Da Vinci Interview

I was interviewed on TV a couple of hours ago on the Death Penalty and the Da Vinci Code. I did quite well, I think, on the the Death Penalty issue but I was on the defensive on the Da Vinci Code. The host threw a number of unexpected punches and I sometimes had to duck, but sometimes the punches hit their mark and I appeared at times disoriented and groggy. What happened was we didn't get to discuss the Da Vinci Code that much. The host steered the interview to the issue of whether I would encourage or discourage people from seeing the movie. I said there were a number of options and that Christians sincerely differ on what to do. Personally I was inclined towards discouraging people from seeing the movie but I clarified that the best I could do was probably inform people that the movie was about lies and distortions about the Christian faith, show them the evidence for that, and leave it to them to make up their minds to see the movie or not. I said my approach was that of persuasion not coercion. I'm not trying to prevent anyone, but I think I have the right to inform people of what they're in for. The host then questioned the attitude of most defenders of the faith (which means me, in the immediate context!) of closing their minds immediately to anything new that comes up which threatens the established faith – the attitude, he said, which immediately looks for flaws instead of being open to the possibility that we're dealing with something that's true. I wasn't prepared for that turn of events. I thought the interview would be about discussing what the Da Vinci Code was all about and not about so-called attitudes of religious defenders. Anyway, I explained that I wasn't against people making up their own minds, their right to weigh evidence for themselves, but we do have credible "fore-warnings" available to us. We already know what the movie will be about, and we can already make decisions based on that knowledge. Besides, I did read up and study the matter based on available resources, and the historical distortions were just there. It's not that I was intent on finding them beforehand, they're there because Dan Brown put them there and not I. And these historical distortions are significant and crucial and we have a right, as people of faith, to respond to them and tell people about them.

I wrapped up, during the time given me for my final say, in this way: this looks like a clash between intellectual liberty and the pre-commitments of faith. But no one's absolutely neutral; we all have our presuppositions. Nevertheless many of us didn't arrive at our faith lightly: we've done the hard work of studying what our faith is all about. And it's a legitimate framework to use in evaluating issues like this. It's not about being close-minded at all, it's not about dismissing and condemning something beforehand. It's about already having a fund of hard-earned knowledge and background, with which to evaluate something like the Da Vinci Code. And we don't skip the hard work of fairly evaluating the other side according to its merits. That, however, does not require that you give up what you already know beforehand, like make your mind a blank slate, before you can engage in the process of evaluation in a fair and legitimate manner.

My wife thinks I was too meek. Over-all she felt I did OK, but she thought I sounded unconvincing at times. Maybe that's because I couldn't make up my mind about whether we should watch the movie or not. But I felt the question re: close-mindedness was a tough one. I do think I'm open-minded but I do have faith commitments which are precious and true and act as sensors to warn me that incoming information is suspect. Is it illegitimate to have these faith-commitments? Do you have to temporarily jettison your faith commitments in order to fairly evaluate an opposing view if you want to be entitled to being called fair and open-minded? I guess I already know the answer to my own questions, but I'd appreciate your thoughts on this.

Christian Scholarship

"The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind … Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One before whom all hearts are open."

— Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994) pp. 248-9, emphasis added.

More on the Death Penalty

Over at the Philippine Inquirer Michael L. Tan wrote a very good defense of the anti-death penalty position. Click here to read it. His arguments are not new but he does score some points against the pro-death deterrence argument by pointing out that "In the Philippines, the role of the death penalty in deterring crime is probably even more insignificant, mainly because the biggest criminals know they are untouchable."

Some of his concerns however are addressed in a very lengthy paper found in a website appropriately named Pro-death Penalty.com, which covers the following topics:

A. THE RISK OF EXECUTING THE INNOCENT
B. THE INCAPACITATION AND THE DETERRENT EFFECTS
C. RACE, SENTENCING AND THE DEATH PENALTY
D. THE COST OF LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE VS THE DEATH PENALTY
E. DEATH PENALTY PROCEDURES
F. CHRISTIANITY AND THE DEATH PENALTY

The paper, however, relies on data which are applicable to the U.S. and there are many things in it which are not applicable to the Philippine setting except maybe by analogy. Those who are pro-death penalty here in the Philippines need to come up with a similar study modeled after this paper but relevant to the Philippine context to support their view. (There may already be one but I haven't seen it yet) It is the last topic – Christianity and the Death Penalty – I am most interested in. An interesting biblical/theological argument I never saw before is the following:

Christians who speak out against capital punishment in deserving cases " . . . tend to subordinate the justice of God to the love of God. . . . Peter, by cutting off Malchu’s ear,. . . was most likely trying to kill the soldier (John 18:10)", prompting " . . . Christ’s statement that those who kill by the sword are subject to die by the sword (Matthew 26:51-52)." This " implicitly recognizes the government’s right to exercise the death penalty." Dr. Carl F.H.Henry, "A Matter of Life and Death", p 52 Christianity Today, 8/4/95.

At any rate, you can read the whole paper here.

Death Penalty

The latest controversy in Philippine politics today is the death penalty – thanks to GMA's "Easter gift" of commuting around 1,200 death penalty sentences to life imprisonment. On the one hand, you can hear sighs of relief over what is perceived as a welcome and long overdue development; on the other, you can hear the cries of disbelief from the families of victims of heinous crimes. This is a highly divisive issue – both from the political and theological points of view. I'm posting here the classic biblical texts that proponents of the death penalty usually invoke:

"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." (Gen 9:6)

"For he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."
(Rom 13:4)

Gen. 9:6 and Rom. 13:4 taken together may be understood as teaching that God, the giver of human life (and who therefore has the right to take it away when he pleases) has delegated to "man" (in this case, human government) the authority to take away life in appropriate cases (in cases where God's wrath – the penalty of death – is justly deserved). The sword is too striking a metaphor and that it refers to or at least includes the death penalty is difficult to miss.

Of course, on the opposite side of the fence are those who believe that whatever may be the force of these biblical texts they are nevertheless superseded by the "law of love and forgiveness". I understand these people as saying that "Yes, capital punishment is a legitimate governmental function in appropriate cases, but that is too low for a Christian. We are called to the nobler and higher task of loving and forgiving our enemies, of overcoming evil with good. Yes, 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' is alright, but Christ superseded all that when he said, 'Love your enemies and do good.' "(Luke 6:35)

From a biblical and theological point of view, the question now is Which is Which? One factor to consider in resolving this issue is that the Apostle Paul, writing Romans 13, years after Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, and with full awareness of the law of love and forgiveness which Christ taught, did not seem to see any conflict between this law of love and the death penalty as a legitimate governmental function to which Christians themselves should submit. It is also interesting that in the latter verses of the previous chapter (ch. 12) he makes mention of the need to leave place for God's wrath and not to avenge ourselves.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Nevertheless, he proceeds to write Romans 13 especially verse 4 above-mentioned without consciousness of inconsistency. And the reason for this, it seems, is that in Paul's mind to "leave room for God's wrath" allows for that wrath to be executed by human government as a proper agency or instrumentality of God's wrath. In other words, the law of love and forgiveness does not deprive God of his right to show wrath. But God can choose and has in fact chosen to exercise that right through the instrumentality of human government. What is not allowed is for private individuals to take divine justice into their own hands.

Post-Resurrection Quote

“The philosophers of Greece and Rome doted on beautiful ideals. The Apostles were enthused with love for the living Christ, the tangible Image of the living God. The secret of their power lay in this personal attachment of faith to the living Christ in very person. It was a heart-to-heart love that conquered the world in that early age … When St. Thomas puts his hand on the wound-print in Jesus’ side, sinks to his knees and exclaims: ‘My Lord and my God,’ all the power of personal worship of God in Christ reveals itself. And by this alone the church of Christ has become what it is.”

    – Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near Unto God (WM. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co.) pp. 65-66

Back to Da Vinci

My wife finished both Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown during the holy week. And her conclusion: "It's fiction." Why am I not surprised? I was planning to read both novels myself but couldn't bring myself to open either book: the thought of reading Dan Brown was just too unpleasant. Anyway, I think it's just a fad that soon will pass. Besides, there are just too many resources on the net regarding this topic and I don't see the need for adding my two cents worth. Here's a link that contains a number of links for cracking the Da Vinci Code. Those who are interested can click here.

Resurrection Song Podcast/MP3

So here I go again. Here's a song on the resurrection. You have to forgive the vocals and the arrangement. After all I'm just an amateur :). I can't read notes, I play by ear, and just adjust the equalizer on your media player if you can't understand what I'm singing. Better yet, read the lyrics while the song is being sung! But I hope this song will be a blessing to you this Easter. Click here for the melody and vocals. Below are the lyrics.

I.

The Powers of Darkness thought they'd won the victory

When they saw the Son of God defeated, hanging on a tree

None of them had any inkling that the Lord was actually winning

It was by the way of dying that there came the power of living

II.

He descended into hell. Satan's victory was complete.

What the devil did not know was his victory was short-lived

Then came Sunday the first Easter

Hell was shaken by God's power

"Son of glory, hear thy Father

Rise again and live forever!"

(Chorus 1)

For thou shalt rise again, thou shalt rise again

For thy Father hath decreed to perform this mighty deed

To raise thee back to life, to raise thee back to life

Thou shalt rise!

III.

There was panic all around, pandemonium broken loose

All of hell in deep confusion, none can hinder his release

God hath spoken, hath commanded

Satan and his hosts confounded:

"We must keep him here forever!"

But the Son of God cried "Never!"

(Chorus 2)

For I will rise again, I will rise again

For my Father hath decreed to perform this mighty deed

To raise me back to life, to raise me back to life

I shall rise, I shall rise!

—————

Hallelujah, the Lord is risen!

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Easter

We have seen a foolish king

go meekly to a cross;

there never was a king more eager

to rush to his defeat.

We were very much surprised;

it was frankly all too easy.

(Three days later …)

We have seen a fallen prince;

he was gloating yesterday –

but that was yesterday.

He thought he had won;

he was wrong, dead wrong!

Now the whole place is in shambles,

the walls have all but crumbled,

and the prisoner got away.

(Now …)

We realize

this foolish king

was far too wise,

just far too wise,

for simpletons like us.

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The Last Laugh

“Laughing lions must
come to annihilate with laughter.”
(Nietzche)

“The One enthroned in
heaven laughs.”
(Psalm 2:4)

The War

And the Lamb had been slaughtered in the place of the worms
Raw flesh on the altar, warm blood on the soil;
Dragon-teeth round scattered in the valley of bones:
White mementos of the War against the Dragon and the wolves.
But the exploits of the Lamb had been lost in the mist,
Clean forgotten by the worms who now worship the Beast.

The Darkness

And the tears out of heaven should have flooded the earth
For high towers of insolence relentlessly rising:
Their ominous shadows defile all the living.
Worms upon worms upon worms! To the heights
They ascend – cruel rabble – trampling one on another,
While the Lamb on the altar is despised and forgotten.
Though of old there are rumors that the Lamb is alive
There has been not a stir, and the blood – it has dried.

The Metamorphosis

And the loathsomeness swelling and the darkness surrounding
Drove the heavens to screaming, and the screams – they were heard.
Now the Lamb on the altar from His slumber awakes:
And the fleece change to fur and the feet into rakes.
Claws of vengeance, fangs of judgment, righteous hunger for his prey;
At the lightest of His steps, mountains crumble and give way.
For the Lamb is now a Lion seeking whom He may devour:
Blazing like the golden lightning, burning with the lust for War!

The Judgment

Worms for breakfast for the Lion had He not been seized with laughter
(He had such a sense of humor He forgot about His hunger)
At a sight so misanthropic – it was tragic, it was funny:
Worms and worms, from fear and envy, building towers in a hurry!
Now the onslaught of His laughter spelled the creatures’
certain doom:
Wormish towers all a-crumbling at the Lion’s sonic booms.
And the writhing worms of Wasteland knew that Nemesis had come:
‘Twas the fury of His laughter that had spoiled all their fun.
And their eardrums were all shattered, and their towers were in ruins,
And their hearts had all stopped beating, and the carnage had begun.

The Aftermath

And this was the Final Judgment … In the ages still to come
Men will ponder o’er the ruins and the paw prints on the sand
Which the Wind itself could not erase however hard it blew.
There were terrors then unheard of, there were secrets no men knew:
“Why do heavens roar with laughter, why are clouds as white as fleece,
Though some streaks of golden lightning ride the cool, infrequent breeze?”
Men shall ask but not remember what the heav’nly symbols mean,
For the knowledge of these myst’ries had been drownéd  in the din
Of a multitude of voices babbling nothing to the point:
Jagged edges, broken perches – everything is out of joint!
No direction, one obsession – that’s to rise at any price:
Worms on worms (this sounds familiar) building towers to the skies.
Crackling thunder in the heavens (Someone’s laughing in a hurry):
“Wow! I never thought a re-run would be more than twice as funny.”

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Free Song: Great Mystery

This holy week I'll be podcasting a few of my original songs in line with the season. I hope these songs will be a blessing to you. Here's "Great Mystery" – a song about how much Christ loved us in that he laid down his life for us. Click here for the melody. Below are the lyrics:

I.

When I ponder on the mystery of Jesus

How he gave his life and died on calv'ry's tree

That sinners might go free

He died for you and me

Great mystery!

Chorus:

Lord, you know that I'm not worthy

So how come you died for me

Oh, why did you love me?

You gave yourself for me

Great mystery!

II.

When I ponder on the mystery of Jesus

How he left his throne to share our misery

He bore the cruel tree

And paid sin's penalty

Great mystery!

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