to live long lives with painless deaths in our sleep. Expecting that is presuming upon His goodness and patience. Isaiah 55:6-7 says “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. You may not have tomorrow.

Blackberry Woes

In an effort to remind myself that pride goes before destruction, I tried to “fix” my blackberry curve last night. I have not been overly careful with it and the top of the faceplate was cracked and broken from all the times I’ve dropped it so I got a new faceplate on eBay and figured I would be set. After all, there’s a guy on YouTube showing how to take them apart so how could I go wrong?

Well, let me see how my pride showed up in the process:
1 ) Did not read anything in advance about the process of doing this
2) Did not do homework on the best place to find replacement parts – went straight to eBay because of course I know that eBay would be cheapest (it wasn’t)
3) Did not think about the fact that one of the screws needed to keep the housing together was in my office because I knew I could make it work with only one screw
4) When it arrived, I didn’t even watch the whole YouTube video once thru to figure out the whole process and what obstacles I might face
5) Of course, when things wouldn’t move the way I wanted them to in the disassembly, I just forces them because I couldn’t do anything to harm it
6) While I watched a video on taking it apart, I didn’t look at a single resource about putting it back together because I knew I could do it
7) I started this whole “repair” at 11:05pm because I knew I could finish it quickly and get to bed in short order

I suppose it could go on if I were truly introspective and less groggy. Suffice it to say I was up later than I wanted to be last night not only not repairing the modest problem with my blackberry, but actually making things considerably worse. Now I have to order a whole new housing (not just the faceplate) and new screws (which I stripped) and start from scratch, which is perhaps what I should have done all along. Or maybe, just maybe, I should have taken the thing to someone who has actually opened one up before to ask for help instead of believing myself to be perfect and invincible.

How many other ways does this kind of pride show up. They are as many as the sands on the beach. Of course the most devastating way my pride shows up is in the many times and many ways it insults God. Of course I can grow spiritually when I miss days in God’s word. Of course I will be a blessing to people when I’m not praying for them regularly. Of course I can do just this one little sin and have it make no impact on my walk with the Lord or with fellow believers. Of course I can treat my wife like I would never treat any other sister in Christ and expect it to have no lasting results.

All these demonstrations of pride are much worse than my silly blackberry which can be fixed for another $30 in parts and a more patient approach. These sins have consequences that are eternal – they require payment because a holy God says that all sin must be punished. Each time I do them I add to the weight of sin that had to be paid for by Jesus on the cross. In one sense it’s true that Calvary happened 2000 years ago so the sin was already paid for by the time I did it, but is that the response you want to give when you see Him in Glory, Christian? Well Lord, since in my time/space continuum you had already died on the cross I figured it was no big deal. I also can’t forget that my sin – even if it’s not directed at anyone else – has an impact on the body of Christ. Annias and Saphira’s lying about how much of their money they gave the 1st century church didn’t impact anyone but their own walk with God and yet God killed them for it.