Effective Altruism?

Peter Singer, the highly controversial ethicist from Princeton, has recently moved into a new area of intellectual endeavor that he calls “Effective Altruism.” Calling on young people to graduate from college, go to Wall Street, and make a lot of money, he seems to have stood his former views on their heads. But wait! Singer is not now writing a hagiographical memoir about John D. Rockefeller, nor does he think the stock market is a good thing in itself. Rather, he wants this money to be made so that it can be given away to third world countries.

Now that does not sound so bad, does it? Certainly generosity and alms giving are taught in the Bible. But there is something subtly out of whack with this. The first such organization that comes to kind is the Gates Foundation, which has helped some five million people worldwide. But then uninformed people remember that the Gates Foundation only exists because of Microsoft, and then they screw up their faces like a persimmon and say, “Microsoft, yuck!”

But when you boil it all down, Microsoft has helped far more people than the Gates Foundation. Jobs, more efficient computer systems, the opportunity for small business owners to be able t be more efficient, and then hire more people. All these and far more have been facilitated by corporations like Microsoft. That company has provided value for hundreds of millions of people. And those people in turn were given the opportunity to be generous to others in turn because they had the wherewithal to do so. Remember what Thatcher said about the Good Samaritan. He had a good heart, but he also had money!

If you would like to read a great evaluation of Singer's new project you read about it here at the website of The Institute for Faith Work and Economics.

Chad Owen Brand


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Social Justice the New World Peace?

Jonah Goldberg's latest book, The Tyranny of Cliches may not be as much of a blockbuster as his previous book, Liberal Fascism, but it has some earth shattering moments. Especially his chapter on “Social Justice.” That phrase is the mantra on everyone's list (or mission statement), from the AFL-CIO (of course) to The Ford Foundation to various speeches given mostly by Democrats. As Miss America contestants have long stood for World Peace, so now everyone and his Auntie are standing for Social Justice.

Goldberg, Deconstructionist Master of the Right, insightfully tracks the history of the term, but, more importantly, demonstrates with rapier precision, that the term itself is totally meaningless, and is simply a tool to be used by master communicators for exercising their will to political power.

The term was coined by Catholic moral theologian Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio in 1840 in a treatise on natural law. For him, social justice was something that was exercised by persons, families, and communities outside the realm of the State. It was a way of emphasizing that alongside “legal justice,” associations and communities should come together to help those in need. It had nothing to do with the State. But by the 1930s when the term was co-opted by Catholic advocates for the New Deal (and worse), in the persons of Monsignor John Ryan and Father Charles Coughlin, progressives in the new political arena of “everybody deserves a living wage, a house, food on the table,” and whatever else the government apparently owed to everyone in the country (Father Coughlin was more radical than Ryan), d'Azeglio's notion was transmogrified into a demand that the State had to supply these things for people so “unfortunate” as not to be able to supply them for themselves. And here we are today with everyone from the Boy Scouts to modern corporations calling for Social Justice.

At the heart of Goldberg's chapter is his exposition of Friedrich Hayek's brilliant analysis of Social Justice. Hayek argued “Only situations that have been created by human will can be called just or unjust. Social justice does not belong to the category of effort but that of nonsense, like the term 'a moral stone.'” Goldberg goes on to say that it makes no sense to speak of Social Justice in a free society because to do so assumes that we should not in fact live in a free society. Rather, the way Social Justice is being employed today the idea is that the State should impose itself into the fray and impose its will to establish this new form of justice, no matter what the consequences. He goes on to cite a UN paper on Social Justice that declares, “Social Justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.” In other words, in order for Social Justice to be implemented be ready to open your door to jack-booted and gun-wielding confiscators ready to carry out the latest phase of enacting justice.

Where will you hide?

Chad Owen Brand


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Tribute to Dad, on Second Anniversary of His Passing

[Today marks the two-year anniversary of my father's passing. Two days after he went into the arms of the Lord, I wrote this tribute. In honor of this anniversary, I am re-posting it for those who did not see it before. Miss you, dad.]

Hey, dad, it was just forty-eight hours ago, that your youngest son, my brother Lance, sent me a text message, stating, “He’s at home with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul, writing about the moment of death, describes it as an experience of “departing and being with Christ,” and that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord.” So, my brother’s words were right-on. I can’t tell you how the last two days have been, only that they have not been what I expected. Some of my theological mentors and friends believe that the doctrine of the “communion of the saints” means, in part, that departed saints have some sense of what the not-yet-departed saints are up to. Believing that is probably true at some level, I just thought I’d write and tell you some things. Some of this I have told you before, but not all of it. The last time I saw you I told you “goodbye,” and, though I think you thought I meant, “see you later,” I had a deep sense then that it was really “Goodbye!”

I got that text message from Lance while I was sitting on the beach with Tina. I had only found out that morning that you had been in the hospital for several days, and that the afternoon before you had gone into coronary arrest. Our family did not want to alarm me to what might just be another in a long line of medical episodes spanning over ten years, especially since we were on vacation, a much-needed vacation for both Tina and me. So they had told me nothing till that morning. But coronary arrest is not just “another episode,” is it, dad? They had to bring you back and put you on a ventilator. I also found out from G (you know, your only daughter) that the preliminary tests after the episode did not look good. BP was down, blood sugar elevated, kidneys shut down, all those bad things that they explain in terms of numbers, as if numbers on a chart, read out to us clinically by a man or woman wearing a white smock, really say anything about what we are going through. The words from G were pretty grim.

We understand grim, don’t we, dad? You had your first heart attack at age twenty-four, bypass at forty-five (that has lasted thirty-one years, not bad!), and over the last years, aneurism, blocked carotids, diabetes, and then, to top it all off, dementia. I can’t tell you how much I have hated your dementia. Much of the last five or six years was lost to you, even though there would be moments of clarity and lucidity. (Sorry for that word, dad, I know you always told me to speak plainly so that every-day folk like you could understand. You were right about that, I have tried hard not to parade my PhD. You will be proud to know that I sometimes tell people it only means, “Piled higher and deeper.”) But I hated your dementia. I did not hate you, I hated it. I even invented names for it, but since mom might see what I am writing here, I will keep those to myself. I know you hated it, too. One day a year or so ago, though I am sure you forgot saying it within a few moments, you looked at G and said, “I am losing my mind, aren’t I?” No grammar check here—that was about as plain as you could put it.

So, here we are. I want to say some things to you, and so, in the hope that maybe you will be able to know that, I am going to write them here. Some of this is hard to say, and if you were still in this age, you might get a little angry with me, but now you have changed, since the Book tells us, “When we see Him we shall be like Him for we will see Him as He is.” Wow! That means more to me now than ever! Since you are no longer a man subject to temptation, I am sure you will be nodding your head, saying, “Yes, let’s get it out. Maybe somebody will be helped.”

I love you, dad, and I have always loved you, as long as I can remember. You taught me how to fish and shoot. I remember when you made me practice in the backyard, casting a rubber plug with my cheap Zebco fishing pole until I could make the plug land inside an old tire halfway across the yard before you would take me fishing. I spent an entire afternoon casting that rubber plug until I got it in nearly every time. Even today I am pretty good with a spinning reel and a fly-rod, and I thank you for that. You taught me how to shoot, and though I never got as good as you, I still love to do it. I suppose one of these days my brothers and I will decide who is going to get which of your many weapons that you have left behind. I don’t know that I am ready to do that anytime soon. As far as I am concerned, they are still yours, dad.

As you of course are fully aware, I am your oldest. I made you a teenage dad by just one week, so we were pretty close in age, in comparison to many fathers and sons. Sometimes oldest sons and their fathers have conflict, and that was true of us. I never liked it, but it happened. You expected a lot out of me as the oldest, and sometimes I lived up to your expectations and sometimes I did not. There were times I wished I had been born third in place of Mike, who came along two years after G and often asked me, “Why do you and dad fight so much,” or Lance, born last, and the least serious of all of us when he was a kid. (Sorry, bro, but it’s true, though you have turned out pretty well in your ‘forties and ‘fifties.) But I was first, and I was first in your line of sight. Yeah, that weapon analogy again.

I never told you this (remember that I said there were some things in my Epistle that you probably didn’t know), but when I was a kid, maybe through Junior High years, when you would get on me about something—whatever it might be, most of the details have escaped my memory by now—I would just take it and be quiet. I would slip off to my room and read, and think about what I would say to you if I had the courage to say it. I thought a lot during those years, because we had a lot of conflicts, you and me. Looking back, I am sure I deserved much of that, but at the time I usually thought that you had gone too far, said too much, expected too highly. So, I just thought about it. “If I had been criticizing me, how would I have done it differently?” “Rather than saying this, I think he should have said that.” Here’s something really interesting, dad. That developed a pattern and a habit in my life of going down deep inside and pondering over almost every issue I faced, “How could I say that differently?” “What is the more correct and communicable way of stating this problem?” As you know, dad, I am a teacher. Many of my students think I am pretty good at it. What I have never told any of them, what I have only shared with the two women most important in my life (and you know who they are) is that my dad made me a good communicator. Well, along with the Lord! You made me go deep inside and to labor for clarity and accuracy in all I say and do. That has never left me in all these years. Maybe the method could have been different, but we all have our ways of learning! Now, here, if you can find a way to read this, I am telling you, “Thank you!” You and the Lord made me what I am in this area, along with some help from my mentor, Tom Pratt.

Oh, yeah, I just mentioned reading in that last paragraph. I know that neither you nor mom made it through the tenth grade, but both of you inspired me to be a reader. Night after night I would watch the two of you read. You read Popular Science magazine and mom read the Bible, that old red leather Scofield Bible that looked like it had been run over by a Mac truck, but only because she wore it out in reading! You read. Of course, through elementary and into Junior High years you read because we rarely had a television that worked. We had one, it just didn’t work. There it sat in the living room with Rabbit Ears on top and a Pepsi bottle perched beside it. But it did not get any TV! You would buy them at second-hand stores and we would be all excited because we were going to be able to watch the whole season of Star Trek or Gilligan’s Island, but then about the seventh or eighth episode I would come home and the TV was out, and then we would not have one for another six months until you found another used one at a garage sale or some other cheap venue. A part me hated that, but what it did was it sent me to Jules Verne and Herman Melville and Zane Grey and Arthur Conan Doyle and Spiderman. (I didn’t say it was all high-culture reading.) And it also sent me to Tolkien when I was fourteen and we were in one of those “The TV is busted” periods. As much as anything besides God’s Word, Tolkien changed my life. Of course, at times you were frustrated with my addiction to reading, as was mom, who might find me in the morning under the covers with a flashlight and extra batteries, having spent the entire night reading through “Mysterious Island.” So, though you put up with a lot of complaining from me and the other three over the TV, and you griped at me often as not for my reading habits, you changed my life again. It happened as an “unintended consequence,” but it happened.

By the time I was in high school and afterwards, I started using some of the speeches toward you that I would work out in my head lying in bed at night. Dad, I guess that we have been “toe-to-toe” at least as often as we saw “eye-to-eye.” We had some doozies! Mom, saint that she is, often would speak to me afterward and say, “Now you just have to understand, your dad grew up in the Depression, and that’s why he is the way he is.” Or, “You know your dad’s father abandoned him and his sister and his mom when your dad was four, and that has left a mark on him.” It was all true. Of course, you were adopted by your maternal grandmother and her second husband when your mother said she could not raise you and your sister. That is why my name is Chad Owen Brand rather than Chad Owen Snyder. (Kind of glad on that one, no bad thoughts toward “Snyders.”) I am glad you were adopted by Charles Oscar Brand. Your birth mother was a real wildcat! When she got mad she would ring the heads off of baby chicks! We did not look forward to going to “Grandma’s house,” and I guess if you inherited some of her temperament, then our battles were understandable. I remember you telling me as a kid that you were your own uncle, and when I figured the whole adoption thing, I guessed you were right. If I had only had some entrepreneurial spirit and better rhyming ability we might have come up with a hit country song, though, “I’m my own Uncle” does not have the same ring to it as “I’m my own Grandpa.”

That reminds me, I probably have you to thank for my love for Western films and Country music. When we did have a TV, it was usually on a channel showing a Western film, or Gunsmoke, or Bonanza. I grew up loving the Duke, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams (the real one), and still rank Shane as one of my top-five favorite films. I remember the night you introduced me to that movie, claiming it was one of your all-time favorites. I also remember that I felt closer to you that night than I ever had before. When I started having kids, introducing them to my favorite movies was one of my favorite things to do, and now they are passing on that heritage to their own children, Tashia with Katelynn, Madison, and Cora, Owen with Buck, and Cassie with Keira and Kameron. Thanks for that, dad.

One of the things that I think about with pride toward you is that you were not unwilling to change. Notice how I put that. I did not say you were “willing to change,” only that you were “not unwilling to change.” The thing that comes first to mind is the race issue. You grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, and when I was a teenager, that was obvious. I remember the debate at the dinner table that day in April, 1968, after MLK was assassinated. I defended the great man, and you denigrated him. We fought that battle for a long time, and not just that night. I grew up, left home, and raised my own family. Then one day about eight or ten years ago, my daughter Cassie told me she was going on a date. When the young man came to pick her up, I discovered that it was a young black man that she was going out with. I had to look myself in the mirror after they left and ask myself, “Did I mean all that stuff that I used to say to my dad when I was a kid?” I decided that I did, and before the second date, I had a long and direct conversation with him about my daughter and my expectations of him, but it was the same conversation I had had with the young men who had dated my older daughter Tashia several years before. I did not change it because he was a young black man. But here is the point, dad. Two years ago I brought my daughter and her black husband and children to meet you, and you treated him the same as you treated any of the spouses of my kids. That’s not necessarily a compliment, you understand! But you were not the Edd Brand of 1968, and I knew that the Lord was real!

But I realize now that I kind of moved too quickly away from the issue of conflict. I have to come back to that, dad, because there was one awful day, and it was not when I was a kid. It was when I was a man, a professor of theology, and a pastor. It was about seven years ago, and, though I am sure you had forgotten about it some time in the last few years, you will recall it if you see these words, since now you are healed of all hurts and sins. It was a day when we were at your house, helping you with some things that needed to be done. In the middle of it, you became very angry with me. We knew that you were changing at the time, but did not know how deep the dementia was working in your mind. But you became angry with me. You said some of the most hurtful things to me that you had ever said. Years of frustration welled up in me, and after listening to you speak, I looked at you and said, “I will never forgive you, and I will never speak to you again.” Mom came up to me and said, “You don’t mean that.” “Yes I do, I replied.” And I left.

I flew back to Kentucky, and over the next days, and even weeks, I thought about what I had said, what I had done. I read the words of Jesus, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive you.” I brooded and waited, and delayed responding to what I knew was the right thing to do. Then one day I looked at myself in the mirror, literally, and the Spirit of God spoke to me and said, “If you do not reconcile with your father, you can never teach another class, you can never preach another sermon, because you are living a lie!”

I know you remember this now. I called you and between sobs and cries I asked you to forgive me for what I had said, to forgive me for my unforgiving spirit. You cried also and begged me to forgive you for what you had said to me that day. Maybe I just have bad memory, but I thought at the time that it was the first time you had ever asked me to forgive you. The next time I saw you, some months later, I think you had forgotten all about that exchange, since the dementia was working its effect on you. But I did not forget, and I will never forget the incredible healing power of repentance and forgiveness. If anyone should have known that, it should have been me. It is ever before me now, and I can’t help but be moved by it in these short two days since you have been gone.

I said earlier in my little note to you that these hours of reflection are not what I had thought they might be. I haven’t been able to remember anything that I am mad at you about. I know they are there, but they don’t matter anymore. I have watched your grandchildren, who virtually worship the ground you walked on, grieve for you in incredible ways. Maybe that’s another sign of redemption, since your grandkids gave you another shot at parenting, and the Lord knows we all fail at that task at some level. You should look at the pictures Cassie posted of you and your grandkids on Facebook. You should have been at Tashia’s this afternoon and listened to what everyone said about you. Remember that Tashia called you “Butterfly” when she first met you, and yesterday her six-year-old Madison was walking around the farm looking for “hurt butterflies” so she could “help fix them.” And she did not even know that her mom called you, “Butterfly.” I walked with my son, Owen, this afternoon on the grounds of the farm in Tennessee, and said, “You know, life is complicated and is mixed with good and bad, but right now all that matters to me is the good.” I also told him that a day would come when he would walk the same ground and talk with his kids about me. It makes me want to be as good of a “Poppi” as you were a “Grandpa.”

Well, dad, it has been forty-eight hours since you left, no, now it has been about forty-nine. You are in heaven with the Lord, and if you get to read these words, know that I love you and am happy for you. I will join you one day, but even that will not be the end of it. Scripture tells us that one day there will be a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God will blow. Then the graves will open and the dead in Christ will rise. You will rise from Denver, I will probably rise from Kentucky. But let’s make a deal, right now. When that day comes, you lean East and I will lean West, and when you see me, grab my hand. With tears in your eyes, you will probably say, “I should have said I am sorry more often.” I will say, “I should have been a more dutiful son.” And then, we will forget all of that because we will have all eternity to enjoy sweet fellowship together in the Lord. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

Chad Owen Brand

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A Tribute to Dallas Willard, the Man from another Time Zone

Dallas Willard died May 8th, 2013, which also happens to be my mother's birthday. Willard was a giant figure among evangelical philosophers. John Ortberg has written a moving tribute to Willard that anyone with an interest in philosophy, or in Christianity at all, ought to read.

Ortber's reflections can be found here


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Cooperative Ministry in the New Testament

The New Testament features many examples of cooperative ministry between churches. Paul commissioned Luke to help the Philippians for a period of time and he also took up offerings from Christians in Asia and other places to help the church in Jerusalem. I have a new article in the 9 Marks journal online that details some of this material.

To see my article, go here


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A Case for Limited Government

I have published an essay called “A Case for Limited Government,” at the website of The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, where I am a Senior Rsearch Fellow. The essay argues historically, philosophically, and theologically for Limited Government. What we have in our country today is anything but limited government. Hoping the essay will be part of a new book that Tom Pratt and I are writing that will make a whole cloth case from Scripture and the Christian tradition.

If you would like too read my essay, go here


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A Real Adam and Eve? A New Evaluation

There has been a long debate over the historicity of Adam and Eve, going back to early theological liberalism (early nineteenth century), a debate that heated up considerably in the aftermath of the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859. Both the doctrines of gradualism and natural selection, promoted by Darwin, eroded what little confidence was left in liberal theological circles for the direct creation of the first couple by God. What was substituted was the notion of the slow evolution of humans from lower primates, who themselves were evolved from older and earlier forms of life.

Evangelicals, however, long held out. Intellectuals among them proposed a variety of theories to explain the apparent discrepancies between “science” and Scripture, including the Day-Age theory, the Gap theory, Catastrophism, Progressive Creationism, and so on. But in recent years many “evangelicals” have given up the task and have simply capitulated on this issue, the issue of the historicity of Adam and Eve, though many have attempted to affirm the activity of God as ultimate creator.

Vern Poythress, polymath and Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, has just published a remarkable essay in World Magazine in which he takes on the claims in recent scientific literature that alleges the the smallest “bottleneck” of human beings that could have existed at any time in the past is in the thousands, though it might be in the low thousands.

If you wish to take a half hour and read this critique of prevailing scientific theory, go here


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Is Christianity Today the New Christian Century?

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has just published an assessment of Rob Bell's theology. While he offers some critique, his evaluation is largely affirmative. Even the little aside comments in his analysis are actually kind of scary. In the opening paragraph he writes of Bell, “He believes the Bible is authoritative at some level–that is, he always tries to understand his life in light of his reading of the Bible.” Does that sound like the ringing endorsement of the authority of Scripture that evangelicals have traditionally affirmed? When commenting on whether Bell believes in divine judgment, that is, whether Bell is a universalist, Galli states, “He says people who abuse and exploit others and creation will not participate in the glorious restoration of heaven on earth.” I get the first part of that statement, but does the second part mean that if I don't recycle, that I will not participate in the resurrection to life in Bell's view?

At several points the article gets really dicey, but one in particular. Galli offers several quotes from Bell's new book, What We Talk Abut When We Talk About God, including this one: “So, when we talk about God, we're talking about our brushes with spirit, our awareness of the reverence humming within us, our sense of the nearness and farness, that which we know and that which is unknown” (page 91). Galli's comment? “Bell believes our knowledge of God is grounded not in doctrine, not in the Bible, the preached Word, the sacraments, our institutions, or even what Jesus revealed (all ways theologians ground our knowledge of God), but in our experiences and our intuitions–especially that sense that many have that there is a deeper reality in, with, and under this life. This is an appeal to general revelation, how God makes himself known naturally to the world.” In the course of the rest of the assessment, Galli indicates that he has no serious problem with such intuitive forms of spirituality, indicating that he wrote an endorsement for Margaret Feinberg's book, Wonderstruck.

Those of us who have followed Bell's writings and career have watched him fall deeper into the morass of murky liberalism. The quote above could have been written by Schleiermacher or even by Joseph Campbell (and no, I am not equating Bell with Campbell). But what is odd is that Galli, editor of Christianity Today, considers the quote from Bell to be perfectly appropriate. What is more, he seems to be saying that finding God in general revelation, rather than in Jesus or the Bible, is perfectly fine and leaves one's evangelical credentials intact.

By the end of the article Galli indicates that he does not think Bell's overall method is right. We do need the Bible, and Jesus in order truly to express that faith once delivered to the saints. But the concessions he makes along the way are troubling.

What would Harold Lindsell and Carl F. H. Henry think? We knew for years that CT was drifting. Is it now becoming the new Christian Century?

Chad Owen Brand


You can read Galli's article here



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When Dowd Sounds like Van Susteren

Maureen Dowd is hardly the voice of conservatism in American politics. She normally toes the Democratic Party line, or, at the least, takes her stand with the left-leaning voices on everything from abortion to foreign policy. But anyone reading her editorial column in yesterday's New York Times would have wondered if her column had been hijacked by Greta Van Susteren or even Laura Ingraham. She blisters the White House and the State Department in light of the new revelations coming out concerning Benghazi. She refers to the original Susan Rice talking points as “mythological” and actually refers to President Obama as “Barry.” She is already getting heat from the political left, but you have to admire her for actually making some of us hopeful that at least one editorialist at the leftist NYT has suddenly remembered what the press is supposed to be doing. While the rest of them are fawning over Obama to the degree that you expect to see him signing autographs at the end of each press conference, Ms. Dowd has remembered what it means to call the Administration to task. For a look at the whole article go here


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A Bridge Too Far? Charles Leiter and an Over-Realized Soteriology

In his classic account of the battle of Arnhem in World War II, Cornelius Ryan details that though the Allies won the battle, they extended themselves more than they should have by going one bridge too far in their planning, causing unnecessary loss of life. Charles Leiter has written a helpful book on justification and regeneration, one that fills a gap at the layman's level. This book has many helpful things to say about the relationship between these two aspects of the doctrine of salvation. At the end of the day, however, I am concerned that the book goes too far in its exposition of regeneration, farther than Scripture would allow.

Let me first say some things about the value of the book. It begins by laying out a biblical doctrine of the nature of sin. It depicts human sin as universal, pervasive, irrational, deceitful, hardening, enslaving, debasing, and defiling. It explains that sin is both internal (a bad heart) and external (a bad record). The book then explains in no uncertain terms a Reformation doctrine of justification. Leiter depicts the fact that in justification, God has “put down his gun,” and given us eternal life (p. 41).

Leiter then gives an exposition of the doctrine of regeneration. He shows, rightly, that Scripture uses a variety of metaphors and images to explain what regeneration means. When I teach the doctrine of regeneration in Systematic Theology I lay out the message in very much the same fashion as this author does. Regeneration means that we are new creatures, new men, that we have a new heart, that we have been given a new birth, a new nature. It also means that we have been united with Christ in his crucifixion and his resurrection. Regeneration entails the truth that we are no longer “in the flesh,” rather, we are “in the Spirit.” We are now seated in the heavenly realm in Christ. We are no longer sold under sin, but have the righteousness of Christ. We are no longer under the law, but under grace, and are not now in Adam, but in Christ (pp. 47-130). All of this is true, and is crucial for Christian people to understand.

At several points the author asserts doctrinal beliefs that are quite controversial. At some of those points I am in agreement with him. In chapter nine he gives his view that the Christian has a new nature of righteousness, and only a nature of righteousness. In other words, the Christian does not have two natures, one of sin and another of righteousness. I agree completely! Christians are “good trees” (Matt 7:15-20). A few years ago the Christian rock group Petra recorded a song called “Jekyll and Hyde” in which they portrayed the Christian life as something like that fictional character. While intuitively we may feel that way sometimes, that is not exactly what Scripture teaches. Leiter also contends that since we have been saved, we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit, and we can never again be in the flesh. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 8:1-11, and I concur. The author also believes that regenerate persons will be in the process of growing in grace and in obedience to the Lord, and, generally speaking, I think that is correct.

So, what's the problem? The problem is not in his exposition of these ideas, but in the inferences he draws from these ideas. I am convinced that Leiter's case is flawed at three basic points: his understanding of “the flesh,” his understanding of the believer's relationship to the law of God, and his failure to examine Scripture texts which counter his main argument.

First of all, what does Scripture mean by “the flesh”? Here is Leiter's definition: “The flesh is the unredeemed physical body viewed as the place where sin still tries to assert itself” (p. 85). In other words, “the flesh” is the body. The soul or spirit has been redeemed, but the body is still a place where sin makes its presence known. This is not a novel idea, but it is not an adequate interpretation of the biblical teaching on “the flesh.” In several places in the book Leiter makes it clear that he is drawing on the work of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. For instance, Lloyd-Jones, in dealing with a passage that addresses “the flesh” in the life of a Christian (Gal 5:17), calls the flesh, “the sensuous part of our nature” (Romans 7:1-8:4), p. 70. Paul reminds the Galatians that they are to walk in the Spirit, and he warns them that they might still walk according to the flesh (Gal 5:16-18). As believers we are not “in” the flesh, but we might still “walk in” the flesh! Paul's language here might be daunting, but it is important to follow the biblical model. The Christian has a new identity in Christ, but he or she also knows what it is like to live in a different way, and that sinful way of life is always luring us back, back to a life that finds its happiness in the pursuit of that which brings momentary pleasure, but which is contrary to God's Word.

The second issue has to do with the role of the law in sanctification, or, as Leiter would put it, in the life of the regenerate. Leiter writes, “The Christian is free from the law as an external rule that contradicts his real nature and desires” (p. 118). He goes on, “The righteous man has no need for such external restrictions, since he is restrained by his own holy nature” (p. 119). For Leiter, the law is internal, written on the heart. And as a result, as we grow in grace, we will have little need for the external law, whether found in the OT or the NT. Really! The Apostle Paul did not concur, since many of his writings contain explicit and sustained expositions of the moral implications of the gospel. In the Reformation Luther generally saw little need for the “third use of the law” (the law as instrument of sanctification), while Calvin believed it was necessary since humans are still subject to self-deceit regarding their walk before God. In a casual reading of Leiter's book one would think of him as more in the Calvin camp than in the Luther camp. Perhaps not.

Third, Leiter fails to examine texts which call his thesis into question. There are many passages which demonstrate that there are real believers who have not progressed in their spiritual walk in the way they should have. The most specific is in 1 Corinthians 5, where a man “has his father's wife.” Paul passes his own judgment to consign the man's flesh to Satan, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Paul considers the man to be a believer, albeit an inconsistent one. Leiter's theology seems to have no place for such a person, but the Corinthian correspondence is filled with such examples.

This is where it really gets interesting. If one compares Leiter's theology to that of, say, Keswick interpreter Watchman Nee, the parallels are fascinating. In his book The Normal Christian Life, the Chinese Christian leader also argues for a life of almost pristine Christian obedience and devotion. The difference between the two is that Leiter believes such a life is based on genuine regeneration, while Nee argues that it comes after a second experience of grace. Leiter would reject this second blessing, but in his theology the net effect is the same. Something approaching Christian perfectionism is the goal.

I have suggested that Leiter is in some ways closer to Luther than to Calvin. If that is the case, perhaps he should remember another Luther dictum. Luther argued that Christians are “at the same time righteous and sinful.”. We never get beyond the proclivity to sin in this life. Spurgeon once said that the really big repentances come late in the Christian experience. The closer you get to God the more you realize that you are not yet close enough. Of all the problems of the Leiter book, the most egregious is that he seems to believe that texts that speak of the greatness of our salvation can be fully realized in this life. I would call that soteriological triumphalism. Our salvation is “already/not yet.” The fullness of our salvation lies in the future. It can be sweet in this life, but it will be sweeter in the life to come. Leiter has taken us a bridge too far in understanding the nature of salvation in this age. In a sense he has done us a service, but it is also important to recognize that his exposition must not be followed uncritically.


Chad Owen Brand


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