October 10, 2011

Anne Graham Lotz

Heard this interview on NPR and it speaks to everything that bugs me about evangelical Christianity.

She has no sense that her brother Franklin has operated as a religious and political hack. But worse, she claims that all of them--her brother, her dad, and herself, have all just followed what God wanted them to do. So God wanted Franklin to question Obama's Christianity, blame the Japanese Tsunami on God, and suggest that Obama had allowed Islamic extremists to infiltrate our government? Hmm.

It is amazing. In that circle, God's will is whatever you want it to be. It is almost always what the person claiming it believes, personally, and almost always a reflection of their own personal world-view. But never is God called to account when Brother Franklin goes off the rails and acts like an ass. Never.

If anyone wants a reason why evangelical Christianity leaves me cold, this is as good as any.


Bob said...

I punched Franklin Graham in the face. Oh well, God's will.

Monk-in-Training said...

Interesting that she breaks the Evangelical convention that women shouldn't teach or preach. Just sayin...

Streak said...

That's the thing, Monk, I want to like her. I appreciate her stepping out away from that.

But I guess when it comes right down to it, while I can have appreciation for her father, I don't really respect his theology very much. I appreciated that he learned from his early mistakes, but theologically, not much there.

Anonymous said...

Obama is not a Christian. Anne Lotz is not a preacher, and God never called her to be that. Billy Graham is a heretic. And God did cause the tsunami. Who else could have?

Streak said...

I swear to god, the comments section of this blog has to have a gas leak or something. What else explains the brain dead troll comments from idiots like this?

Bob said...

"And God did cause the tsunami. Who else could have?"

How about what else could have?

Smitty said...

I swear to god, the comments section of this blog has to have a gas leak or something.

I love it, dude. It is no end of fun and amusement.

Obama is not a Christian. By your standards, no. By general religious identification standards, he is. Sorry.

Anne Lotz is not a preacher
On this, we agree, but for very different reasons. Your reasons are misogynistic. My reasons could be compared to saying something like "Joey Harrington is no quarterback." He was but was so bad at it that I just can't count him as a real QB.

and God never called her to be that
Nor anyone.

Billy Graham is a heretic.
By...which standards? An actual objective survey? Or is this just your standard sort of obstinate 'I disagree with everything you say'?

And God did cause the tsunami. Who else could have?
This. The article links to other articles about the causes of things that cause tsunamis. Unfortunately for your position, God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, Zeus, Odin, Jupiter, the chupakabra, bigfoot, and other similar "causal" forces are not listed.

Smitty said...

Now, this is what pisses me off, Streak. The trolls show up and drop a bomb, and I respond with some grade-A snark, but they never ever come back to reply to it. I have so much more snark and mocking to give, Streak, but they disappoint me every time.

Eric S said...

Smitty, I agree with you. The idea that God, thoughtfully understood, “did cause the tsunami” seems to fly in the face of any reasonable view of God. If you wind back and look at the primary vengeance accounts in the OT they have a common theme: impossible wickedness. Sodom had only Lot and family that were redeemable, Canaan [Jericho] had only Rahab redeemable, Antediluvia had only Noah and family redeemable. The theory is that eventually even the best apple, disconnected from the tree, will be too spoiled to eat. Is someone seriously saying that Japan is like Sodom?

The orthodox answer is that in the fall the curse included death, ill fate, and natural evil. All other evil is the operation of free will. With few exceptions as noted above, natural evil is a feature of the universe installed in the design because of God’s foreknowledge of man’s fall. Interpreting judgmental providence, in a post prophetic world, with few or possibly even no exceptions, looks like a fool’s errand.

Smitty said...


I actually really appreciate your comment, given the look-back at the OT and the source of the idea that "evil" of a natural form (hurricanes, earth quakes, animals that munch on people, etc) is a consequence of our eventual "fall" even from before we actually "fell."

Interpreting judgmental providence, in a post prophetic world, with few or possibly even no exceptions, looks like a fool’s errand.

I tend to think that prescribing any divine causation to natural phenomenon is folly. My first foray, as a younger kid, into the wild world of "sooo...the bible's really not literal, huh" was the whole natural disaster thing.

Plus, 7 days? Really?

But that's another topic.

Eric S said...


Thank you for the gracious words. Having responded to this blog, I recognize that I have actually heard Anne Graham Lotz on the radio. Is she Billy Graham's daughter? Whatever she said, my impression was, I'm not too sure about that.

As for seven days, Hebrews 4 makes it crystal clear that the writer lived [and by implication we do too] in God's seventh day of rest from the act of creation. Hebrew only had 3500 nouns. So the phrase "and this was the morning and evening of the sixth day," for example, very reasonably means, the beginning and end of the sixth epoch of time. It is very hard to reconcile those passages if those days are short.

In a language with such a sparsity of words, wrangling over literal vs. figurative is almost meaningless. You can check this out for yourself, there is no language ending the seventh day in Gen 2, completely vindicating the long seventh day cited in Hebrews.

As to reasonableness of divine cause, physics was a theological concept before it was a scientific one. Theologians call it "general providence," but the point is there is zero difference between the two ideas, apart from the axiomatic assumption of the absence or presence of God.

But as you say, that is a different topic. Thanks for the insightful thoughts.


Smitty said...

As for seven days, Hebrews 4 makes it crystal clear that the writer lived [and by implication we do too] in God's seventh day of rest ... Hebrew only had 3500 nouns...In a language with such a sparsity of words, wrangling over literal vs. figurative...

Streak, Eric S get the award for most-relevant-comment-in-months.

That is some really thought-provoking commentary, Eric. It makes me wonder about the nature of this evangelical "big-box church" insistence on the "literal" appearance of things in the bible that, as you point out, don't exist. I mean, I think it has to be more than just "they don't really read the bible" run-of-the-mill ignorance. In my mind, it gets into the territory of purposeful reinterpretation. But to what end, I wonder?

Or, maybe, it's that many pastors in these types of churches don't actually have a formal religious education that lends a sense of history and perspective to their dogma and interpretation of The Book.

physics was a theological concept before it was a scientific one...but the point is there is zero difference between the two ideas

I disagree here. Well, kinda. Yes, "natural laws" were seen as a part of creation; the machinery that keeps His creation in motion (New Orleans got swamped because they built a city that continues to sink...on a river delta...prone to floods...and expect ditches to hold back a rush of water) that He then bends on occasion to make some sort of point. So conceptually, yes, the clockworks of the universe were theological in nature first, because a society with no scientific method had to explain Why The Earth Spins somehow.

But it's the second part of your statement that I disagree with: that there is no difference. There is. You say it yourself: absence versus presence. Physics is that set of "natural laws" outside of a creator. Physics makes no assumption of a creator as it delves deeper into the machinery; general providence requires there to be one.

I am probably splitting hairs.

Eric S said...


You probably understand this, but to be clear, when I say “Hebrews 4” I am talking about the NT book and a few words later I say “Hebrew” I am speaking about the language in which the OT was mostly written.

On the theological point about the meaning of General Providence, it really means the way things always happen. Assume God then it means that God is committed to that kind of operation in his universe always, excepting “special providence” and miracle. Assume “Nature” it means the way things always happen in nature. The prediction of each assumption would be identical so far as that goes.

The divide comes not with physics or general providence but the existence of “special providence” and miracles. The orthodox [here meaning apostolic teaching] to which I hold, says sure God uses both of these but miracles more rarely yet, if at all, in the day in which we live.

Special providence is at the tip of statistical variability where God can and does push events in whatever direction that accomplishes his will, when a specific outcome for a specific event is called-for in his plan in answer to a prayer etc.

The most common use of miracle is as the confirmation of God’s divine message. Those of us who believe that God’s message is complete, don’t expect to see miracles much, if at all, given that their primary function doesn’t apply to the current day.

Miracles are easy to distinguish from special providence. Jesus made lepers whole, for example. If a person has a disease that causes fingers and toes to fall off, and you come out with 20 digits, that qualifies as a miracle. Basically, miracles don’t have any real alternative explanation where special providence could always be argued to be something else.

I may never be able to convince you of an answered prayer, but if you had a friend who had no fingers and toes whom Jesus healed to perfect condition, that would be strictly objective.

I may have told you more about this subject, than you wanted to know, but at least I hope it is clear.


leighton said...

Physics as practiced by actual physicists doesn't really say anything about the presence or absence of God. It's more along the lines of, "What mathematical models best describe the behavior of these things." God is there if and only if she can be expressed in purely quantitative terms. I would say that contemporary physics and divine providence have virtually no similarities, unless theologians use their own quantitative models of the behavior of nature under various circumstances.

leighton said...

Oops, missed the latest post. For what it's worth, I don't understand how miracles could reasonably be considered confirmation of anything. A child goes to the hospital with a treatable infection, and his aunt could perform a Santaria ritual and give her beliefs and practices credit for his recovery, which was actually effected by antibiotics. If someone grows fingers and toes back, what grounds would there be to say "Oh, it must be the Catholic/Orthodox Christian God answering prayers directed specifically at him for that purpose"?

Eric S said...


Judging from your comments, I said everything I said very poorly, because I caused nothing but confusion. For the record I am an evangelical. By orthodox I mean conforming to the teaching of the bible under the assumption that it is true and reliable if understood correctly. The NT would equal the teaching of the Apostles. So an evangelical would say he is a follower of the Apostolic Church meaning he believes the NT. That wouldn’t make him a member of the Orthodox Church, nor the Catholic Church proper.

If a physicist were to explain to a child what he is doing he might drop a ball on the floor and say, my job is to explain why all of that just happened. He might put a couple of formulas on the board and say, I don’t expect you to understand this, but this describes what happened and would predict the same if I did it again.

If a theologian were to explain general providence he could do it exactly the same way. Rather than describe the motion of the particular law, he would talk about Gods absolute commitment to the regular operation of natural laws. Thus when we get out of bed in the morning we don’t have to worry if our feet will land on the floor or the ceiling. That is the definition of both physics and general providence. There is no daylight between the two. If that doesn’t sound right to you, it is only because I have explained it badly.

A physicist could explain general providence perfectly entirely on accident, simply by explaining what he does. I’m not trying to be controversial, this is simply definitional.

As for your example of the child, that although it would be called a miracle by most people, is really an example of coincidence. If you changed the example to make the presumed agency prayer to the God describe in the bible, it might be special providence. Now growing the fingers is intended to be without alternative explanation, so the one who can do that, has the prerogative of explaining how that can be done, given there are no other explanations.

This is precisely what Jesus did when he healed the lame man “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.””

What was in question here? Whether or not Jesus can forgive sins. You see only God can forgive sins. This comes as a consequence of the fact of creation. If God created all things, then every sin is a sin involving something that belongs to God and God is the injured party first and foremost.

Being the primary injured party, God can forgive sins. Thus Jesus proves he is God by showing the authority to create health on the spot, out of lameness, and establishes that authority to forgive sins predicated on his divinity. This is only a single example but it shows what miracles essentially do.

I hope this is clearer.

leighton said...


My apologies for making assumptions about your beliefs. So we're on par, I'm an atheist ex-evangelical Christian, and I've spent the past ten years online trying to atone for my days as an apologetics fanboy when I simply knew that anyone who didn't agree with me just didn't understand what I was saying.

That is the definition of both physics and general providence. There is no daylight between the two. If that doesn’t sound right to you, it is only because I have explained it badly.

With all due respect, this comes across as extremely condescending. I studied physics in undergrad and worked alongside physicists in grad school. One hopes that actual physicists might be moderately competent to describe what they do, and what you are talking about is nothing like what I studied.

Here's where I think your analogy breaks down. With physics, you can chart an educational course whereby students learn the mathematics underlying our models of nature, and come to speak the language of physics fluently. If we both had the time and energy, I could get you to the point where you understood why we use the Navier-Stokes equations to model fluid dynamics, without treating you like an eight-year-old with analogies of beach balls and water balloons bouncing off each other. It's purely operational; it doesn't depend on accepting any particular ideology or ethics or ontology.

Theology, though, forces its practitioners always to reason by analogy. There's nothing quantitative in theology. There is no ideologically neutral language game that functions in theology the way applied mathematics functions in physics. There is no mechanism by which older theological models are replaced by newer models that explain more things. To the contrary, fidelity to a model in the face of reasonable opposition is usually considered a virtue. This is why I don't see any overlap here; the methodologies are completely different. With physics, you can always move the conversation to a level that's distinct from "It's kind of like...". With theology, you just have analogy and revelation. That's not just a different ballpark, it's a different sport.

Now growing the fingers is intended to be without alternative explanation, so the one who can do that, has the prerogative of explaining how that can be done, given there are no other explanations.

But who gets to decide that there are no other explanations? Do you think this is a wise approach, in general? If you saw something that you decided was a genuine miracle, and the person taking credit told you Jesus was a fraud, would you believe him? Are cons impossible? Are honest mistakes?

Not that I dispute that NT audiences reasoned in exactly this way. I studied NT Greek as my undergrad foreign language, and I do remember a little here and there. But without meaning to be unkind to people who died millennia ago, I just don't think this approach to knowledge has any merit.

Smitty said...

You probably understand this...[etc]...

Uh...yeah...pretty obvious, Eric. I can read and actually comprehend what I'm reading. I am familiar with concepts like "books of the bible," "languages - alive AND dead" and "differences between 'languages' and 'titles of books of the bible.'". Thanks though. Never hurts to be clear, huh?

I may have told you more about this subject, than you wanted to know

No, actually, you over-defined terms and added a slightly unnecessary level of explanation to things I thought I expressed in my own missive that I grasped. I doubt you meant to be insulting or condescending and instead are trying to engage in a conversation with strangers for whom you have no idea about our level of knowledge of a subject you know a good deal about.

Let's assume that we are now clear on our definitions of the various forms of providence. The point I was trying to reach I think was made better and more clearly by Leighton, when he said: "Physics as practiced by actual physicists doesn't really say anything about the presence or absence of God. [etc etc]". His two statements in a row express certainly and much more clearly what I was after (as for my comment above, apparently I can read and comprehend but am a poorer writer!).

To carry what Leighton said in my own language, the chasm of difference between theology and physics is that with theology, the answer comes down to "God's Will" and that's it. My feet hit the floor because of his commitment that they will. No exploration, no question, no new model of knowledge. The opposite of physics.

In Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk, he talks about how in a few short years in the late 16th Century, we went from believing in superstitious causal phenomena to developing the scientific method to explain natural laws. The church at the time jailed and threatened people for working within a scientific framework, as it stood in direct conflict with theology. In some religious circles today, that still hasn't changed.

Eric S said...


I regret very much that I have made such a hash of this exchange. Coming off as condescending is the last thing I want to do, and I don’t think that the differential between the things I know and the things you know gives me any ground to look down on you.

I could be wrong but it seems clear to me from your comment that you don’t have any idea what I said. I talked about three distinct concepts. One is general providence, one is special providence and one is miracles.

Is it ok to invoke the term physics if I use this dictionary definition? “Physics is the study of the natural or material world and phenomena; natural philosophy.” I hope we can agree that the writer of that definition is not trying to be condescending.

General providence is all those things that would be under the province of natural law within the meaning of the natural world mentioned above. Now, I hope I’m not tempting fate but theology is the study of God, and for anything to be a theological concept it must be teleological in nature. So when I say that God is committed to natural law, I’m not trying to be condescending, but if I don’t say that I’m not talking about theology at all.

If Christianity did not also teach about special providence and miracles I think it is fare to say we would have no disagreement. We might say isn’t it odd that the other believes or disbelieves in God, but apart from the teleological attribution to God, we would have no substantive disagreement.

Starting with “special” providence we say God is involved at the edge of statistical probability selecting outcomes. Here we no doubt disagree. This would include answered prayer and a lot of things.

Miracles as C.S. Lewis says are an act of real time creation completely interrupting the natural system. I’m sure we disagree about this.

Your question about who gets to decide regarding miracles, if I’m right I suppose it would be some combination of God and the person. It is not impossible that a scientifically sophisticated person might say if I saw x I’d have to say that is a miracle. On the other hand it is not impossible for a particular person to be unpersuaded by anything. If there is a God performing an act of creation in real time, that is an objective fact entirely separate from anyone’s perception of it. The best science could do on this point is to help rule out a detectable fraud. This category and special providence can exist if there is a God and it can’t if there is not.

But if you disagree with the notion of God, you will not be happy with anything some one says about theology, because it is the study of God. On that point I have no choice but to ask for your toleration.

If you don’t believe in miracles why not be agnostic? You and I both agree that most miracles can be ruled out. I affirm the ones in the bible. Being agnostic can’t save you, but at least it keeps you from being committed to the proposition that you can disprove things that you can’t.


Eric S said...

Thanks Smitty,

Your citation of Leighton is particularly germane. Here the three of us are in perfect agreement.

Sorry about the over explanation. As for the misbehavior in the 16th century, it is over interpreted in my view. Both the perpetrators and the victims were Christians and there is a little defining of terms that is important.

The visible church is what you can see. The invisible church, are those whom God knows belongs to him. They are not exactly the same.

There is no question that in the bible the Jews were God's chosen people, never the less they crucified Christ. So there was the visible Israel who crucified Christ, and the true Israel who wept at the foot of the cross.

This distinction is true in every generation and it is true today. You can always point to bad behavior in the visible church but God knows who belongs to him.


leighton said...


Believe it or not (I'm not sure you do), I think I did understand your earlier posts. It's just that I disagree with some key parts of them that pertain to things I happen to have studied, and my priorities in the discussion are quite different.

You say that general providence and physics are the same thing (except for the notion of original cause). I am confident they are not. Take the dictionary definition you cited (we both know, I hope, that dictionaries do not provide the last word on the range of meanings used by native speakers of a language, let alone the precise nuances used by specialists, but it's a good a starting place as any). For me, the key word is study. I argue that physics as practiced by physicists is primarily the activity of studying the world, not the set of results that happens to be our best current understanding of how things work. While there are certainly evangelical physicists, they do physics; they don't do general providence. Their methods are accessible, reviewable, affirmable and refutable by people of all faiths and no faith. I would agree that general providence (as you use the term) does not contest the results of physics, but equating general providence with a cross-cultural discipline that uses methodologies that generate knowledge-claims about the world seems entirely disingenuous to me.

The reason I zoomed out to talk about theology in general is that one of the things that always bothered me about my theology classes was the presumption that theology is a proper superset of all other academic disciplines. I think this is utter nonsense. You clearly weren't claiming this explicitly, but I read something like this into your conflation of an interpretation of the results of physics with the practice of physics itself. People who are doing theology are thinking and behaving differently than people who are doing physics. I hope we could agree on that much.

I don't disagree that your version of special providence is a consistent way to hold to a traditional belief together with an understanding of the results of science. Lots of people do it. I think there are other, and to my mind more satisfactory, consistent ways to interpret statistical variance. I'm not at all impressed with what that says about the nature of God, but that's not a conversation I'm interested in having (see below).

You might actually call me an "apatheist," in the sense that I don't believe in God, don't assert there isn't any such thing, and don't think it's important enough to hold it out as a serious unknown possibility. I don't want to take too much of your time talking about these labels, because I can't argue about it in good faith. I don't mean that I would be dishonest -- rather, I try to avoid conversations where I don't actually care about the topic at hand. It isn't fair in relationships or in discourse for one party to care grossly less than the other. It's why it bothers me when you talk about physics (you don't seem interested at all in the natural world for its own sake), and it's why I won't waste your time talking about God.

Streak said...

Interesting discussion. Not to take away from it, but it seems to me that we don't normally get into discussions about physics, because for most people, it is like another language. I know it is for me. I understand (barely) what it is, but beyond that I have very little knowledge, or vocabulary to work with.

This is usually where we are talking about history, because it has almost two meanings. One is the professional pursuit of trying to explain the past, while the other is the popular idea of the past--which most people have a sense of. Since a good many historians avoid highly theoretical language, the popular history and professional history share a lot of the same vocabulary, which leads us to easily confuse the two.

That seems to be what is happening between Eric and myself over in the other thread, where he suggests that history is clear and objectively intelligible--and needs no contextualization nor examination, while I am arguing that the past is a different country.

Eric S said...


You are right; I should use the word naturalistic laws in the broadest sense rather than physics. Regular observations accessible to everyone, is much more the idea I was going for. For the record, I was not trying to compare the discipline of Theology with the study of physics.

Theology presupposes that there is a category of information that penetrates the universe from the outside. It explores why God is this way or that way and the only evidence we have is to be found in scripture, life, relationships, the physical world and history.

It is God’s purpose for these things that is the question. It is about why, not what; which makes it very different from natural science, sociology, psychology, and history proper. You’re right to point out the divergence in perspective, approach, and methodology.

I was really not trying to say, what I must have appeared to you to be saying.


Eric S said...


Well, I would say that the small subset of history that was my concern, which is a declaratory document, particularly the Declaration of Independence, that, I would say is clear. I think you have convinced me that to press that clarity, to broad interpretations of events, I may not have sufficient ground for that.


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