Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Never Trump Response to Wayne Grudem

Dr. Grudem just wrote an article explaining his support for Donald Trump. It can be found here:

To say I was shocked is putting it mildly. Several people have asked for my thoughts, so here they are:

First, I have a great love and admiration for Dr. Grudem. His systematic theology book is one of the most impactful books in my life. The ability he demonstrates to graciously explain complex issues is incredible.

Second, Dr. Grudem and I agree, in broad terms, on the major issues. His aims and mine largely overlap.

Third, I hope two things: (1) I hope I’m wrong about what kind of president Donald Trump would be and (2) he’s elected and does great things. But I still can’t vote for him.

Fourth, Dr. Grudem made some incredibly compelling arguments, particularly when speaking about what a Trump and Clinton presidency might each look like. The Supreme Court in particular is of grave concern.

Fifth, evangelicals who support and oppose Trump are usually talking past each other. We both think Hillary Clinton would be a bad president. But the “Pro” (I use the term loosely) Trump evangelicals focus on her flaws while the Never Trumpers acknowledge those flaws but find Trump’s appalling enough to be unfit for office.

Sixth, Dr. Grudem did something that I think crosses an important line and it greatly troubled me. Not only did he say that Trump was a better candidate than Hillary Clinton…he said that Trump was a good candidate with flaws. I understand someone making the decision to vote for him but I cannot understand an evangelical calling him good.

Seventh, Dr. Grudem went one more step. He implies that refusing to vote for Trump is wrong: “if someone votes for a write-in candidate instead of voting for Trump, this action will directly help Hillary Clinton, because she will need one less vote to win. Therefore the question that Christians should ask is this: Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?”

This is an argument I have heard many times. My response is that the likelihood of me voting for Hillary is just as likely as me voting for Trump (0%). Therefore, by that logic, by writing in a candidate, I have actually also given a vote to Trump. You’re welcome. (My actual hope is that analytics people will analyze who did and did not vote for a candidate and why. Your vote counts…and so does your write-in vote.

Eighth, Dr. Grudem’s assessment of Trump’s character was naïve…and wrong. He writes: “I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.”

And here is our most fundamental difference. The problem for me is not that I find HRC an acceptable candidate. The problem is I find Trump has also disqualified himself for the presidency. See below

Ninth, since Dr. Grudem asked, here’s why I can’t support Trump…

#1: I can’t vote for Trump because he is uninformed and/or doesn’t care about the issues that matter most to me.

Throughout the primary and now the general election, Trump has shown a frightening lack of knowledge about issues. Many of his statements that are offensive to evangelicals are dismissed because he hasn’t “thought through” issues. His ignorance is dangerous.

And, for evangelicals who believe he is better on the issues, what has he stated are his "official positions"? Here are two pages from his website, the two pages that deal with his official positions:

Notice there is nothing about (1) abortion/pro-life; (2) freedom of conscience for religious institutions (even under health care sections); (3) same-sex marriage; (4) transgender issues; or (5) Supreme Court nominations.

Mr. Trump just gave the longest acceptance speech of any presidential candidate since 1972. Number of times he mentioned the pro-life issue: 0. Number of times he mentioned defending religious freedom: 0. Number of times he mentioned any of the social issues Dr. Grudem is banking on him accomplishing: 0.

That’s to say nothing of issues that are important to me just as an American who wants my children to grow up in a world that is safe. He has a bad understanding of global and economic issues. If we vote for Trump, we are putting an uninformed, narcissist individual in the White House.

#2: I can’t vote for Trump because his temperament is dangerous. The temper of an angry man is dangerous. “A hot tempered person stirs up conflict” (Proverbs 15:18). “Do not associate with one easily angered (Proverbs 22:24). “Fools give full vent to their rage” (Proverbs 29:11). “A man without self control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). The company of a fool is dangerous. There is no insult so small that he is unwilling to take offense and respond to.

His pride also represents a danger to our nation. “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished…. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:5, 18-19).

#3: I can’t vote for Trump because he is a liar, meaning I can’t trust him not to turn on me when convenient.

You don’t have to look far to find examples that prove he is willing to lie to get certain groups to back him.

He has also has lied about releasing his tax returns and his charitable giving (which, to me, is particularly concerning as he tries to court evangelicals): 

Here are things that seem to be lies but are at least confidently/arrogantly stated untruths (maybe mistakenly):

The lie(?)about Medicare in the above example was particularly galling to me because I watched him say it in a debate even when the moderators pointed out that you couldn't save $300 billion on a program that only spent $78 billion TOTAL!

He has no shame when confronted with obvious falsehoods.

#4: I can’t vote for Trump because I love my daughters and my wife (and my mom, sister, etc.).

Trump is a sleazy individual and evangelicals should conclude that his sleaziness makes him as unfit to be president.

I’m not looking for a pastor for president. I don’t care (in a political sense) if Trump is or is not a Christian.

But it’s hard to escape this fact. He is one sleazy individual…

(1) He is an accused child rapist or at least friends with a pedophile who Trump said "likes beautiful women as much as I do" and even some "on the younger side." If it bothers you that Bill Clinton went to “Sex Slave Island” with a pedophile….guess what? SO did Donald Trump!

(2) If you think he is an “amazing” business man, you are partly admiring his financial profiting from the sex industry: 

(3) he makes derogatory comments about women, focusing on their physical appearance.

#5: I can’t vote for Trump because I love my friends who are from different cultures.

Evangelicals, a person willing to exploit one group of individuals for his personal gain will be willing to exploit multiple groups for his personal gain. I believe Trump will make you a scapegoat just like he’s doing to minorities if it suits his agenda.

Tenth, I would encourage people to vote for and support down-ballot candidates who will be able to oppose either Trump or Hillary.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Blogging Around

My latest blogs have been at, including my latest one on gambling in Washington, Illinois.

I plan on continuing to use this blog, but in some different ways.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New BFC Blog

This week, the new blog I'm doing with the other senior pastors from the Bethany Fellowship churches (plus Scott Boerckel from East White Oak Bible Church, who we try to claim as a BFC pastor whether he likes it or not) goes live.  My weekly update this week can be found at God Centered Christian beginning Wednesday morning.  I'm looking forward to seeing how God uses this project for His glory.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Puddleglum Wisdom

This morning, I received a mass email sent out by President Obama’s campaign manager.  As I read it, I found myself wishing that I could get excited about a second Obama term.  The president seems like a good husband and father and a decent human being.  On a personal level, I like him.  I want him to do well and I want good things to happen to him. 

As I continued reading the email, I saw a phrase that has been frequently used by the Obama campaign that filled me with sadness and reminded me why I could never support his candidacy.  The email warned that Obama’s opponent had a horrible record when it came to “women’s issues.”  In this election cycle, that phrase has come to be synonymous with abortion.  It meant that this president remains committed to—in the name of choice—supporting some of the most aggressively pro-abortion policies this nation has ever seen.

The idea that being pro-life is synonymous with being anti-woman is bizarre.  And yet, in this strange world we live in, many take it as fact.

As I read the email, I was reminded of a scene from The Silver Chair.  It is toward the end of the book and the children and their guide named Puddleglum have traveled deep beneath the earth.  The wicked Queen of Underland has captured them.  Lighting an enchanted fire, she attempts to convince the children that there is no world above them and no Narnia.    

What she say seems right.  Denying reality and embracing a lie seems so enticing.  But just as it seems the children will fall for her fiction, Puddleglum bravely stamps out the fire with his own foot.  Then gives the following speech:
“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world that makes you real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland.
It can be discouraging to live in a world where up is down, right is left and black is…aqua blue.  Puddleglum reminds us in our darkest moments—when real seems fiction and fiction seems so plausible—that we must continue to hold fast to the things of which we've become convinced.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Responding to Dr. Smolin’s “Of Orphans and Adoption” (Part 2)

Here is the second part of my blog posts responding to Dr. Smolin's article "Of Orphans and Adoption."  Part 1 of my article may be found here.  Dr. Smolin's article may be found here.

Fifth, Smolin notes that the Christian adoption movement diminishes the significance of the birth family.

Smolin argues: “The Christian adoption movement and the adoption movement more broadly, tends to diminish the significance of natural family ties in a highly selective, self-serving manner (32).  This is an issue I have wrestled with and will continue to consider.  There are competing Biblical principles that come into play when it comes to how to address the relationships between the adopted child and her birth family and the adopted child and her new family.  These principles require wisdom in rightly applying God’s Word.

Sixth, the article suffers from a lack of direct quotations.

I respect that Smolin has a difficult task ahead of him.  I certainly do not have a handle on all the nuances of the evangelical orphan care movement.  Far too often, however, Smolin makes bold assertions about the evangelical orphan care movement without providing direct quotations.  Furthermore, the citations he offers do not reference specific pages but often entire chapters.

Consider this paragraph, in which my book is cited in a footnote:
In its strongest form, proponents of the adoption and orphan care movement perceive adoption as the essential and primary way of understanding the Christian’s relationship to God, and hence as essential and primary way of understanding the Christian’s relationship to God, and hence as essential and primary to the communication and practices of the gospel.  Indeed, all scriptural passages about the relationship of God’s people to God are read through the lens of adoption (3). 
The citation refers the reader to pages 67-81 of my book.  To establish that we read “all scriptural passages about the relationship of God’s people” necessitates more specific citations.    

Seventh, the evangelical orphan care movement is not monolithic.

Again, I appreciate the difficulty of the task before him.  Smolin has done his research and captures the essential unity among the four books cited most frequently. 

However, the movement is not as monolithic as it is presumed to be in the article.  For instance, Smolin seems to implicate the orphan care movement as a whole when he notes that Dr. Moore “emphasizes the lack of significance, to his internationally adopted children, of their original names, language, culture, nation, and (implicitly) family” (30).  Smolin is referring to Dr. Moore’s convictions regarding his sons’ new identity as members of his family and how those convictions will play out in practice. 

Our daughter was born in Guatemala and, even though she is a full member of our family, I don’t believe her adoption into our family obliterates her Guatemalan roots.  We will choose to continue to celebrate her ethnic heritage.  Our family will change as a result.

In other words, even though I would consider myself in the same “camp” as Moore (his signature appears twice on the diploma in my office), it doesn’t mean we are in agreement over the right way to apply every biblical principle when it comes to adoption.

This is a minor example but I think illustrates that making broad statements about the “movement” can be dangerous and unfair.

Eighth, Smolin fails to interact with or understand the nuances of my argument.

It may be unfair of me to criticize him on this account.  My book is by far the least influential cited and, quite frankly, I was surprised to see it included.  However, because my book was included, it would have been nice to see some of my arguments addressed.

First, my call to engage in orphan care ministry begins with worship.  Second, the focus of my book is not an exhortation to adopt but an exhortation to compassionate care of orphans.  Third, this compassion is not based primarily upon our adoption (though I think there are important points to glean from that theological truth) but is based upon a passion for God and His glory. 

The layout of my chapters is instructive.  The book begins with the uniqueness of Christian orphan care.  Chapter 2 then deals with the theme of compassion, the disenfranchised and how the orphan falls into the category of the disenfranchised.  This means that my argument to care for the orphan is rooted in an argument to demonstrate compassion to all disenfranchised for God’s glory.

As I mentioned before, I think Smolin cites my second chapter, but I’m not certain.  If so, it is only once.  It seems that he mostly focuses on chapter 4, “A Theology of Adoption.”  When he cites it, he only refers to the page numbers, not the actual arguments.  He lumps the chapter in with other theologies of adoption that he says draw a 1-for-1 parallel between earthly and heavenly adoption. 

But I was very careful not to do that.  The chapter addresses our adoption by God the father and makes application not to just adoption of children but how our adoption by God impacts our entire orphan ministry.

I believe this failure causes Smolin to see me and others in the evangelical orphan care movement as “foes” where there are instead potential allies in some significant areas.  For instance, he argues that the orphan care movement’s “distorted teaching on adoption and orphan care causes the church to minimize or pass over the primary Biblical call in relationship to ‘widows and orphans’ and the ‘fatherless,’ leading to practices that exploit the very persons the Bible has called Christians to assist” (5).  This is key point I attempt to make in chapter 2.

Another  example of his missing a point of significant agreement should suffice.  Smolin argues that “both Christians and secular sources promoting adoption commonly claim that there are more than 100 million orphans in the world, a staggering figure indicating a virtually limitless need for adoption” (3).  This exaggeration has serious consequences:

 Putting together the Biblical call to orphan care, the understanding of adoption as a living representation and proclamation of the gospel, and the nearly endless need for adoptive parents to provide homes for well over 100 million orphans, the evangelical adoption and orphan care movement proclaims a call for virtually all Christians to be involved in adoption (3).

But that’s very similar to an argument I make.  Here's a quote from my book: 
There are several seemingly contradictory estimates regarding the number of orphans worldwide. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are currently over 132 million orphaned children. A few words, however, should be said about UNICEF’s orphan estimates. UNICEF defines an orphan as “a child who has lost one or both parents.” This would mean that a child who still has a surviving parent, or is living with his or her grandparents or other extended relatives would still be considered an orphan.
 If one were to define an orphan as a child who has lost both of his or her parents—a “double orphan”—UNICEF estimates that 13 million of the 132 million orphaned children fit that definition. Of these 13 million double orphans, a still smaller percentage are available for adoption.
 The church must help their people gain an understanding of how they can be involved in meeting the needs of all orphans, not just those who are “adoptable.” Most of the current resources being produced by the church are focused on adoption and not orphan care. Adoption is easier to understand than other forms of orphan care ministry, is sometimes less messy, and the stories are often more heartwarming.
 We certainly need resources to equip the church to engage in the ministry of adoption, but we must simultaneously realize that orphan care ministry is far bigger than we can imagine. UNICEF is right when it expresses concern that too narrowly defining who is an orphan may “lead to responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support.” In other words, the church needs to understand that the needs of orphans in the world cannot simply be met by adopting children—though that is an important component. The church must understand that there is an overwhelming need to which Christ’s church has an opportunity to respond (22-23).
 Ninth, Smolin presents those who wish to care for orphans with false dichotomies.

Earlier, I noted my agreement with Smolin that the evangelical orphan care movement must reassess its commitment to caring for families in impoverished nations.  But he sometimes presents us with a false choice: either exploit children by taking them out of the homes of poor people or focus our efforts on humanitarian efforts within their family unit.

I believe this cannot be an either/or scenario.  There is a real and immediate need to provide families for children who have no hope of being reunited with their families.  At the same time, I have told parents who adopt that I believe they have a moral responsibility to work to alleviate the conditions that caused their children to be available to adopt.  Our family sponsors children and their families in Guatemala so that others will not have to endure the tragedy our daughter and her birth family have had to experience.  The sponsorship is both physical and spiritual in nature.

To be fair, Smolin acknowledges that sometimes adoption is the best option (30), but just as he feels that the orphan care movement fails to adequately acknowledge the need to address systemic problems in the adoption process, I would argue he fails to adequately focus on the positive aspects of adoption and how it is the best option for millions of children.

Tenth, he oversimplifies the Greco-Roman first-century adoption process.

Smolin believes we misunderstand adoption language in Scripture and read U.S. adoption law back into Scripture.  He maintains that our failure to understand first-century adoption leads us to theologically erroneous conclusions.  A few points to consider.

A.     There is evidence that the adoption process was more diverse than Smolin would have us believe.

Smolin contends:
This vision of adoption as central to the church presupposes a certain form and image of adoption as both the referent to our vertical adoption by God, and also as the kind of practice of horizontal adoption to which Christians and the church are called. . . .  [F]rom a legal perspective the Christian adoption movement presumes the kind of adoption which exists in the United States, which in comparative law terms is called full adoption” (4).
The degree to which the Christian adoption movement presumes this can be disputed, but it should be noted that U.S. adoption law is based on Roman law.  In 530 A.D., Emperor Justinian codified existing adoption laws.  This codified law was influential in establishing aspects of U.S. adoption law (

B.      Adoption was a means in ancient societies to care for children in need.

Smolin argues: “When Paul’s audience heard his references to adoption, they would have had in their minds young adult males who became emperors, or who otherwise moved upward in Roman society, through adoption” (15).

And elsewhere:
For purposes of this essay, a fundamental point is that neither Roman nor Greek adoption was focused on the adoption of child orphans.  Adoption generally had nothing to do with providing for the weak, the poor, dependents, or children.  Adoption took young adult males who generally had families and a position in society, and gave them a social promotion to a higher position in society through provision of a new legal identity… (17).
The inclusion of the word “generally” in the second sentence is important.  I would concede that adoption was not always, or even primarily in the Roman culture, about caring for orphans in the ancient world.  I would argue, however, that (1) adoption was more diverse that Smolin suggests (see above) and (2) there are other ancient examples of adoption being a means to care for children in need.

For instance, the ancient Code of Hammurabi speaks of the children of prostitutes being cared for through adoption.  It further admonishes that adopted children need to be grateful to their adoptive parents or their tongues should be cut off!

Eleventh, Smolin does not adequately address the theological implications of spiritual adoption.

Smolin may overemphasize the extent to which Paul was influenced by the Greco-Roman background.

As James Scott argues in his article on adoption in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, “Paul seems to be the first to use the term (huiothesia) in a theological context” (16).  Scott explores the possibility of that Paul’s concept of divine adoption was influenced by the Greco-Roman mystery religions but concludes “there is no evidence for divine adoption in the mysteries.”

Scott also considers the possibility of adoption as a legal metaphor, based upon Greco-Roman law and argues that “circumstantial evidence such as Paul’s Roman citizenship and the prevalence of Roman adoption in Paul’s day also fails to establish the case for a legal metaphor” (16).

His conclusion is that it is best to understand the concept of adoption from the Old Testament/Jewish background: “Despite frequent claims to the contrary. . . the concept of adoption—even divine adoption—was certainly known to the OT and Judaism” (16).

This is similar to the primary critique Dan Cruver of Together for Adoption levels against Smolin’s article.  In “The First Step in the Way Forward: A Response to David M. Smolin’s
“OfOrphans and Adoption,” Cruver writes:

The problem with Smolin’s interpretive approach is not so much in what he does, but in what he fails to do. When interpreting any section of Scripture, we must take into account both how the historical and cultural setting of each text(which Smolin does quite well) and how Scripture’s metanarrative of redemption inform our understanding of the text of Scripture (which Smolin, Lyall, and Burke do not do). Smolin’s failure to consider the redemptive-historical significance of adoption is the fatal flaw in his interpretation (2).

This lack of attention the redemptive-historical context of adoption causes Smolin to fail to rightly apply the doctrine of adoption.  Cruver concludes:

How should the climax of adoptive-history as told in Romans 8 inform our understanding of James 1:27 (“visit orphans and widows in their affliction’)? The story of the Bible is the story of God visiting us in our affliction, like he once visited Israel (Exo. 4:31), in order to deliver us from it. So, how should this play out with James 1:27? To visit orphans and widows in their affliction means that we work for orphan prevention through family reunification and preservation, and when reunification is not possible, we actively support indigenous adoption efforts. For some children, though, adoption becomes the way we “visit” them (5).

Twelfth, Smolin fails to appreciate the historical progressive application of the gospel in caring for orphans and adoption. 

Smolin needs to see the implications a changing cultural context has on how to apply Scripture’s teaching regarding the church, the orphan and adoption.  He gets close to making this argument himself, but doesn’t quite connect all the dots.

He notes that the lack of an orphan problem confronting the church was due to the size of the church and the Jewish culture.  First, concerning the culture he writes: “Presumably, the reasons for the lack of an ‘orphan’ problem in the New Testament church, was due first to the initial Jewish setting of the New Testament church” (25).

Second, as it relates to the size of the church and its interaction with the Roman world:

So far as appears from the New Testament, remedying the infanticide, abandonment, and the exposure of infants in the wider gentile world outside of the church was not a project of the church during the New Testament era.  The tiny size of the church during the New Testament era, its various crises of survival, unity, and persecution, and its position of political vulnerability and powerlessness, presumably medicated against any organized efforts to assist the comparatively vast numbers of infants victimized by the pagan practices of infanticide and exposure.  Those efforts would have to await another day (26).

But we no longer live within a Jewish culture.  And the size of the church has grown.  There are children in need.  Is not adoption an appropriate application of Biblical injunctions to care for children?  Is not adoption an appropriate application of the gospel to a culture with children who are not being cared for?  The church since its early stages has answered both of those questions affirmatively!

In essence, Smolin is engaged in an argument from silence.  There are many social issues that individual believers engaged in as they applied biblical principles.  It is indisputable that orphans in Scripture are cared for, sometimes through adoption by close relatives.  While it is interesting, as Smolin observes, that (1) the ethnic identity of individual orphans is sometimes maintained and (2) families bear a special responsibility to care for the children of near relatives, this has little bearing on the appropriateness of adoption for dealing with the orphan crises in our cultural context.


This response is far longer than I intended it to be.  No doubt there will continue to be dialogue on this important issue.  I’m grateful for Smolin’s call to call us to Scriptural fidelity.  As I read Cruver’s concluding thoughts, I don’t see an unbreachable chasm between Smolin and Cruver.  It may be that God uses Smolin’s article to ensure that the evangelical orphan care movement begins to proclaim more loudly things that it already believes, such as the need for orphan prevention and holistic orphan care.