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On Evangelism

Why evangelize? Finding an answer to this question has become an urgent task since the Barna Group published findings that suggest that "almost half of practicing Christian millennials say evangelism is wrong."

It seems odd that those who have been saved by Jesus would think it wrong to tell others about him. My guess is that it may have more to do with motivation than with moral reasoning. Moral reasoning might tell us what we ought to do, but it can't tell us how to want to do it.

I recently became a foster parent. My wife and I have been talking about it for years and so about a year ago, we finally started the process.

Throughout the training and licensing, we kept talking about why we were doing it. We could come up with all sorts of reasons why fostering and adopting are good things to do. But we found it much harder to come up with reasons why we wanted to do it. I wondered what I might say if a friend or family member asked me "what makes you want to become …
Recent posts

On Merit: A Reply to Clifton Mark

You do something great, I clap. The child is naughty, he gets no ice cream. The athlete wins the race, she gets a medal. All of these actions and reactions seem built into the universe. It's just the way it is. According to Clifton Mark, this is false - this is not the way the world works. Oh, and to believe it is leads to evil.

Mark defines meritocracy as the idea that "the rewards of life – money, power, jobs, university admission – should be distributed according to skill and effort." Most people, he says, think of meritocracy as a fact about the world. It is just the way the world works. However, Mark argues that "the belief that merit rather than luck determines success or failure in the world is demonstrably false."

Mark offers one argument for his claim that meritocracy is not the way the world works and three more to support the claim that it leads to all sorts of evil. Of course, it could be the case that it is the way the world works and that it leads…

Nativism and Theistic Beliefs

Did we learn the concept of God and infer his existence from some other more basic belief, or did we have the concept of God or a belief in his existence 'already in the mind'? Such is the issue of nativism: whether there is something in the mind prior to experience. Some theologians and philosophers espouse strongly nativist views. For example, Gordon Clark argues for a form of concept nativism. He argues that human beings have “innate ideas and a priori categories” the purpose of which are for “receiving a verbal revelation, of approaching God in prayer, and of conversing with other men about God and spiritual realities.” Clark makes two arguments for his view. First, he argues that it is not possible to arrive at a concept of God from sense experience:

"Since man was created in the image of God, he has an innate idea of God…it is not possible for a blank mind to abstract the concept of God from sensory experience nor to lift sensory language by its bootstraps to a spiri…

In with the Old

Amber Petrovich argues that too many old people are in charge and that they should stand aside to make way for the young. The point is simple: Older people know less about what life is like now than younger people. Since government is about the present, younger people are better equipped to be in charge:

"too many of our politicians are too out of touch to be making crucial policy decisions that affect millions of lives every day...I will never claim to know what adult life was like in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but I do know what adult life is like now. So why are you still making decisions for people like me who are becoming adults in this century?...The world now is drastically different … so why aren’t our politicians?"

Oddly, I have recently been saying exactly the opposite: Older people have had more opportunity to experience life and ought to have gained much wisdom from those experiences. Thus, it is better to be governed by older people than younger. I even thought it…

What Can We Do?

“we had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community” (Martin Luther King)
Is it okay for a Christian to break the law? On the one hand, the Bible tells us to to obey governing authorities (1 Peter 2; Romans 13). On the other hand, there are examples of apparent justified law-breaking (Esther 4; Daniel 1, 3, 6; Acts 5:29).

Occasionally, Christians are obliged to break the law. When the law asks us to perform acts contrary to the explicit command of God, we are obliged to obey God. For example, Christians are obliged to disobey any prescription to refrain from worship of God. We are also obligated to explain the gospel to people (sometimes this gets us arrested). According to Martin Luther King, Christians ought to disobey unjust laws such as segregation laws:

“There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just …

Truth and History

"The philosophers of the past did not write in order to reflect their times or to provide future historians with something to do. Their work was intended to point beyond itself to something else - to the truth about things - and what matters ultimately is whether they succeeded" (Ed Feser, Aquinas, 1).

Governing and Human Nature

Consider the present state of political discourse. Isn't it, at least in part, a discussion about evil and what to do about it? Of course, it also involves thinking about some things as evil and other things as good. But once a political group has decided what they think is evil, the debate is all about what to do about it. Debate over the environment is about what to do to confront the bad effects of successful economies. The debate over wealth and poverty becomes a debate about how to shrink the income gap. The same is true of debates over firearms, border control, the moral status of the unborn, and a plethora of other issues.

What price utopia?
What a politician has to do is attempt to restrain evil without removing other features of overweighing value. Good governance restrains evil without diminishing other valuable features of human life. Thus, to govern well, one must have a grasp of the nature of human beings. Indeed, any political philosophy begins with answering that qu…

On Contemporary Education

"School has to be bigger. It has to mean more than 'I teach my subject.' School has to be about teaching people to change the world for the better. If we believe that, then teaching will always be a political act. We can't be afraid of our students' power. Their power will help them make tomorrow better. But before they can do that, we have to give them chances to practice today. And that practice should start in our schools" (Sydney Chaffee, 2017 CCSSO teacher of the year, TED talk, Nov 2017).
According to the Sydney Chaffee, education is a matter of social activism. Teachers are to be facilitators, "thought partners" who let students "grapple with complex, hard issues" without "necessarily giving them the right answers." Students are not formed, informed, or reformed by teachers; instead "students make choices" and the aim of the school is to "encourage students to articulate their own opinions, not to coerce the…

On Law and Justice

If you were to find yourself in court accused of performing an action that you think is morally permissible--good, even--but against which there is a law, how would you react? Most likely, even if everyone in the room thought otherwise, you would think an injustice was being carried out.

Imagine being led from the courtroom to undergo lashing, imprisonment, or even death when in your mind you had done nothing wrong. I'm sure most people's stomachs would be in a knot. You'd be angry and incensed for good reason. The reason, I suggest, is that legal codes of particular governing authorities are beholden to a higher law.

Now, perhaps you are wrong. Either there is no higher law or you are wrong about what it would say. If there is no higher law, then that feeling of injustice is merely a feeling and nothing more. In which case, justice just is whatever the court decides. If, on the other hand, there is a higher law, but you are wrong about what it would say, then you have a d…

Why Christians Use the Bible in Moral Arguments

What is the point of citing Bible verses when making moral arguments? Since not everyone believes the Bible to be true or authoritative, surely we need to make arguments based on something else, something we have in common. But Christians use the Bible all the time. Why?

To get to an answer, one has to consider a range of issues in ethics. Once one has reasoned through these questions, it becomes clear why many Christians find that the Bible has an essential role to play in most moral reasoning. Thus, when engaging in moral debate, we often use the Bible.

The first relevant issue is whether moral statements are translatable into factual statements. For example, can one translate "it is wrong to murder" into a factual statement? Some suggest that this is not possible, that concepts such as 'good' and 'wrong' are not analyzable in terms of anything else. Christians, however, are likely to say that "it is wrong to murder" can be translated into the fac…

On Moral Relativism

Cultural Relativism is the view that “Normality…is culturally defined” (Ruth Benedict). More precisely, cultural relativists hold to MR:

(MR) There is no moral principle which necessarily applies to everyone, everywhere, and at every time
For the cultural relativist, the source of moral principles is the conventions given by a group of people who make up a culture. The argument for such a view is:

(1) What is normative is culturally determined
(2) What is moral is normative
(3) Therefore, what is moral is culturally defined

Why might one hold to such a view? First, one might think the following is true: "Beliefs about what is right and wrong vary from culture to culture." Since we have no way to tell which culture is correct (ours or theirs), the following is also true: "What is really right and wrong varies from culture to culture." Second, one might think that if someone says that morals are not relative, then they must be intolerant, ethnocentric or a bigot. Third, …

Hard Work Does Not Always Pay

Though it is generally true that those who work hard will earn a living, the sweat of your brow has no necessary connection with the contents of your wallet. The valueof your labor does not determine its price. What determines the price of something is the amount someone is willing to pay for it. Nor is there are moral connection - without a voluntary agreement to pay for someone's labor, work itself does not obligate anyone to pay for it.

Language Use and the Existence of God

Natural human language-use entails moral obligations, specifically objective obligations between persons. All of these obligations are routinely broken (see Twitter). 
These obligations are both objective and social. They depend on being objective and not merely an expression of a particular preference or culture. They also depend on the existence of a social context composed of more than one person. 
As Nicholas Wolterstorff claims, “speaking is, through and through, a normative engagement.” Wolterstorff suggests three norms and provides examples: (i) speech should be related rightly to the mental state of the speaker. If the speaker asserts something he ought to believe it. If the speaker promises something, he ought to intend to fulfill the promise. If the speaker requests something, he ought to want it. (ii) speech should be rightly related to the facts. A speaker ought not to assert what is false or proclaim someone guilty who is innocent. (iii) speech should be rightly related to…

On Desire

Dissatisfaction is a mental state induced by not getting what one wants. Desire is also a root of evil. As James puts it, "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15).

There are at least two proposals on the cultural table for dealing with desires. Neither way works.

The first way is to attempt to remove desires from the inside. This is the way of 'enlightenment' - coming to believe a new truth - there are no such things as desires. They appear real, but they are not.

Desires are native to persons. We have them and there's no way to rid ourselves of them. Thus, some teach that there are really no persons. If there are no persons, then there is nothing to have a desire. To realize such a truth is to be enlightened.

According to the second way, though we cannot remove desire from the inside, we can severely limit them f…