Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wormy Straw Men

Reading the literature of the New Apostolic Reformation requires more than a little bit of discernment. Many of the writers rely upon faulty reasoning in order to make their points.

C. Peter Wagner, writing about "Kingdom Philanthropy" and his newly-invented "philanthropic apostles" (see past few Herescope posts on this topic), brought up the issue of "Responsible Distribution" concerning the distribution of wealth. Now, one might think that this topic would deal with the ethics of philanthropy. Instead, this is a treatise on self-esteem. Wagner wrote:

"It is another thing, however, to distribute this wealth responsibly. Here is where philanthropy comes in. Aristotle said that anyone can give money away, but only a few can give it to the right person at the right time, to the right extent, for the right reason, and in the right way.

"Philanthropy" comes from two Greek words meaning "loving people." It is a Godly pursuit because God loves people. Those who are born again by the Holy Spirit reflect God's love for people in their thoughts and in their actions. They are not self-centered because they feel that their destiny is not so much to help themselves, but to help others. It is important to recognize up front that philanthropy and selfishness are opposites.

If we are going to meet God's standards for philanthropy, we must first pass the test of selflessness. Loving others is more important than loving ourselves. [emphasis in original]

Having said this, we must at the same time cultivate healthy, biblical attitudes toward ourselves. The Book of Romans (see Romans 12:1-2), tells us that if we are to do the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, two things are necessary. First, we must not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. That reflects what I just said about selflessness. But the second thing in doing God's will is to think soberly of ourselves. In other words, we must come to a positive, realistic, accurate self-evaluation. We must know who we are and who God desires us to be.

Unfortunately, there has been some misguided teaching in some of our churches; teaching that we should denigrate ourselves in order to please God. Supposedly pious phrases like, "We are nothing" are common. One of Charles Wesley's songs has us singing, "Such a worm as I." God did not create us to be nothing or to be worms. He created us to be the head, not the tail (see Deuteronomy 28:13)." [emphasis added]

This reference to "worms" is a jab at so-called "worm theology." Worm theology is an old straw man argument. This wormy straw man has been propped up for the past four decades to justify the integration of the psychological concept of self-esteem into Christian theology.

There is a bit of truth -- that "worm theology" came to represent an overly self-depracating stance which denied the finished work of Christ on the Cross. But neo-evangelicals seized upon this exaggeration to demolish any remnants of true biblical theology about the nature of man. In its place was substituted the more humanistic "we may sin, but we have good intentions" synthesis.

What is a straw man? According to The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Six Lessons on How on Recognize Bad Reasoning by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn (Christian Logic, 2003), "The fallacy of straw man is changing or exaggerating an opponent's position or argument to make it easier to refute."

The straw man fallacy distorts an opponent's position just enough to make it weak. The new argument that is created is called a "straw man" because it is easy to knock down. ("I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your argument down.") The original argument was not nearly as easy to knock down. (p. 68)

Regular readers of Herescope may wish to purchase a copy of this book and use it as a study aid. It teaches the reader how to recognize and avoid the manipulations of bad reasoning.

The Truth:

A reference to being a "worm" can be found in the Scriptures in the context of Isaiah 41, which speaks about the coming Messiah, "thy redeemer."

"For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 41:14)

The first hymn to mention the phrase "for such a worm as I" was written by Isaac Watts in 1707 and entitled "At the Cross." Read the beautiful words to this hymn :

Alas, and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sov'reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, thine,
And bathed in its own blood,
While all exposed to wrath divine
The glorious Suff'rer stood!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When God, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature's sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While his dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne'er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
'Tis all that I can do.

A later and lesser-known hymn was written by John Wesley (not Charles Wesley) using this same phrase, "for such a worm as I." The third verse reads:

If such a worm as I can spread
The common Saviour's name,
Let him who raised thee from the dead
Quicken my mortal frame.