Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Christianity and Copyrights

I have recently been reading a book called Against Intellectual Monopoly, and found an interesting article entitled "Christianity and IP [Intellectual Property Laws]." The author takes the position that the laws of the State are only legitimate and worthy of obeisance insofar as they comport with God's law. Since ideas cannot be owned, says the author (Paul Green), then federal copyright laws are arbitrary manifestations of the state alone (not God) and bear no moral weight for anyone. In other words, according to Green, not only do the Scriptures not speak about intellectual property rights, but they cannot reasonably be used to argue in favor of the monopoly on ideas which copyrights or patents represent.

Some Christians believe that the State, as a "minister of good" writes laws which any and all citizens are morally required to obey. According to the author, it is an incorrect reading of Scripture to believe that any and all laws created by the state are good and must be obeyed. He points out that Romans 13 was abused by Hitler to "neutralize" the Christian churches; certainly, most will agree, WWII Germany is a good example of a state that was not "good."
Romans says there is "no authority except God's" – that is, if it is not God's law it has no proper authority (but we should be prudent...for the Lord's sake and our own...) Only in so far as the state is punishing an actual wrongdoer should we support (including by taxation) any action from our conscience rather than just prudently comply due to the threat of official "wrath."

Another interesting insight near the end of Green's article:
Regarding prudence in the face of an immediate tax demand, Jesus enlightened his disciples when He said in Matthew 17:26 "the children of the king don’t have to pay taxes… but we don’t want to make these tax collectors angry… pay the tax for you and me."

His argument being that Jesus did not view the State's rule as binding upon the conscience or posessing an intrinsically moral quality; rather, Jesus obeyed the temple tax so as to "not give offense" (ESV). So what is it, guys? Does the State write good laws? Or its laws only good so far as they reflect God's will? Also, then, is Green correct regarding what he says are the implications of this for copyright laws?

Another interesting article dealing with Copyrights is by Gary North, which I also recommend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Out to Sea

Josh is going to be away this week, because he is joining the guys from Alpha & Omega Ministries for their cruise. I don't know many details, but I do know that when he called me from the airport he was sitting next to Gary Demar, which - even though name dropping is not classy - is still pretty cool in my book. I'm sure he'll be blogging about the highlights when he returns next week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Book Review: Tactics by Greg Koukl

For anyone who is familiar with Greg Koukl, they know that he is a very thoughtful man. This book is no exception. Tactics is basically a handbook on how to be an ambassador for Christ. It is broken up into two parts: The Game Plan and Finding the Flaws.

The first section deals primarily with an overview of his approach. The most helpful chapter is the one on the "Columbo Tactic." This tactic, named after the famous T.V. lawyer, is to ask questions. Asking questions in an evangelistic/apologetic situation will disarms the person you are talking to and help remove unneeded barriers and emotions. Further "[a]sking question enables you to escape the charge, 'You're twisting my words.'" Koukle provides different questions that will guide his reader in using the Columbo Tactic effectively.

The second half of the book deals with different ways to spot flaws in someone's arguments. One of my personal favorite tactics in the "Suicide" one. This tactic is uses to show that a particular view or argument is self-destruct, i.e. it kills itself. As a presuppositionalist, this is one argument and tool that I find extremely useful in discussions about the Christian faith. Koukl does a great job in illustrating just how to use this tool, which can be a powerful weapon when wielded properly.

This book is well written and easy to understand. I would have no problem handing this book to a new or young believe to equip them in sharing their faith. Koukl takes an evidentialist approach to apologetic, but that is not on the surface of every page and when it does come to the front, he does not linger on it for long.

The Myth of the Christian Nation

Openly gay and non-celibate Episcopal church leader Eugene Robinson bestows the Lord's blessing on Obama's inauguration:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Perspicuity of Scripture and its Implications

London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 Paragraph 77.
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.( 2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)

I begin with the LBCF Chapter 1 Paragraph 7 that clearly (no pun intended) teaches the perspicuity of scripture on the matters of salvation and redemption. This biblical truth sets Christianity above all other religious claims. For example, the Bahai faith teaches that revelation is a manifestation of divine ideas that don't actually give transcendent unchanging truth. Or Islam that teaches that Allah is unknowable, or the Gnostics who believes in secret knowledge, or Buddhist that believe you should empty yourself of thought in order to reach nirvana. All such views of revelation are self defeating, undermining the very claim of having divine revelation. But in Scripture we have the very thoughts of God communicated to man by way of revelation in the form of propositional truths (Deut 18:18, 1 Cor 2:16b, Col 1:26). This of course is what makes the gospel news (Rom 1:16). We know that it is news because it disclosures the truth of the only way of man's salvation, which others wise would not be knowable (Eph 2:12). This is a wonderful truth that we can know truth! And that those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. This has many implications. It means that the gospel is to be known and understood; it is not meant to be some unsolvable conundrum or paradox. But rather it is the very Word of God spoken to man that is able to save our very souls! (Jam 1:21) With this being the case it means that churches have no excuse in getting the essential gospel message wrong. It can not be the failure of the all wise God who has sufficiently communicate his will to man through the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jud 3). But rather the failure of the saints, or supposed saints, who have in some cases for some reason, decided to distort gospel truth in order to promote some ulterior agenda.

But that being said, true saints love the gospel, some are willing even to die for it. However, there are still some challenging implications for churches that have the gospel and believe in the perspicuity scripture. First, it implies that we should be busy with evangelism, after all we have the good news (Mark 16:15). But secondly, and this is where I have observed some deficiencies, we should be training up other man in order that the gospel can impact the church of tomorrow. Paul instructed Timothy that he was to entrust the gospel to other faithful man, who in turn would be able to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). How could Paul say this to Timothy if he didn't have a degree in theology? The reason he could instruct Timothy this way is because of what he was entrusting to him; namely the perspicuous teachings of Scripture concerning salvation in Jesus Christ. Now of course there is much need for scholarship and higher academic training today, but we can't make such training the necessary prerequisite for church leadership or missionary work.

So my challenge would be this: Does your church right now have men ready to the lead after the current leadership is no longer there? Thank God for the perspicuity of scripture, which allows us teach timeless transcendent understandable truth to all people from every walk of life. Lets us make the most of what God has revealed to us in scripture for the generations to come. Enough said.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Regaining Perspective During Hard Times

I have been thinking a great deal about the economic situation we find ourselves in. As a young person with two children, I find myself tremendously angry with the older generation because I know that it is they and their entitlement mentality which will be enslaving my children and I for many many years paying off the massive debt that they have accumulated for themselves in a matter of a few short years (federal deficits result in inflation, which is a form of hidden taxation which hurts low-income people the most). I find myself reading books on the Great Depression (Murray Rothbard's book America's Great Depression is quite good), and thinking about how things will turn out in the long run. "Will massive inflation set in?" (There's really no doubt that it will; I just think about it a lot.) "Will I be able to put a roof over my childrens' heads?" "What kind of world will we live in three or four years from now?" "Will America still be standing, or will it eventually collapse, as all Empires have in the past?" "Do I need to learn survival tactics and other stuff that crazy mountain-men are experts at?" These are questions I find myself laboring over. And they are the wrong questions for me - as a person who loves God and loves His glory - to be laboring over.

What I'm trying to say is, I've lost perspective. I have focused intensely on the human side of things, on the fiscal side of things, but I have lost focus on the big-picture questions about what economic downturns mean for the promotion of God's glory. Historically speaking, economic downturns usually mean religious revival (a subject which probably deserves further study and consideration in times like these, to be sure). This is of the utmost importance to those of us who love the glory of God and want His name to be delighted in above all else.

I really want to thank John Piper for the video below because of the encouragement and focus it helped me to regain. I hope it will benefit the rest of you as well.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Predestination in the 21st Century

Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?

A: He cheated
B: He's lucky
C: He's a genius
D: It is written

And thus begins one of the most beautifully done films in recent years. A stark contrast to the dark and emotionally complex world of Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire is as uplifting and generous as the blurbs hype it up to be. As a Christian, however, my primary interest in the film stems from the fact that predestination is central to the entire story.

The film follows two narratives; one running in the present surrounding the events of Jamal's success on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the other narrative following events in his life which gave him the answers to every question he is asked on the game show. Though it could initially be seen as pure luck or massive improbability realized, Jamal seems to believe that his success on the show has been predestined. However, he does not believe that it has been predestined simply because he is destined for success and money; rather, he believes that he is meant to be with Latika, his love interest whom he has been separated from for years. Jamal claims that he went on the game show in hopes that Latika would be watching. Jamal seems to have an almost fairytale trust and belief that his correct answers have been "written." Though the source of this predestination is never named, I presume that given Jamal's Muslim faith and the phrase "it is written" (a decidedly Muslim phrase), Allah is the one Jamal sees as ordering the events of his life.

More metaphysical than spiritual, however, director Danny Boyle bring this predestination to the forefront; as Jamal gets each question correct you begin to sense that something larger than life is going on here and that there are other forces at work in the universe bringing Jamal closer and closer to the final question. In the end, Jamal trusts so greatly in the forces at work that he literally guesses the million dollar question. I won't spoil whether he gets the answer right or not, but the audience knows that if Jamal gets the question right, then he is destined to be with Latika. It's as simple as that.

The film is upfront about what it has to show from the very beginning. From the earliest parts of the movie, you know that Jamal Malik gets all the questions up to the last one right. You know that he survives all of the events in the flashbacks that bring him to this point in his life; you just want to see how it all happens. The interesting thing is, that's sort of what predestination is like. Detractors of predestination argue that our actions have no meaning if they are already decided beforehand; Jamal, however, seems to believe otherwise. Though God knows everything that will happen (He has determined it already, after all), we still must do what He has planned, and sometimes it's as interesting to see things unfold as it is to know the ending ahead of time.

Since the film is not direct about the nature of the destiny Jamal experiences or the source of it, it would be difficult to get into the doctrinal minutiae of predestination or the fact that this is not a Christian form of predestination being presented. To my mind, the predominantly interesting fact is that any movie could be shot in this day and age which presents predestination as a positive thing and not as a grim and fearful "doom."

A beautiful, emotionally rich fairytale, it is really hard to think of anything negative to say about the film. Many Americans won't be interested in the film because about a third of it is subtitled in Hindi, but my hope is that the positive word of mouth and the potential flood of awards will make this movie the sleeper hit of the year. First 28 Days Later, then Sunshine, and now with Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle is on a roll in my book; I can't wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evangelize Your Mugger

My 10 Favorite Discoveries of 2008

1. The music of The Gaslight Anthem
2. Audiobooks
3. Ron Paul and the Liberty Movement
4. Abraham Lincoln
5. My new son, Amos
6. Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover
7. Discovering that it's okay to ride your bike to work
8. Learning how economics works from the studs at Mises.org
9. Rock Band is a family activity
10. Finding out that collecting vinyl records is a cheap and fun hobby

Revolutionary Road: The Cuts Get Deeper

Perhaps the cliched reminder that Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet were in Titanic together is unnecessary. Perhaps. But they were, and that makes this movie sort of a big deal. I actually hated Titanic, and as such I just imagine that had the two lovers survived the sinking ship this movie would be a recounting of how their lives would have turned out. Skillfully acted, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins (the man can do no wrong!), and paced just the way Sam Mendes knows how to do it (think Road to Perdition with less guns), if you give it your full attention, this film is, to say the least, earth-shaking.

Adapted from the novel by Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road takes place in the 50's and tells the story of Frank and April; two people who, like all eventually married couples, put their best and wittiest feet forward when then first meet. Before we get used to the superficialities, however, we are whisked into the future where the couple has two kids and a marriage that is on the rocks. Frank is having an affair with a young secretary from work (a job which he hates) whom he has convinced he is of some importance around the office. Meanwhile April is a housewife with a wandering spirit who yearns to fulfill the dreams of her youth. She cries over the kitchen sink and fears her whole future will be spent performing repetitive tasks cleaning house and caring for her children.

One night, April conceives of a brilliant idea. If they would only move to Paris, she could work as a secretary and he could find out who he really is, trying jobs that are more suited to him or doing whatever it is Parisians do all day (probably eating cheese and drinking alcohol; YES!). He agrees, and soon they are both walking with lighter steps, telling their friends of the plan, and otherwise living a liberated life.

April soon discovers she is pregnant, and Frank is convinced that Paris will never happen. He is soon drawn into his job, and his reluctance to follow through on their plan becomes obvious. When Frank discovers April is desperate enough to make their dream happen that she would attempt an abortion on herself, everything hits the fan, and worlds collide.

I will not go any further and spoil the remainder of the film, but I can at least say that I have never seen a more brutal, violent fight between two selfish sinners. They manage to tear each other to shreds without laying a hand on one another.

A few random thoughts about the movie come to mind.

1. It is refreshing to see an unglorified presentation of an affair in a movie. Frank's affair with the secretary from work is, to say the least, unfulfilling, shameful, and full of superficialities which have to be kept up while he's at work. After his first rendezvous with her, he comes home late to an smiling, apologetic wife and two children singing "Happy Birthday" over a beautiful cake. Few things are as haunting to me as seeing Frank's smile being forced through a veil of tears by birthday candle light.

2. The issue of abortion is prominent in the film. April clearly views an abortion as the solution to the entire dilemma. But if she kills her baby, she believes she will be telling the world that her children are a burden ("a punishment?" Frank suggests at one point). The issue of the morality of such a thing is the elephant in the room, but it is not an obvious obstacle to the Wheelers. Clearly they are pragmatists who are torn between doing what they want and becoming the kind of people they will despise when it's all said and done. I wouldn't be surprised if some people view this movie as a toned down "Cider House Rules" where once again the argument that "back-alley abortions will resume if Roe v Wade is ever overturned" comes out again. I never got the impression the abortion is the heart of the film, however.

3. The real point which I took away from the film is that selfishness and marriage are totally incompatible. Frank and April are two sinners who are selfish through and through, with different dreams, different ambitions, and no moral compass (except perhaps the opinions of those in their social circles) to tie them together. I'm going to take the Christian Hedonist approach and point out that their affections are all wrong. If they would make the happiness of their partner the ultimate goal, then things would change entirely. The fact is, however, April's happiness does not fulfill Frank. Frank is looking out for number one while April is doing the same thing. Rather than sacrifice her dreams for her children, she would rather kill her unborn.

4. The Wheelers' lunch with John Givings, the neighbors' mentally ill son, is proabably my favorite collision of personalities in the history of film (except for probably the ending of "There Will Be Blood"). Listening to him explain exactly how he sees through all their appearances brought such an grin of revelation to my face; I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite as remarkable as watching him pick apart Frank until he finally explodes at him, losing all pretense and appearances of normallcy.

5. I consider Shep Campbell to be the most pitiable character in the entire movie; second only to his wife. Pay attention to his storyline and tell me you don't feel for him and for his wife.

After such a well-acted, excellently shot, perfectly paced film, I don't know if I can watch anything else for a very long time. I hope Kate Winslet wins best actress, I hope Roger Deakins wins for best cinematography, and I hope Sam Mendes wins for best director. I highly recommend the film; however, because of language and some brief sexuality I don't think I'd take the little tykes.

FRANK: That's the point; you're not crazy, and you do love me!

APRIL: But I don't. I hate you. You were just some boy who made me laugh at a party once, and now I loathe the sight of you.

And the cuts only get deeper.