Friday, June 15, 2012

No, the Old Testament was NOT written only for Israel but also for us

On his latest radio show, Brannon Howse discusses a meeting called Evangelical Immigration Table, in which a motley collection of evangelicals and others gathered to promote the acceptance of illegal aliens. That's a sad development in itself, but what prompted me to blog on it was the fact that they justify this action by a couple of verses in Leviticus:
Lev 19:33-34 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. [But] the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I [am] the LORD your God.
Their take on it is ridiculous. There is certainly no call to treat illegal aliens as if they were citizens, because they are not, and as Matthew Henry points out in his commentary, the condition was that they worship the God of Israel. Idolators are not to be welcomed. Our aliens are alien not only by culture but by opposition to American values in many respects.

But that's another discussion.

The main thing I want to mention is Brannon Howse's assertion that they are wrong to base their ideology on a passage in the Old Testament for the simple reason that what was written to Israel was meant only for Israel. "We are not Israel. Let's not take verses that apply to Israel and say they apply to everybody and they apply to America."

This strange principle is one I've been encountering recently in the discussions about The Harbinger, which the critics from the very pro-Israel school of thought denounce for supposedly equating America with Israel.

It's finally become clear to me that this is really a sort of cultic point of view, perhaps even a heresy. It flies in the face of very familiar basic Christian teaching I would have thought the entire church took for granted. Of course we apply the Old Testament to ourselves and to our own times, and there's nothing odd if it turns out to specifically apply to a nation such as America either. That's how we learn that God judges nations for violations of His Law and that America is under judgment. Nobody applies it literally where it refers to the specific context of ancient Israel, but there is always an important principle we can take from even the most culture-specific lesson. This passage for instance is a good teaching against xenophobia or cultural chauvinism, an attitude that can be found in all times and places. It has nothing to do with illegal aliens who are in violation of the law.

It seems that Brannon Howse has been taking his cue on this from his friend and frequent guest, Jimmy DeYoung. He might want to consider consulting some other sources.

In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul is talking about the experiences of the Israelites and using them as an example for the church. The message is summed up in verse 11:
1Cr 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
And another relevant New Testament verse is:
Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Brannon's comments on the Evangelical Immigration Table are as usual illuminating, things we need to know, but this false idea about how we are to use the Old Testament mars the teaching.

Conversation with a critic of Jonathan Cahn

Somebody who used to be part of Jonathan Cahn's church contacted me to tell me why I shouldn't be defending his book over the critics like TA McMahon. It was mostly about Rabbi Cahn as a personality and leader of a church, which as far as I can see doesn't have anything to do with the merits of the book itself, so I'm not going to comment on any of that.

[Just to be clear, of course I take such attacks on personality with a huge grain of salt. Personality clashes happen in the church as much as outside it. I don't want to discuss all that but just one hint: I believe the very personality traits that are specifically related to a person's spiritual gifts can be a problem for some people whose minds don't operate in the same patterns. That's why we're admonished to be patient with one another and submit to one another and regard others as better than ourselves. It doesn't come naturally, it can only come through the Holy Spirit.]

In any case, after hearing him out I have the same opinion about the critics and the book I already had.

He hadn't read the book but was sure the critics are right who say Cahn misused scripture. He also seems to be convinced that the harbingers must be some kind of illusion. I told him he should read the book and he said he plans to so maybe that will change his mind.

Well, Rabbi Cahn did not misuse scripture and the claims that he did don't hold water. It's absurd to suggest that he could have thought that Isaiah consciously wrote to a future America, he certainly did not equate America's covenants with Israel's or suggest any kind of replacement of Israel by America. He certainly didn't say anything to link him with the Mormon heresy of The Covenant which Jimmy DeYoung and David James have been insinuating he did. Apparently the overarching objection that leads to such nonsensical accusations is the bizarre idea that we are not to apply the Old Testament to ourselves in our time -- "It was for Israel, period." This in itself is an aberrant idea even approaching heresy. None of this got discussed with the person I'm talking about here, but these are the main criticisms of Rabbi Cahn's supposed misuse of scripture as I understand it and they're all false.

As for the harbingers being some kind of illusion, I asked him to give me a scenario how that might be the case and he suggested that there could have been many trees downed by the falling towers so that if you focus only on a particular one you give a false impression of something uncanny that is really just selective attention. It's a reasonable suspicion if you don't know anything about the harbingers, but if you do -- certainly if you really think honestly and carefully about them -- you are going to have to admit that each of them DOES carry the uncanny implications the book claims for them. Just concerning the sycamore, its having been named after the sycamores of the Middle East which connects it with Isaiah 9:10, its placement in the graveyard of the church where George Washington and his government prayed for the nation, the same church that was the original owner of the land where the twin towers had been built and was now Ground Zero; the fact that a great public to-do was made over that sycamore, its roots being put on display as a memorial to 9/l1, then memorialized in bronze and placed beside the main sanctuary of that church which has a Wall Street address, then replaced by the same kind of tree Israel vowed in Isaiah 9:10 to replace their fallen sycamores -- there's no way this is some kind of illusory mental manipulation to make it merely appear to be significant. It simply IS significant.

He also wanted to dismiss the speeches by the politicians who quoted Isaiah 9:10 as the same sort of illusion, because lots of people could have quoted that same passage. Well, as a matter of fact, lots didn't, although lots did echo the attitude of defiance that the verse expresses. But if lots HAD quoted it that would only increase rather than decrease the indictment of America for that defiant attitude. And as I keep harping on in recent blogs on this subject, you can't treat their quoting this passage in terms of the leaders' conscious intentions and try to deny that the message was one of defiance, because merely quoting the passage straight, thinking of it as reassuring, shows that they themselves share the attitude of defiance in their heart of hearts. "We will rebuild" IS that attitude of defiance in the absence of a recognition of 9/11 as God's judgment on the nation. That's the attitude the majority of Americans had at the time, and the leaders had it too OR they would have preached the verse from an entirely different perspective: they would have preached it as pastor David Wilkerson preached it, as a clear indictment of the nation for refusing to acknowledge God's judgment in the attack of 9/11 or recognize it as a warning call to repentance of the nation's sins and rejection of God. Just as The Harbinger shows, for American leaders to quote that verse is for them to make that attitude of defiance official on behalf of the nation.

This person also said that we don't need the harbingers, the verse itself teaches us that the nation is in defiance of God, and as Christians we know it is anyway without a particular verse to tell us so. This is quite true up to a point, except that, as I recall, the majority of Christians and even pastors at the time of 9/11 denied that it was God's judgment flat out, often rather belligerently, and the messages from pulpits across the nation were about comforting the people, which is of course necessary and right in a time of disaster, but that was the ONLY message, no message of God's judgment on the nation, except by an extreme minority, who were denounced for it.

But be that as it may, you still have to explain why these uncannily literal signs or harbingers did in fact "manifest" in America as they in fact did. There is no humanly possible way they could have been engineered to occur, I don't see how they could be the product of any kind of illusion or magical thinking, and I can't think of any other explanation for them than that God Himself did it all.

One thing that the conversation at issue here did bring up for me is that I have had my own misgivings about the book quite apart from its central message, which to my mind is indisputable.

One problem is the hype I've mentioned more than once here. It still bothers me to see a Christian message I think of as coming from God packaged as some sort of science fiction extravaganza might be. If anything such a message should be understated so that its merits will shine all the brighter. Dramatizing it cheapens it or at least obscures it. Just the tone of "an ancient mystery" that holds the "secret to America's future" would ordinarily be enough of a hint to me that whatever the book is about needn't be taken seriously. It detracts from the seriousness of its message.

And although I've accepted the author's reasons for fictionalizing it -- and it is also good to be reminded that Pilgrim's Progress is also fiction -- I still have the same concern that fictionalizing it detracts from its importance and its truth.

There's no doubt that it's helped give it a wide audience, however.

McMahon did complain about its being fictionalized, but that's about as far as I'm in agreement with him about his criticism of the book.