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Blog author: jballor
Saturday, October 21, 2006
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In the latest Interfaith Stewardship Alliance newsletter, dated Oct. 21, Cal Beisner passes along his response to the letters sent by Bill Moyers’ legal counsel (background on the matter with related links here).

Here’s what Beisner says as related through his own counsel:

Your letter of October 18, 2006, to Interfaith Stewardship Alliance and your letter of October 19, 2006, to Dr. E. Calvin Beisner have been sent to me by my clients for reply.

I have carefully examined the language in the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance Newsletter dated October 9, 2006, that you contend in your October 18 letter is defamatory of your client, Bill Moyers. My examination of that language in the light of applicable United States Supreme Court opinions and those from other jurisdictions as well as major treatises on defamation forces me to the opinion that the language is not legally capable of a defamatory meaning. I would be pleased to review any authority you have that you believe supports your position.

Dr. Beisner is troubled by the fracturing of the relationship with your client and desires to attempt to restore that relationship outside of the civil courts as Christians are admonished to do in First Corinthians chapter six. He was preparing to do this before he received your first letter, which necessitated his seeking legal counsel. He sincerely believes that he accurately summarized in the newsletter his recollection of a private conversation with your client that was not recorded prior to the interview on camera. He also believes his recollection may have been influenced by a conversation he and your client had on the way to the airport following the interview. Finally, he stands by the opinions expressed that you challenge in your letter.

Accordingly, your demands in your letters are rejected. Should you be able to call to my attention applicable authority in support of your position which is persuasive, then your demands will be reconsidered.

Beisner concludes by saying of Moyers, “While I understood from the conversation that he was a Democrat, I accept his representation that he is an independent.”

In the meantime, Don Bosch has compiled a series of quotes from Moyers which show the political direction of his thinking about evangelicals and climate change. “How wide is the gap between a ‘political agenda’ and expressing a point of view,” wonders Don. With the “circumstantial evidence” in hand, Don writes, “A long stretch to ‘dividing the evangelical vote?’ I’ll let you decide that for yourself.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 20, 2006
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As noted here, last week PBS ran a special by Bill Moyers’, “Is God Green?” examining the “new” trend among evangelicals toward stewardship of the environment.

Arguably what is “new” about this move is its coherence with liberal/leftist environmentalism. As also noted previously, “The Judeo-Christian community for 5,000 years or more has taken its responsibility for the environment seriously. The whole concept of ‘stewardship’ is one that comes directly from sacred texts.” Stewardship isn’t new. Perhaps the method for stewardship proposed is.

In any case, Acton adjunct scholar and spokesman for the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance E. Calvin Beisner appeared on Moyers’ program, as a counter-point to the majority of evangelical voices heard on the show. Blogger Jimmy Akin, a self-professed “old friend” of Dr. Beisner, posted a response by Beisner to his portrayal on the Moyers program, which included allusions that Moyers had confessed some overt political agenda by the timing and content of the program.

When Moyers became aware of the assertions, this apparently did not please him. His lawyers sent letters to Akin, claiming that “Dr. Beisner’s accusation is false and defamatory as it goes to the heart of Mr. Moyers’s integrity as a journalist,” and demanding “on behalf of Mr. Moyers a retraction from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance stating clearly and without qualification that Dr. Beisner’s statement was erroneous, that Mr. Moyers never made any such statement to Dr. Beisner or anything colorably close to it, and apologizing to Mr. Moyers for the error.”

The lawyers representing Moyers in turn accuse Akin: “You have also defamed Mr. Moyers. On behalf of Mr. Moyers, we demand that you immediately publish in full Mr. Moyers’s response to Dr. Beisner, as well as the retraction and apology of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, if any, all with at least equal prominence to that given the false statement of Dr. Beisner.”

Also linked at the above is the response from Akin’s lawyers. This story has been picked up by numerous bloggers, some of which are run down on this post at The Evangelical Ecologist.

We’ll keep you posted on any further developments.

Update: Dr. Beisner’s response through counsel has been posted here.

As I mentioned in Part 2, a common stereotype of Protestant ethics is that it is wedded to nominalism. While this may be true for some (particularly modern) Protestant ethicists, it is false for Peter Martyr Vermigli and Jerome Zanchi, two older Reformed moral theologians. Before showing how this is so, and still by way of introduction, I want to point to four doctrines where natural law exerts some influence.

First, it is important to recognize that none of the confessional documents of the magisterial Reformation — whether Lutheran or Reformed — rejected the doctrine of natural law. In fact, those documents universally state that Gentiles — though outsiders to God’s special revelation to Israel in the law and the prophets — remain accountable to the moral law by means of the natural knowledge of God’s will experienced in creation, conscience, and reason. Confessional examples abound to prove this point, but I will mention only what the Second Helvetic Confession (1566) states:

We teach that the will of God is set down unto us in the law of God; to wit, what He would have us to do, or not to do, what is good and just, or what is evil and unjust. We therefore confess that ‘the law is holy . . . and good’; and that this law is, by the finger of God, either written in the hearts of men, and so is called the law of nature, or engraven in the two tables of stone, and more largely expounded in the books of Moses.

This confession, like so many other sixteenth-century confessions, makes an explicit identification of the law written on the heart in Romans 2 with the natural law.

Second, natural law played a significant role in the three uses of law articulated by the Reformers. The first use of law is to convict of sin by taking away all natural presumption of righteousness. The Reformers made frequent appeal to the conscience’s imprinted knowledge of right and wrong in this respect. The second use of law is to maintain order. “Since the devil reigns in the whole world,” states Luther, “God has ordained magistrates, parents, teachers, laws, shackles, and all civic ordinances to at least bind his hands and keep him from raging at will.” The third use of law is to exhort believers to ongoing obedience and gratitude. “The law is to the flesh,” says Calvin, “like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work. Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still.”

Third, while the Reformers famously emphasized Scripture as the ultimate authority for doctrine and Christian living, the modern doctrine of sola scriptura falsely pits the Reformers against the Scholastics on the issue of tradition. Unlike modern Protestants, the Reformers did not pit Scripture and tradition against each other as antithetical sources of authority, even though they did affirm the normative priority of Scripture in theology and ethics. The Reformers also did not play special revelation off against general revelation, as tends to happen today, both were considered legitimate forms of revelation that served distinct roles in theology. This is why the modern Protestant rejection of natural law in favor of supernaturally revealed legal or moral instruction is skewed in relation to the thought of the Reformers.

Fourth, the Reformers felt no tension in affirming a strong doctrine of original sin, on the one hand, and natural law, on the other. While every aspect of reality was affected in the fall, including the rational and social nature of human beings, the Reformers did not believe the divine image was totally annihilated. Instead, only aspects of the image were destroyed while other aspects were permanently disoriented. That disorientation put people in a wrong relationship with God, their neighbors, and the world. However, the implanted knowledge of right and wrong, which survived the fall as a relic of the original image, was now weakened and obscured. The Canons of Dort, a doctrinal standard issued by the Synod of Dort (1618-19), for example, affirms the existence of natural law but also points to its insufficiency:

There remain in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil.

Without this affirmation of the natural knowledge of God, the result for ethics would be pessimism toward any transcultural, universal moral ontology. The alternative, then, would be to place ethics exclusively within the sphere of redemption and the new creation. If those “glimmerings of natural light” were wiped out, it would be difficult to find a bridge to the public sphere in which Christians and non-Christians could work side by side.

In Part 4 we will begin looking closely at Peter Martyr Vermigli.

This entry has been cross-posted to my blog, Common Notions.

Blog author: dwbosch
Monday, October 16, 2006
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Dr. Joel Hunter, President of the Christian Coalition and Pastor of the 12,000-member Northland Church in Longwood, FL, Dr. Paul De Vries, National Association of Evangelicals board member and President of New York Theological Seminary, and Rev. Gerald Durley, Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta and civil rights leader held a teleconference last Thursday to "address the importance of this issue to their communities and will take questions from reporters about the Statement, the Call to Action, and the potential implications of both on the American religious and political landscape."

(more…)

A brief bit of Herman Bavinck, taken from his Beginselen der psychologie, 2d. ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1923); English translation Foundations of Psychology, trans. trans. Jack Vanden Born (M.C.S. Thesis: Calvin College, 1981). p. 92:

The freedom with which imagination brings forward its creation is, however, not a lawlessness. Unbridled fantasy produces only the outrageous. As fantasy is objectively, albeit indirectly, bound to the elements of the visible world, so it must subjectively be under the control of understanding. It must be led by moral ideas especially. But within these limitations fantasy is a splendid capacity.

See also, “The Morality of Narrative Imagination.”

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
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A while ago, I reported Damon Linker’s turn against his erstwhile colleagues at First Things. Now The New Republic online (free registration required) features an unusually productive and revealing debate between Linker and Atlantic Monthly‘s Ross Douthat on the threat, or lack thereof, posed by “theocons” such as Richard John Neuhaus (and the Acton Institute?).

I especially enjoyed their exchange on the role of religion in historical American social movements, which Douthat got the better of. This passage comes in the context of Douthat’s argument that the use of religious argumentation is hardly unusual in American history and that many political accomplishments that are widely considered beneficial would have been impossible, or at least more difficult, without it:

But the fact remains that the advocates of racial equality didn’t defend their ideals in secular-civic terms–or at least not nearly as often as they defended them in terms of the Christian morality that most of their fellow American shared. And they wouldn’t have succeeded without precisely these kinds of religious appeals, which were crucial to building white American support for black America’s civil rights…. I’m happy to concede that religious believers might benefit, at times, from couching their political arguments in nonreligious terms. But the deal you’re offering, in which religious Americans are supposed to abandon appeals that have the capacity to stir not only the reason of their fellow citizens, but their consciences and souls as well, sounds like a fool’s bargain to me.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
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Via International Civic Engagement:

Already available in English, Japanese, Italian and Polish, the game will now be accessible in French, Hungarian and Chinese by the end of next week, vastly increasing the forum for the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) ‘Food Force’ www.food-force.com – designed to teach youngsters about the problems of global hunger and what humanitarian organizations do to fight it.

The English, Japanese, Italian and Polish versions, which were launched over the past 18 months, have totalled over 4.5 million downloads to date, making Food Force a major success story in the educational gaming sector.

My review of the game is here, along with other PowerBlog commentary on socially active video games.