Monthly Archives: July 2007

Gentry on Alcohol

Kenneth Gentry (note, I do not endorse everything he has written) has a short article hosted at the Banner of Truth website on a biblically balanced view of drinking alcohol. Highly recommended!
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More Thoughts on Drinking

In the comments section to my post Drinking and the Bible, BeachLover asked a number of (possibly rhetorical) questions. Now that I’ve “come out” on my blog in terms of my views on alcohol, I might as well give some explanation. I realise I risk the back-lash of a number of Christians by doing this, but I feel that I can offer some balance to what is often a heated debate.
Before getting into the issue proper, I do want to note a couple of things. First, I appreciate Christian non-drinkers and their position. I am encouraged by their strength of character to be able to stand against the prevailing winds of an alcoholic society by their abstinence. It is hard to be the only non-drinker in a room, and it can be easy to violate one’s conscience for the sake of peace. I believe that if a Christian non-drinker were to violate their conscience on this issue, they would be sinning – even though I don’t believe drinking in and of itself is sin.
As well, I want to make clear that I recognise that it is not within my rights of Christian liberty to lord my freedom in Christ over another Christian. My prayer is that I do not, in any way, make another Christian feel like they aren’t free in their choice of abstaining. Because I enjoy God’s gift of alcohol does not mean that I think of myself as being any better than Christian non-drinkers.
BeachLover made note of the Seminary I attend and their history regarding drink. In light of this, I want to make known that what I write here is my own personal conviction and has nothing to do with TBS. I do not speak as a representative of the school, only myself.
Finally, if I can be shown from Scriptures that what I am doing is in fact a violation of God’s law, I will never touch a drink as long as I live. I mean that. God’s will is much more important to me than wine or beer. The Word of God governs my life in all things and I willfully and joyfully submit to it (as best as I, a sinner, can). Therefore, I am open to any and every argument for or against drinking and will weigh each against what I believe the Scripture teaches.
BeachLover wrote:
Thanks Ian. As always, your comments are well-considered and balanced on a difficult subject. Interesting post by Markianus on a hot button issue for many Christians.
I also struggle with this issue. I work in a secular business environment in which I am certainly in the minority due to my abstention from alcohol. I would like to pose several real-life scenarios for which I would like to hear your thoughts:
1) When I have non-Christian colleagues over to my house for dinner, should my wife and I serve wine and beer?
2) When my colleagues at work all go out to a bar to celebrate an event, should I go along? If I go, should I drink alcohol along with everyone else or should I abstain?
3) Should I financially support companies which produce alcoholic beverages by buying their product even when I know that they promote a lifestyle through the media which is inconsistent with my Christian beliefs?
4) As the father of near-teenaged kids in my house (with college looming not too far away), should I model behavior that says that consuming some alcohol is OK as long as you don’t get drunk or should I promote a more extreme stance of no alcohol at all? If I take the former stance, then am I predisposing my children to making bad choices in the future?
I am acutely attuned to the fact that I am countering the attitude within our society that all celebrations should include alcohol.
First of all, I would like to reiterate my appreciation for Christian non-drinkers and their conviction of heart. In particular, I take great encouragement from BeachLover who can be such a minority. Caving in for the sake of fitting in is not the Christian way, and I have no doubt that this strength of character is a witness for Christ. Press on!
1) No, I do not think you and your wife should serve alcohol – mainly because you are convicted that alcohol consumption is wrong.
For myself, I don’t think that it is necessary to serve alcohol if non-Christians visit, neither do I think that I shouldn’t. If I have beer in the fridge, and a non-Christians wants one, he or she can have it.
2) You could go along if you wanted and have a pop, but again, given your conviction, you shouldn’t drink. If it were me, depending on the people I was with, I may or may not have a drink. Were I to drink, it would only be because I wanted one. I believe that I have the freedom to make this choice and am constrained neither way.
3) Do you go to the movies, or buy/rent movies on DVD? Have you bought shampoo? What about a car? The list can go on and on about companies that promote non-Christian lifestyles in the media. We cannot escape this because as Christians we are part of the world, we take from it and we contribute to it. It’s incredible that I can see a commercial on TV for shampoo that is sexually provocative. Even the most mundane things are charged with sexuality – be it beer or tickets to Mexico.
I might add another point to this. Just because the media takes one of God’s gifts and skews it, like they do with beer, doesn’t make the gift in and of itself bad. Is a rainbow bad because it symbolises the homosexual movement? If you don’t want to buy a Coors Light because of a recent commercial you can always by Calvinus – it even has a picture of Calvin on it!!
4) Again, given your views on alcohol, you need to model strength of conviction before your children first and foremost. Children need parents who practice what they preach, and that means you should be consistent in your views.
As for myself, I will have alcohol in my home when I have children. I will teach them to respect it as a gift from God. By my actions (DV), I will show them how to use what God gives us rightly with thankfulness. By His grace, I will do this not merely with alcohol, but with everything. It is my personal conviction that a child who is used to having alcohol around them is not going to be as tempted to abuse it as the child who is curious about that which is taboo. Ultimately speaking, I trust the grace of God who will protect my children and will pray that the Spirit will lead them into all godliness.
I don’t know if I have adequately answered BeachLover’s concerns, but I am thankful for the questions. Respectful dialogue is helpful in all situations. Neither of us should compromise our views unless the Scriptures tell us otherwise. So I will remain a fan of spirits and BeachLover will remain a teetotaller until God does a work in one of our hearts to bring us to the other side. Whether that happens or not, I affirm BeachLover’s conviction not to drink and I hope that I would receive the same! We are one in Christ and it would be ludicrous for a debate over alcohol to change that.

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Drinking and the Bible

My good friend Mark has a post expressing his thoughts on Christians and drinking. It was inspired by some recent comments made on my blog. What Mark wrote is very balanced, biblical and needed (thought I’d continue the alliteration eh?). Check out what Mark has to say!

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Challies Reviews God Delusion

Uber-blogger Tim Challies has posted his review of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. Thanks to Tim for this very well written and thoughtful piece!

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Ain’t It?

Strange ain’t it? Life.
Here I sit on a bed in the Buckminster in Boston. It’s my three year wedding anniversary and my wife is sitting in our apartment in Toronto. I’m starving, but am addicted to watching Feist videos on YouTube (like this). I should eat. But Feist is the hippest thing right now.
My mind is full of thoughts of the end of the world. Violence and millennialism. Mission and a thousand years.
I just watched Deniro in Casino when I should have been eating. When it was done, I should have ate. But then I watched Wayne in Sands. I looked for a pub and think I’ll just wander. It’s light outside, so I’ll meander a bit. Home awaits…but not ’til Friday.

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Anonymous Commenting

I can’t think of anything more cheezy in the blogosphere than when someone levels an attack via the anonymous comment. It happens to all of us I’m sure. We take the time to place a nice and thoughtful post on our blog only to be rewarded by a coward who tells you what a jerk you are or how you’re a heretic. I’ve had long diatribes of verbal garbage in my comments sections, I’ve even had people setting up a fake blog account just to be able to direct a link to porn. All of this is just brilliant and takes a lot of brainpower.
Recently I posted on wine-tasting, and for some odd reason received a comment about the seminary I attend and one of their professors. It was a useless smear written in cowardice that doesn’t even deserve the time wasted to be read.
What is telling about such anonymous lurkers is that they really don’t think that the “stand” they are making is all that worthy. If they don’t have the guts to put their name to it their sentiments can’t be that meaningful. Were it the case that they had put their name to it (and toned down the rhetoric), maybe somebody might actually listen to their concern. Instead, such posting deserves out-of-hand dismissal.
My policy is to keep every comment unless it is perverse (like the one I recently deleted linking to porn). So I’ve decided to let the shameful comments about our professor stand. I emailed him to let him know about it. Of course, being a man, it was like water off of a ducks back for him, which I am thankful for.
So, all of this is to say, that if you have something that you’re concerned with, please feel free to express that concern. But if you do, make sure you have the courage to attach your name to your opinion. If not, you won’t get a response from me. And rest in the comfort of knowing that your comment will just trickle into obscurity without a care. Except maybe from God who knows that what you are doing is a sin.
Charles Spurgeon dealt with anonymous letters in his day, and his advice then is just as applicable to the blogosphere:

The anonymous letters in which we have been assailed we look upon as the
weapons of cowards; we cannot write or speak without being known, and do not
wish to do so; we believe the whole system of anonymous writing to be meanness
itself when directed against public men who are mentioned by name. Put off your
cloak sir, when your adversary wears none, or you will be scouted as one of the
assassin’s breed. [C.H. Spurgeon, “
Ourselves and the Annexationists” in Sword and Trowel (July 1867)]

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Body of Divinity Reprinted

The great Irish Puritan James Ussher’s Body of Divinity has recently been reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books and is available for purchase at their site. Of course, it has an introduction by the great Irish historian Crawford Gribben.
Ussher was a theological and intellectual giant who maintained that wonderful balance of scholarship and piety. He is a man well-worth studying and I recommend him to anyone interested in the Puritan period. I’m thankful that SGCB is making more of Ussher’s work available – maybe he will no longer be remembered as “that guy who dated the world.”
[HT: AOmin]

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Wine Tasting and the Bible

One of my favourite things in the whole world is enjoying time with friends drinking wine – maybe with some finger foods to munch on. It used to be a few years ago that I could only stand white wine, but with the edging on from my friend Justin, red is now the colour of choice. I won’t pretend to be an expert on wine-tasting. It is something I enjoy, but I can’t really pinpoint the various types of wine and all the information that goes along with it. I do know that a large glass of shiraz is absolutely outstanding while sitting on a street-side patio with close friends.

Pastor, theologian and philosopher Douglas Jones has a helpful article on wine-tasting for us amateurs. In “Enjoying Wine” from Volume 10; Issue 2 of Credenda/Agenda, Jones gives a Bible-laced introduction to wine-tasting. He explains the differenes between table wines, dessert wines and sparkling. He then outlines the use of our senses when tasting wine: sight, smell, taste and touch. It is very helpful.

Sometimes when I give a toast before the first sip I quote Psalm 104:15, “Wine that maketh glad the heart of man.” It makes for a nice reminder of the God who created wine and who allowed us the wonderful ability to taste and appreciate it.

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Appropriating Catholics

I work at Crux Discount Theological Bookstore at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. Four of my co-workers (one of whom is my boss) are Roman Catholics to one degree or another. One is a left-wing Catholic anarchist; the second is a traditional, conservative Catholic; the third is quasi-Catholic; and the forth is a Protestant crypto-Catholic. All have varying perspectives on the Roman communion, what it should look like, be like and teach. I get a different perspective from each one I talk with. For those who would like to pretend that the Catholic Church is unified, think again.
The co-worker that I have the most common ground with is the traditional conservative. I get along with all four as they’re each really good guys, but ideologically the traditional guy and I see to eye to eye at least socially. We have had some pretty decent discussions on our differences as Catholic and Protestant. I think we are both very respectful of each other’s views, without compromising our own. All four guys make for very interesting work. I must say, however, that I am very thankful for my friend, and fellow TBS student Ronnie Jawdi with whom I not only share socio-political views, but we have a common kinship in Christ. Ronnie’s been a big encouragement to me.
In two recent issues of Reformation 21, Carl Trueman has done two editions of his Wages of Spin column on the similarities and differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants. Both have been very helpful for me in thinking through the areas I differ with my co-workers at Crux. I recommend them to you, whether you are Roman or Genevan as they are very balanced and thoughtful pieces.
Check out:

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Paul Martin Reviews ‘According to Plan’

My professor of pastoral theology just posted a review of Graeme Goldsworthy’s excellent book According to Plan. I admit I haven’t read the whole thing – although I plan to!

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Ignatius of Antioch and Christology

The letters of Ignatius (c. 34-c.107), bishop of Antioch, demonstrate a pastor’s concern for the health of the church. There are three general themes to be found in them, two of which are pastoral. One theme, a practical one, involves the life of the church as it pertains to congregations and their bishops (e.g. Eph. 3.1-6.1). A second theme is doctrinal and concerns the threat of false teachers, be they Judaizers (e.g. Mag. 8.1-10.3) or Docetists (e.g. Trall. 6.1-11.2). The third is less concerned with the church and centres on the bishop’s own approaching martyrdom (e.g. Rom. 4.1-8.1).
What follows is an evaluation of the second theme, particularly in relation to Christology. When arguing against false teachers, Ignatius often provides an apologetic for the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ. A number of Christological statements appear in what could be considered rough creedal form and are found in Ephesians 7.2; 18.2; Magnesians 11; Trallians 9.1-2 and Smyrnaeans 1.1-2. This essay will first evaluate assertions about Christ’s humanity and then his deity. This evaluation will based on the creedal forms and relevant statements found elsewhere in the letters.

Humanity
In the early church an erroneous teaching developed regarding the humanity of Christ called Docetism. Believing the material world to be evil, Docetists taught that Christ did not assume a physical body nor did he really suffer on the cross. Though he seemed to possess a human form he was only a spirit. Their name is derived from the Greek dokein meaning “to appear” because Christ was human and suffered in appearance not in reality.[1] Ignatius explained this teaching to the Trallians by saying, “some atheists (that is, unbelievers) say, he suffered in appearance only” (Trall. 10. Cf. Smyrn. 2). These people “mix Jesus Christ with poison…and so with fatal pleasure drink down death” (Trall. 6.2). Ignatius combated this “heresy” (Trall. 6.1) by stressing both the historical and physical nature of Jesus’ person.
In regard to His historicity, Ignatius told the Magnesians to “be fully convinced of the birth and the suffering and the resurrection” of Jesus (Magn. 11). Into each of the five creedal statements Ignatius injects historical figures grounding the life of Christ in space and time. Four characters are mentioned: Mary (Eph. 7.2; 18.2; Trall. 9.1), King David (Eph. 18.2; Trall. 9.1; Smyrn. 1.1), Pontius Pilate (Magn. 11; Trall. 9.1; Smyrn. 1.2) and Herod the Tetrarch (Smyrn. 1.2). David is mentioned in reference to Christ who was his descendant; Mary is the mother of Jesus; and both Pontius Pilate and Herod were rulers at the time of Jesus’ death. This attention to detail regarding history is important because it allows the readers and hearers of the letters to think of Christ in relation to concrete people and events. These were not fables or legends. From this it is readily apparent that Ignatius believed Jesus to be a real person who lived in a particular place at a specific point in history.
Alongside Christ’s historical reality, Ignatius also places an emphasis on His physical being. The “one physician” was “both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in humanity…” (Eph. 7.2). He was not a Docetic phantasm; rather He existed in real flesh and blood. Jesus experienced all of the regular limitations of a human being. For instance, He was conceived (Eph. 18.2); he was born (Eph. 7.2; 18.2; Magn.11.1; Trall. 9.1; Smyrn. 1.1); he “both ate and drank” (Trall. 9.1); he was baptized (Eph. 18.2; Smyrn. 1.1); he suffered persecution (Trall. 9.1); he was nailed to a cross (Trall. 9.1; Smyrn. 1.2); he died (Magn.11; Trall. 9.1); and he was resurrected (Magn.11; Trall. 9.2).
In his letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius disparaged the idea that Jesus “suffered in appearance only.” Jesus “suffered for our sakes…and he truly suffered just as he truly raised himself” (Smyrn. 2). Jesus was “in the flesh even after the resurrection” and appeared in order for His disciples to touch His raised body (3.1). Luke 24:39, “when he came to Peter and those with him” is offered as proof of this (3.2). Ignatius, quotes Jesus as saying, “‘Take hold of me; handle me and see that I am not a disembodied demon.’ And immediately they touched him and believed…” As in the statement of Trallians 9.1-2, Ignatius again affirms that Jesus ate and drank with the disciples “like one who is composed of flesh…” (3.3).
To show that his belief in the real humanity of Jesus was seriously held, Ignatius points to his eventual martyrdom as proof. “For if these things were done by our Lord in appearance only, then I am in chains in appearance only. Why, moreover, have I surrendered myself to death, to fire, to sword, to beasts?” (4.2. Cf. Trall. 10). The physical suffering and death of the “perfect man” as well as His physical resurrection were such fundamental truths for Ignatius that he was willing to lay his life down for them. He did not want the recipients of his letters to think that such teaching was optional for the Christian.

Deity
While Ignatius emphasised the humanity of Jesus, he did not do so to the neglect of His deity. To the Ephesians Ignatius could say that He was “God in man” (Eph. 7.2) He was “our God, Jesus the Christ” (Eph. 18.2). In the opening of his letter to the Romans Ignatius twice refers to Him as “our God” (Rom. 1). To the Magnesians he said that Jesus Christ “came forth from one Father and remained with the One and returned to the One” (Magn. 7.2). What follows outlines the deity of Christ according to Ignatius, looking at the divine affirmations found in the creedal statements. In particular, Jesus who is timeless and invisible and is the second member of the Godhead will be noted.
A beautiful testimony to the deity of Christ can be found in the creedal statement of Ephesians 7.2, where Ignatius declares,

There is one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in
man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering
and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this passage, in paradoxical couplets, Ignatius affirms both the humanity and deity of Christ in one relationship that almost seems to anticipate the Nicene Creed published two hundred years later. Jesus is the “one physician” yet is “flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man.” The “one physician” speaks to the unity of Christ’s person, yet His human and divine natures are paired concerning its physical and spiritual character. His temporality and eternality is couched in terms of the natural and divine birth of the incarnation. Jesus was “God in man” both “from Mary and from God.” Later in Ephesians 18.2 Ignatius says, “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit” (See also Trall. 9.1).
In Smyrnaeans 1.1 Ignatius wants the church to be “totally convinced with regard to our Lord that he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to divine will and power, truly born of a virgin…” Again, the human and divine origin of Christ is affirmed, as well as the virgin birth. Specifically Ignatius points to Jesus as the “Son of God” and is so because of “divine will and power.” This also comes just after Ignatius has said, “I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise…”
In his letter to Polycarp, Ignatius encourages his fellow bishop in the faith. He provides the bishop of Smyrna with a number of practical suggestions (Pol. 1.2-5.2) laced with doctrinal affirmations. One such affirmation has to do with the divinity of Jesus. Ignatius tells Polycarp in 3.2 to “Understand the times. Wait expectantly for him who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way.” In this one statement a number of important points about Jesus’ life are laid out, including the incarnation, crucifixion and second coming. But there is one affirmation pointing clearly to the divinity of Jesus: He exists outside of time. He can do so because He is eternal, invisible and intangible. Of course, Ignatius has argued firmly for the real humanity of Christ in other letters, so in this statement it is Christ’s divine nature that is being referred to. His humanity is also seen in the affirmation of His becoming “visible” in the incarnation. Therefore, in this one term, “above time” Ignatius paints a clear picture of the divinity of Jesus.
A final thing to note about Ignatius’ letters concerning the divinity of Christ is the place he provides Jesus in the Trinity. Though it appears only briefly in the letters, the Trinity is clearly formulated (Magn. 13.1; Eph. 18.2). In Magnesians 13.1 those addressed are told to “be eager” to be “firmly grounded in the precepts of the Lord…in the Son and the Father and in the Spirit.” The Son is clearly Jesus Christ as earlier in the letter Ignatius writes “there is one God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word which came forth from silence…” (Magn. 8.2. Cf. Eph. 4.2; Trall. 3.1). In Ephesians 20.2 Jesus is called the “Son of man and Son of God.”
Another Trinitarian statement is found in Ephesians 18.2. Here Ignatius says, “For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to God’s plan, both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is affirmed as God, yet is also spoken of as being conceived by God’s plan. There is a distinction in the two uses of the word “God.” One use is in reference to Jesus and the other is in reference to the one planning His conception. Mentioned alongside God and Jesus the Christ is the Holy Spirit. In Magnesians 13.1 Ignatius speaks of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and in 7.2 states that the Son came from the Father. With this in mind it is therefore plausible that the God who planned Jesus’ conception is none other than the Father. Be that as it may, what is clear is that Jesus is referred to as God in what appears to be a Trinitarian statement.
By placing Him alongside the Father and the Spirit in both letters Ignatius recognises Jesus as the Son, the second person of the Triune Godhead.

Conclusion
From Ignatius’ letters it is clear that he has a high Christology. Jesus Christ is both God and man. Ignatius emphasises both the humanity and divinity of Jesus in a number of creedal statements found in the letters as well as his letter to Polycarp. Jesus had a physical body and experienced everything that a regular human would, even after His resurrection. Yet while being fully human, Jesus is also fully divine. He is the eternal God who is the second member of the Godhead. The tension between Christ’s two natures is held in appropriate balance, with both being mentioned clearly and in the same relationship. There is no apology nor is there any attempting to reconcile the two.

[1] Stuart G. Hall, “Docetism” in The Dictionary of Historical Theology (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2000), 163-165.

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Pope’s RC Exclusivism

I wonder what the Pope’s recent statement about Roman Catholicism being the only true church will do to the ecumenical movement? Around here (U of T) it probably isn’t good news, at least for certain Anglicans. The Times says as much: “Anglican leaders reacted with dismay, accusing the Roman Catholic Church of paradoxical behaviour. They said that the new 16-page document outling the “defects” of non-Catholic churches constituted a major obstacle to ecumenism.”

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Bethlehem Baptist on Homosexuality

A couple of good friends of mine have recently been having long discussions on homosexuality. My one friend John has been conversationally sharing the gospel in Toronto’s Gay Village for a number of months now and has had awesome opportunities to speak of Christ without any harshness either on his part or on the part of those listening. I’ve been doing some online reading about this issue and hope to post some links to good articles in the future.
I wanted to highlight Bethlehem Baptist Church’s position statement on homosexuality that I found quite good. It strikes the biblical balance of calling homosexuality a sin while maintaining a loving perspective to those of this orientation. Check it out here. It is both uncompromising and compassionate.

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Discerning Reader Interview: Doug Wilson

The very excellent website The Discerning Reader recently conducted an interview with Doug Wilson over his recent book Letter from a Christian Citizen (see DR’s review). Some of the folk at my church in Essex are reading the book and enjoying it. It is a response to an atheist Sam Harris who wrote a book called Letter to a Christian Nation (see DR’s review).

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Clint, Carson and the Atonement

Clint has posted some thoughts on an article he read by D.A. Carson on recent events in the penal-substitutionary atonement debate. As always, Clint’s thoughts are helpful.

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Recent Days

This is just a quick update about recent days:

1) Our very best friends in the world moved away from Toronto a week ago today. It was terribly devestating, and admittedly, I was a wreck. What a horrible thing to have to live in Toronto without Justin and Elisha Galotti.
2) Thursday we went and saw The White Stripes at the Molson Ampitheatre. It was an outstanding concert – very entertaining and fun. They are brilliant performers. You definitely need to get into these guys and then see them live. Right Debbie???
3) Saw the move Sideways a couple of weeks ago. It was terrible. I don’t recommend it, unless you want to listen to a moron go on about his sexual exploits and see naked overweight people. Don’t let the potential for cool with their wine tasting tempt you. The movie could’ve been good, but it wasn’t.
4) My good friend John Bell has a killer sermon here. Check it out: Jesus in the Garden. We had a great time last night with John at Hemingways in Yorkville.
5) We spent Canada Day at our friend Melissa’s out in Cottam – bonfire and fireworks. It was great to reconnect with Codex Markianus (aka. Mark). I enjoy talking Cuba and communism with him.
6) It was great hanging out with Pastor Valade and Keith for coffee for four hours on Monday morning. These are two of the godliest men I know and it was privelege to talk turkey with them.

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Calvin500

Well, this looks like quite the conference to attend. Calvin500.

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Henry Hazlitt on Frederic Bastiat

Bastiat the Great
By Henry Hazlitt

Frédéric Bastiat was born at Bayonne, France, on June 29, 1801. His father was a wholesale merchant, but Frédéric was orphaned at the age of nine and was brought up by his grandfather and his aunt.
He seems to have had a good, though not an extraordinary education, which included languages, music, and literature. He began the study of political economy at nineteen and read principally Adam Smith and Jean-Baptiste Say.
Bastiat’s early life, however, was not primarily that of a scholar. At the age of seventeen he went to work in his uncle’s counting-house and spent about six years there. Then he inherited his grandfather’s farm at Mugron and became a farmer. He was locally active politically, becoming a juge de paix in 1831 and a member of the conseil genéral of the Landes in 1832.
Bastiat lived in a revolutionary period. He was fourteen when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena. He lived through the Revolution of 1830. But what first inspired his pamphleteering activity was his interest in the work of Cobden and the English Anti-Corn-Law League against protection. In 1844 he rose to immediate prominence with the publication of his article on “The Influence of French and English Tariffs on the Future of the Two Peoples” in the Journal des économistes.
Then began the outpouring of a brilliant series of articles, pamphlets, and books that did not cease till his premature death in 1850. There came first of all the first series of Sophismes économiques, then the various essays and the second series of Sophismes, and finally, in the last year of his life, the Harmonies économiques.
But the list of Bastiat’s writings in this short span of six years does not begin to measure his activities. He was one of the chief organizers of the first French Free Trade Association at Bordeaux; he became secretary of a similar organization formed in Paris; he collected funds, edited a weekly journal, addressed meetings, gave lecture courses — in brief, he poured out his limited energies unsparingly in all directions. He contracted a lung infection. He could breathe and nourish himself only with difficulty. Finally, too late, his ill-health forced him to Italy, and he died at Rome, at the age of forty-nine, on Christmas Eve, 1850.
It is ironic that the work which Bastiat considered his masterpiece, the Harmonies économiques that cost him so much to write, did far more to hurt his posthumous reputation than to help it. It has even become a fashion for some economists to write about Bastiat patronizingly or derisively. This fashion reaches a high point in an almost contemptuous one-page notice of Bastiat in the late Joseph A. Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis. “It is simply the case,” writes the latter, “of the bather who enjoys himself in the shallows and then goes beyond his depth and drowns…. I do not hold that Bastiat was a bad theorist. I hold that he was no theorist.”
It is not my purpose here to discuss the theories of the Economic Harmonies. That is done very competently by Dean Russell in the introduction to the new translation of the Harmonies published simultaneously with this new translation of the Sophisms. But there is a germ of truth in Schumpeter’s comment, and we can acknowledge this candidly and still see the much greater truth about Bastiat that Schumpeter missed. It is true that Bastiat, even in the Sophisms, made no great original contribution to abstract economic theory. His analysis of errors rested in the main on the theory he had acquired from Smith, Say, and Ricardo. The shortcomings of this theory often made his exposures of fallacies less cogent and convincing than they otherwise might have been. The discerning reader of the Sophisms will notice, for example, that Bastiat never shook off the classic cost-of-production theory of value, or even the labor theory of value, though his total argument is often inconsistent with these theories. But, then, no other economist of Bastiat’s time (with the exception of the neglected German, von Thünen) had yet discovered marginal or subjective value theory. That was not to be expounded until some twenty years after Bastiat’s death.
Schumpeter’s judgment of Bastiat is not only ungenerous but unintelligent, and for the same reason that it is unintelligent to deride an apple tree for not bearing bananas. Bastiat was not primarily an original economic theorist. What he was, beyond all other men, was an economic pamphleteer, the greatest exposer of economic fallacies, the most powerful champion of free trade on the European Continent. Even Schumpeter (almost in a slip of the pen) concedes that if Bastiat had not written the Economic Harmonies, “his name might have gone down to posterity as the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived.” What the “might have” is doing here I do not know. It has so gone down.
And this is no mean achievement, nothing to be treated patronizingly. Economics is pre-eminently a practical science. It does no good for its fundamental principles to be discovered unless they are applied, and they will not be applied unless they are widely understood. In spite of the hundreds of economists who have pointed out the advantages of free markets and free trade, the persistence of protectionist illusions has kept protectionist and price-fixing policies alive and flourishing even today in most countries of the world. But anyone who has ever read and understood Bastiat must be immune to the protectionist disease, or the illusions of the Welfare State, except in a very attenuated form. Bastiat killed protectionism and socialism with ridicule.
His chief method of argument was the method of exaggeration. He was the master of the reductio ad absurdum. Someone suggests that the proposed new railroad from Paris to Madrid should have a break at Bordeaux. The argument is that if goods and passengers are forced to stop at that city, it will be profitable for boatmen, porters, hotelkeepers and others there. Good, says Bastiat. But then why not break it also at Angouléme, Poitiers, Tours, Orleans, and, in fact, at all intermediate points? The more breaks there are, the greater the amount paid for storage, porters, extra cartage. We could have a railroad consisting of nothing but such gaps — a negative railroad!
Are there various other proposals to discourage efficiency, in order to create more jobs? Good, says Bastiat. Let’s petition the king to forbid people from using their right hands, or maybe even have them chopped off. Then it will require more than twice as many people, and twice as many jobs, to get the same work done (assuming consumption is the same).
But Bastiat’s supreme jest was the petition of the candlemakers and their allied industries for protection against the unfair competition of the sun. The Chamber of Deputies is asked to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, outside shutters, inside shutters, and all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures by which the light of the sun can enter houses. The blessings that will result from this, in an increased business for the candlemakers and their associates, are then all solemnly itemized, and the argument conducted according to the recognized principles of all protectionist arguments.
The petition of the candlemakers is devastating. It is a flash of pure genius, a reductio ad absurdum that can never be exceeded, sufficient in itself to assure Bastiat immortal fame among economists.
But Bastiat had more than scintillating wit and felicity of expression. His logic, too, was powerful. Once he had grasped and explained a principle, he could put the argument in so many lights and forms as to leave no one an excuse for missing or evading it. Again and again he shows the fallacies that grow out of exclusive concern with the problems of individual producers. He keeps pointing out that consumption is the end of all economic activity, and production merely the means, and that the sacrifice of the consumer’s interest to that of the producer is “the sacrifice of the end to the means.”
If at least some of us see some of these truths more clearly today, we owe a large part of our clear-sightedness to Frédéric Bastiat. He was one of the earliest economists to attack the fallacies not only of protection but of socialism. He was answering socialist fallacies, in fact, long before most of his contemporaries or successors thought them even worthy of attention. I have not said much here about his refutations of socialist arguments, because these refutations occur rather in the Essays and in the Harmonies than in the Sophisms; but they constitute a very important part of his contribution.
Bastiat is accused of being a propagandist and a pleader, and he was. It was unfortunate that for so long he stood alone, while other “orthodox” economists refrained from criticizing socialism or defending capitalism for fear of losing their reputations for “scientific impartiality,” and so left the field entirely to the socialist and communist agitators who were less timorous in this respect.
We could use more Bastiats today. We have, in fact, desperate need of them. But we have, thank Heaven, Bastiat himself, in a new translation; and the reader of these pages will not only still find them, as Cobden did, “as amusing as a novel,” but astonishingly modern, for the sophisms he answers are still making their appearance, in the same form and almost in the same words, in nearly every issue of today’s newspapers.

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