Tuesday, June 9, 2015

John Reasnor Fails to Show That Incrementalism is Unbiblical [Clinton Wilcox]

"Abolitionist" John Reasnor has posted up his rebuttal to my opening argument. You can view his opening argument here. You can view my opening argument here. You can view John's rebuttal here. You can read John's closing arguments (in response to this one) here. Thanks to Scott Klusendorf and Steve Hays for their helpful comments.

To review, the resolution of the current debate is as follows: "Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture." John is affirming that resolution. I am denying it. Since John is affirming the resolution, he bears the burden of proof in our exchange.

Put simply, John must show from Scripture that incrementalism -- the legislative strategy of saving every life we can right now while working to save all children as soon as possible -- is impermissible. He can do this one of two ways. First, he can point to direct commands in Scripture that have incrementalism in mind and subsequently foreclose on it. For example, the Apostle Paul references sexual ethics numerous times in his writings, most notably the commands that believers "flee sexual immorality" and "glorify God" with their bodies (1 Cor. 6). In this case, no guesswork is required. The instructions are clear to anyone who can read the text. Second, in the absence of direct commands, John can argue from inference that Scripture forbids incrementalism. That is, he might say there's a distinction between words and concepts. Although Scripture doesn't use the term incrementalism, it nevertheless repudiates the concept by inference.

John concedes the first option is not available to him. There are no specific commands in Scripture that rule out incrementalism. In fact, as John points out, there is no discussion of it whatsoever! Rather, the terms "incrementalism" and "immediatism" are historical terms "invented by abolitionists" and "defined by abolitionists" nearly 2,000 years after the closing of the canonical documents. By admitting the term is not found there because it was invented and defined by 19th-century abolitionists, John is admitting the biblical writers did not have it in mind.

With that admission, John's burden of proof grows. If the biblical writers did not have the term in mind, John will face a stronger (though not impossible) challenge demonstrating that Scripture condemns it. In short, he must rely on inference.

Here, though, John must be extremely careful. An inference argument requires a logical (as opposed to ad hoc) extension of a larger biblical principle to a specific behavior not mentioned in Scripture. John must show, in other words, that a general -- or, preferably, universal -- principle applies to incrementalism. He can't just cite some particular command to a particular biblical character (or particular episode), then assume it's universal. Without proper controls, that leads to absurdity. Not every Biblical command is a universal command for all people at all times. Not every episode in Scripture is a paradigm to be emulated by all people at all times. To succeed, John must demonstrate a logical structure that supports extending a universal biblical principle to an unmentioned behavior, incrementalism.

This he does not do.

First, though he asserts that incrementalism is Biblically proscribed, he does not support that assertion with anything like a theologically robust case, as I explain below. Instead, we get a smattering of poor analogies that are exegetically fallacious and, even if they were valid, ironically point to a God who delivers his people incrementally. Second, John's appeal to the history of abolitionism is not only debatable, it's irrelevant to what he must prove. Even if he's right on early abolitionist thinking, it still does not make his case from Scripture that incrementalism is wrong. Third, instead of Biblically grounded arguments, we are treated to a series of ad hominem attacks which, even if true about me, do nothing to support the resolution he must prove. In short, John's response to my opening is, in large measure, either misapplied theology or an exercise in changing the subject.

For example:

1) John claims that immediatism is God's prescribed method, but his support for that claim is weak and questionable. He gives the example of Moses, where God gave him a specific command to free the Israelites, all the Israelites, from Egyptian captivity. Here we have a classic example of an exegetical fallacy -- namely, reading historical texts as prescriptive rather than descriptive. While the Bible conveys truth, not every detail or biographical example is meant to teach a normative principle we are obliged to follow. As more than one Biblical scholar points out, much of the Bible is made up of detailed information that relates to the overall structure of salvation history, but is not meant to convey moral guidelines. In short, we must understand the difference between prescriptive and descriptive material, which John confuses with his Moses example, which in turn results in a false analogy. Just because God gave Moses specific instructions for a specific purpose in Exodus does not mean that specific instruction is a normative principle that can be applied to us today. To cite an example: while it's true in Acts 1 the Apostles cast lots to replace Judas, it does not follow we should select church leaders that way. That's just how it was done at that time. Ironically, even if we adopt John's view and draw a moral principle from God's instruction to Moses, the Biblical narrative at that point works against John, not for him. Notice God's instruction to Moses was incremental. That is, God tells Moses to only free the Israelite slaves, not any of the other slaves. John gave other analogies to support his claim, but these were equally false analogies because these were Jeweish kings in a theocracy, not democratically elected officials in a constitutional republic like ours. Thus, John has failed to give any evidence whatsoever that God's prescription for us today is immediatism in AHA's understanding of the term.

2) John's use of history does not help his case for the simple reason that it's beside the point. The resolution he must prove is that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture, not that it's incompatible with early abolitionists. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl points out, it's not enough to cite an authority and declare victory. You must go further and present an actual argument for why the authority is correct. So, merely citing Garrison won't help here. In fact, it just gives John more work. Not only must he make his case from Scripture, he must make an additional case that Garrison was biblically correct.

3) John's ad hominem attacks against me do not help his case. Suppose he's correct that I'm an antinomianist (i.e. that I believe there are no moral laws God expects us to obey), that I'm fighting abortion for humanist (not biblical) reasons, that my pro-life activism is not informed by God's hatred of murder, that I'm insensitive to Christ's commands, that I lack faith in God, and that my ultimate faith is in the political machine. Well, maybe I am and maybe I'm not that bad. Regardless, how do my alleged character flaws make his case that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture? At best, he shows I'm unregenerate and lost in my sins. He certainly does not show that he's made his case. Indeed, I could be a complete atheist and John still loses because the debate is not about me, but John's ability to successfully defend the resolution, which he's not done. A bad Clinton Wilcox doesn't make a good argument for John Reasnor.

4) John misconstrues my point about that which belongs to Caesar. He apparently believes that when I quoted Jesus regarding Caesar, I was stating that the government has the right to decide who lives and who dies. This is simply an uncharitable reading of my words. Any honest reader will observe this is not what I meant. It was in the context of governing authority, but nowhere do I indicate that the government has this authority (especially since I have, time and again, argued that only God has that authority, and I have argued, time and again, that abortion should be illegal). John is a theonomist, meaning that he believes all kingdoms, now, are called to bow down before Christ and be Christians. I believe in a two-kingdoms view, meaning that Christians are called to personal holiness now, and nations that are not theocracies (i.e. any nation that is not Old Testament Israel) are not called to be "Christian nations". There will come a time when Christ will bring down all of his enemies, but that won't be until the end times (whenever that may be). Theonomy is based on a false interpretation of Scripture. I don't see how we can square theonomy with verses such as Jesus saying to render unto Caesar what are Caesar's (so Caesar, and all rulers, which are instituted by God, are given their authority by God), Jesus telling Pilate that his authority to put Jesus to death was given him by God (John 19:11), and Paul's admonition for us to submit to our governing authorities (Romans 13:1). There is absolutely no way that John can get from my words that I believe whether babies should live or die falls under the authority of our governing bodies.

5) John presents no biblical case against incrementalism as a political strategy. John's only response was to allude to several books in the Old Testament without arguing why they foreclose on incrementalism. What political strategy do those books mandate? John doesn't say. Given he presents no argument from those books, but merely mentions them in passing, there's nothing for me to refute here.

John did give us a few verses regarding politics, though. I find it amusing that one of the verses he cites is Romans 13:1, which says that we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities, because their authority was given to them by God. So yes, even pro-abortion Barack Obama was put in place by God. Thankfully, in a constitutional republic like ours, we still have two strategies we can pursue simultaneously. First we can challenge evil and change hearts through the preaching of the gospel. Second, through the application of civil law, we can work to restrain heartless individuals. As Martin Luther King famously said, "The law can't make the Whiteman love me, but it can sure stop him from lynching me."

Unfortunately John has plucked many verses out of context as prooftexts to try and support his contention (which is a lousy way to do exegesis). Proverbs 11:10-11, and 14:34 aren’t about politics at all; they’re about contrasting the righteous from the wicked. Proverbs 29:2 also isn’t a political prescription. Yes, when a wicked man rules, people groan. But where is the prescription in this verse? (I’m not going to go through all of John’s out of context verses here.)

Additionally, while John is correct that Jesus is king, his prooftexts don't do the work he thinks they do. Romans 16:20 says that Jesus will crush Satan, but this does not show that nations now are required to worship Jesus as a nation currently. John continues to point to the life to come to show how he thinks things are supposed to be now, such as in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul says that God will eventually abolish all political powers and reign after the final resurrection. Of course, John conveniently neglected to mention the verses that precede verse 25, which clearly state that at the end, Christ will abolish all rule, authority, and power. Until then, we have plenty of verses that tell us that the authorities we have in place are established by God, so we are to submit to them.

My responses to John’s analogies were not assertions. I gave reasons why they are false analogies. John’s only response, essentially, is “nu-uh.”

John goes on: “I agree that God gave specific commandments to specific people, however, my argument was never that modern Americans should be seeking the freeing of Israelites from Egypt, but that all the earth should obey God’s commandments and should worship Jesus Christ as King.”
Odd, since you gave an example about Moses freeing the Israelites from Egyptian captivity. The promise was given to Moses for that purpose, so you are drawing a false conclusion from this analogy. It’s also odd that you would use an Old Testament example since Jesus Christ had not yet been revealed as the Messiah; so how can you draw that conclusion from this example?

John says we do have specific commandments, and responds with Jesus summing up the Old Testament Law (love God, love your neighbor). However, this is not a political prescription. John is simply pulling verses out of thin air to try and prove his position. Yes, we’re supposed to love our neighbor. I should be doing things to help my neighbor. But this says nothing about what sorts of legislation we ought to be putting in front of our legislators.

The rest of John's arguments are simply not relevant to the resolution, that Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. John simply has not proven this. It should be clear to any honest observer that John has failed to successfully affirm the resolution.

House Keeping Matter: Defining terms

Under his “other things” heading, John essentially concedes my case regarding the definitions of "incrementalism" and "immediatism". He affirms that these words are not used in Scripture, and that he must resort to historical arguments, not Scriptural ones, in order to make his case. But the resolution is on whether or not incrementalism is Biblical, not whether it is historical. Since incrementalism is not condemned in Scripture, and John has told us that there is no discussion of it in Scripture, the resolution is negated. Incrementalism, even if it is bad pragmatically (and there is a lot of evidence that it has saved a lot of lives), is not incompatible with Scripture.

John asserts that I am muddying the terms, but this is simply false. John didn’t give us any definitions of these terms in his opening argument, which means I was forced to. John simply doesn’t understand how language works. Words evolve. So to say these words are the way they have been historically used is irrelevant to this debate. What matters is how they are used now. I’m willing to grant John’s late definition of immediatism, although he has supplied no evidence, not a single quote from a slavery abolitionist, that their understanding of immediatism is the same as AHA’s understanding of it. We are debating incrementalism, not immediatism. He is free to define "immediatism" any way he chooses.

John also didn’t give a definition of incrementalism in the debate. But since I am the incrementalist, it seems that I should be the one to define it in this debate. By insisting I adopt a view that I don’t adopt, John is essentially attacking a strawman. John said, “Incrementalism is a primarily political strategy that seeks the establishment of justice, by means of legislative compromise and regulation that results in the overturning of Roe vs. [sic] Wade or laws deemed unjust.”
John then insists that I attack his actual position, instead of using my own definition of incrementalism.

This is an illegitimate move on John’s part. First, if he insists on using this definition, then great! We can go home and call it a day. John and AHA should stop trying to get in the pro-life movement’s way because they oppose an idea of incrementalism that the pro-life movement opposes. We’re literally wasting our time debating if this is the definition that John wishes to attack, because this is not the position that I hold. If John still thinks I am in the wrong for being an incrementalist, he will have to attack the position that I hold, not the position that he thinks I hold and would rather attack (since it’s easier to refute). The pro-life movement is not compromising, nor does it believe in regulating abortion.


John's argument that incremental legislation doesn't save any lives, even if true, is irrelevant to the resolution he must defend, namely that Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. In one sense, this is a huge distraction. Even if it was true, that wouldn't prove that incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture. It could be compatible with Scripture, even if it's a bad strategy. But since John brought it up, even though it's irrelevant, I will respond to it.

John asserts the claim that abolitionists are sacrificing children that would have been savable with incremental legislation is a false claim and unprovable. Indeed, he doesn't present one shred of empirical evidence to support it! Meanwhile, Michael New's research shows that incremental legislation saves lives right now, giving us a chance to limit the evil done while, at the same time, working toward the protection of all children. (Note that "PChem", affiliated with AHA and writing on their blog, has tried to challenge Dr. New's research. Here is a response by Steve Hays challenging PChem's analysis.) So here's the question John needs to answer: Should those children saved through incremental legislation have been allowed to die rather than passing bills to save them? This is the question Cunningham put to Hunter in their debate that Hunter refused to answer. Now I don't agree that incremental legislation isn't working, but let's say it wasn't. Every single life spared by incremental legislation would have been a life lost as a result of abolitionist "purity." These are concrete lives that have been spared that are in danger from absolutist thinking.

John continues, "Incrementalists often make the claim that their iniquitous and partial decrees save many lives. However, the primary effect and the only proven effect of any incremental bill is solely the stated effect of the bill. A law outlawing partial birth abortion only does just that. A law banning after 20 weeks only does just that." This is simply absurd and unreasonable argumentation. Yes, a law banning partial birth abortion will only ban partial birth abortion, and a law banning abortions after 20 weeks only does just that. But does John not understand that these laws save the lives of the children would would have been killed by partial birth abortion or who were older than the cut-off? Those lives are concrete lives that have been saved. Thanks to incremental legislation, Texas abortion clinics have dropped from 41 clinics in 2013 to eight in 2014. Incremental legislation results in abortionists losing their license and clinics being shut down. And even though incremental legislation doesn't end all abortions right now, we continue to work toward ending abortion altogether and meanwhile educate the culture and try to save as many lives as we can through education and helping pregnant women, until such time as we can end abortion altogether.

Planned Parenthood and pro-choice bloggers/authors know that incremental legislation works, and that it is only a stepping stone to eventually undermining Roe v. Wade and overturning it. The only people who don't get that are "abolitionists."

Very little of John’s rebuttal pertained to the resolution at all. It is patently clear that John has not affirmed the resolution, and I have clearly negated the resolution. John has not even responded to my arguments against the resolution, so they go through as successful.

Closing Statement:

John has clearly not made his case regarding the resolution in neither his opening statement nor his rebuttal. Instead, he has resorted to personal attacks, which indicates he apparently has no case to make in defense of the resolution. That's very disappointing to me, as I was hoping for an intellectually rigorous exchange of ideas on the exegetical evidence from Scripture. I am the kind of person who is very open to evidence and am willing to change my mind if I feel someone who disagrees with me has the stronger case. John had a chance to try and change my mind but has failed in that attempt.

John supplied no syllogism, no citations of commentaries, and was so careless he even quotes Doug Wilson who appears to support incrementalism. For example, in an article called With Stirrups Raised to Molech, Wilson wrote the following: "The pro-life cause is one where conservatives have fought a successful incremental battle. The carnage has certainly been terrible, and there is still a long way to go, but one full generation after Roe v. Wade, we still have a robust pro-life movement, and it is a movement that has been making significant headway in state after state. In other words, for the secularists, the momentum -- however inadequate it may seem to us -- is all the wrong way. There are many reasons for this. They range from improvements in ultrasound technology to shrewd incremental legislation to tireless work on the part of the pro-life activists to young people growing up into the cause."

John also quoted Francis Schaeffer, but Schaeffer, also, was an incrementalist. Everett Hatcher wrote an article called Francis Shaeffer on Tax Funded Abortion, giving an evaluation of Schaeffer's book, A Christian Manifesto. She explains that in Schaeffer's book (p.103), he uses Samuel Rutherford's models of "Three Appropriate Levels of Resistance," to discuss how Christians are to engage in civil disobedience. It's noteworthy that a few pages later (p. 108), Schaeffer wrote the following, which would be an example of Rutherford's First Level of Resistance (defending oneself by protest, which in contemporary society would most often be by legal action): "In our day an illustration for the need of protest is tax money used for abortion. After all the normal constitutional means of protest had been exhausted, then what could be done? At some point protest could lead some Christians to refuse to pay some portion of their tax money. Of course, this would mean a trial. Such a move would have to be the individual's choice under God. No one should decide for another. But somewhere along the way, such a decision might easily have to be faced. Happily, at the present time in the United States the Hyde Amendment has removed the use of national tax money for abortions, but that does not change the possibility that in some cases such a protest would be the only way to be heard." This is noteworthy because 1) Schaeffer spoke favorably of the Hyde Amendment, which is an incremental type of legislation, and 2) because Schaeffer was clearly expressing that no one should decide a person's actions for him/her. They should decide for themselves. But this clearly goes against John's (and AHA-writ large's) view that anyone who does not support their own brand of immediatist legislation are sinning.

Additionally, John quoted William Wilberforce as an "Immediatist Abolitionist," but this is simply a result of historical revisionism. Wilberforce worked incrementally to end the slave trade in England, including once supporting legislation that did nothing more than make conditions safer for slaves on slave ships (did Wilberforce support slavery, as long as the conditions were clean?) I refer you back to the Cunningham/Hunter debate for more on this, as Cunningham set the record straight on Wilberforce's incrementalism.

In a formal debate, if you have not made your case in the opening and rebuttal, you lose. It's too late to make it in your closing, which should be a summary of your case. However, since I am more interested in truth than "gotcha" points, I will graciously extend to John one more opportunity to formally present his case and will postpone the cross-x until he does. After all, there is no point in doing cross-x until a formal case is presented.

But again, even if I am wrong about Wilberforce, that doesn't make John right about Scripture.

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