The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what the Big Box is all about.
Okay, confession time. Sometimes, I have a love-hate relationship with this series. I know many people have been helped by the Big Box. I know it’s even more relevant now that patriarchy, in the wake of Vision Forum’s spectacular implosion, has become more decentralized and its proponents’ relationships even murkier than they already were. But it still happens occasionally that when Monday night rolls around, and with it the prospect of listening to yet another hour of patriarchal drivel, I cringe and put it off till Tuesday. I think this week’s post will show you why.
As I mentioned in my last post, this part of the Big Box is a sort of “series within a series” in which I analyze four parenting lectures by S. M. Davis (for more on his background, see the last post). The first one, How to Develop Character in Your Children, was not as bad as it could have been. I didn’t agree with Davis’ main point, or many of his secondary ones, but at least he didn’t veer too far afield into outright crackpottery.
Well, let’s just say that was not the case with Why Satan Wants Your Firstborn. I passed through quite a few different emotional states listening to it – confusion, horror, frustration, impotent rage – and wasn’t quite sure how to respond when it was over. After giving it a lot of thought, though, I’m convinced that this picture shows us the only proper reaction.
In a perfect world, of course, I wouldn’t have to refute the kind of claptrap Davis spent an hour spewing all over his innocent listeners. But as we all know, this isn’t a perfect world. And thus I must attempt a rebuttal to Davis’ Gumby-like “exegesis.”
Davis begins the lecture by claiming that God always wants the “first things,” an idea he supports mainly with verses from Exodus (13:1-2, 22:29, 34:19-20), though he does cite others as well, almost all drawn from the Old Testament (with an honorable mention of James 1:18 and Revelation 2:4-5). This should have been a clue for Davis, to notify him that his “binding principle” is suspiciously similar to a wholesale failure to abrogate Old Covenant ceremonial law. This is especially obvious with the firstborn laws, which are not only never mentioned in the New Testament (at least to my knowledge), but whose practical application outside of ancient Israel is unclear at best:
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine.” (Exodus 13:1-2)
You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe produce and your juices. The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. (Exodus 22:29)
All that open the womb are Mine, and every male firstborn among your livestock, whether ox or sheep. But the firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb. And if you will not redeem him, then you shall break his neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. (Exodus 34:19-20)
So if Davis is correct that these laws still apply somehow, how does this work out on the ground? Do Christians still have to “redeem” their firstborn children? If so, with what? The lamb originally prescribed? Money? Praying over them? What?
Not surprisingly, Davis never explored the practical outworking of these verses. He merely quoted them at the beginning of the lecture to establish his “principle,” then moved on to citing any other verse he could find in the Old Testament that used the word “firstfruits,” most of which were connected to offerings and tithing. He thus falls neatly into Vision Forum’s demonstrable pattern of using the word “principle” to transform bizarre, tenuous ideas loosely based on the Bible, into eternally binding commands of God.
Now at this point, I expect objections to come rolling in because of that pesky concept of tithing. Isn’t it a good thing to tithe? And if so, shouldn’t I cut Davis a little more slack before so hastily condemning his “firstfruit principle”?
In answer to the first question, yes, it is a good thing to tithe, and if you feel called to do it, then more power to you! Personally I’d dispute that it’s mandatory for Christians under the New Covenant, but that’s been a topic of debate for centuries and there will always be honest Christians on both sides of the issue. However, you wouldn’t know that listening to Davis, who claims not only that tithing still has blessings and curses attached to it, but that God will “curse the income” of non-tithers (an idea easily disproven by a quick look around most churches). So while I’m not out to condemn tithing, I will point out that Davis’ view of it is pretty extreme and, in my view, amounts to a throwback to the Old Covenant just like the firstborn laws.
As for the second question, no, I will not cut Davis any slack, because his “firstfruit principle” has been extended miles beyond its Biblical definition (money, produce and firstborns). In fact, as the lecture progressed, Davis expanded the definition of “first things” to include all, or almost all, of life as we know it. He began, of course, with relatively tame stuff that would raise few eyebrows:
Have you considered that you ought to give the first part of your day to the Lord? I don’t know of any command in relation to this, but there’s some strong endorsements. … I know of a Bible college that requires their students to have thirty minutes of quiet time every morning. I like that. There’s something about rising early in the morning with a mind that is clear and a spirit that is fresh to meet God. There’s something about meeting God early in the morning that sets the stage for the whole day.
Notice that Davis admits up front that there’s no Biblical command to pray early in the morning. That does not, however, stop him from approving of a college legalistically imposing this (admittedly optional) practice on its students. It also shouldn’t be taken as a sign that Davis is putting this forth as mere opinion, as he claims later in the lecture that it is Satan himself who makes Christians reluctant to get out of bed in the morning and do their quiet time.
Davis’ applications only get weirder from here. In fact, he seems to have simply reworded almost any concept he could think of into terms including the word “first,” and then made a law out of it. Sporting events like the Superbowl are on Sunday because it is the first day of the week and Satan wants to wrest it away from God. Christians should have sex for the first time after they are married. The first years of a child’s life are the most important and thus children must be trained carefully. And because he used the word “first” to explain these things, they must be, according to him, extensions of the “firstfruit principle” he sees in the Bible.
If this all sounds a little nebulous to you, don’t feel bad – it didn’t make sense when Davis said it, either. Perhaps a sampling of quotes will help. In any case, they clearly demonstrate that Davis is operating not on the “firstfruit principle,” but on the “contortionist principle.” Emphasis on the word “first” is mine.
For instance, the first part of life is a key part of life that belongs to God. Our young people and our children need to give their lives to the Lord genuinely and completely early in life. I’m so tired of hearing the philosophy, young people have to sow their wild oats, and after a while, if they’ve had good enough training and people pray hard enough, they’ll come back to God.
That first Sunday evening, Jesus met with all of his disciples except Thomas. The next Sunday evening, he met with all of them. That’s the reason we have church on Sunday night.
Satan hates the entire Bible. He fights against all of God’s truth, but there is one verse that I believe has been and continues to be more attacked than any other verse in the Bible, and that is the first verse in the Bible. If Satan can make people that the first verse of the Bible is mistaken in any way, then he can make them believe that the rest of the Bible is a lie as well. If Satan can destroy the truth of creation, it won’t be long before he’ll destroy the truth of salvation. With no hesitation at all, I say to you that every detail of Genesis 1:1 is true. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Incidentally, folks, evolution is not science. Evolution is a false religious philosophy.
Satan wants a young lady or a young man to give their first love to someone else besides the person they’re to marry. So Satan deceives the masses of people, including many Bible-believing Christians, into thinking that playing the boyfriend-girlfriend game is just a normal part of human life.
Satan wants to get parents so busy that they are telling children what to do, but not really doing the first and most important thing that parents need to do as parents. What is that? What is the first and most important thing that parents need to do as parents? The first priority for parents is to tie heartstrings with their children.
Satan wants to destroy the first and most important part of child training. What is it? The first and most important part of child training is training a little child to obey you the very first time you speak. You must work diligently to teach that. But Satan knows that if you let children do what they want to at the first, later on they’ll become spoiled, cantankerous, intolerable, hateful, vicious, angry, uncontrollable brats.
Well would you look at that. Apparently, when the author(s) of the Pentateuch wrote down the laws about tithing and firstborns, they really meant them to apply to child training, fornication, evolution, dating, and service schedules! Who knew?
Before we move on, I’d like to briefly demonstrate that you could reframe just about anything to fit with Davis’ “firstfruits principle.” For instance, I’m going to propose, right here, right now, that because God wants the “first things” in all of life, babies in Christian households should absolutely not say “mama” or “dada” as their first words. This would be robbing God, as it would be giving the “firstfruits” of their speech to their parents instead of to God. Christian parents should instead teach their children to say “God” or “Jesus” as their first words (“hallelujah” or “Bible” might be acceptable too). That way, parents can ensure that their children start life off on the right foot by giving God His due from the very beginning. After all, you don’t want to teach your children to be thieves, do you?
Following Memory Lane off the deep end
Since I like Big Box posts to be link-heavy to help show connections between various speakers and ideas, I feel obligated to point out some repeat offenders in the above quotes. First, Davis’ statements about child training and first-time obedience echo my last post, How to Develop Character in Your Children. For those in need of review, I encourage you to read it, as well as the fourth section of this one about Voddie Baucham.
The fourth quote, about young people and dating, could have been lifted straight out of the first Davis lecture I reviewed back in May, Seven Bible Truths Violated by Christian Dating. In that lecture we also learned that couples cannot cross the “physical fence” before marriage, which, according to Davis’ own definitions, means they can’t even hold hands while they’re engaged. This puts a whole new spin on something Davis said shortly following the above quote about first love, in which he describes what will happen if couples have sex before marriage:
…their first relationship produces tremendous guilt and shame, and if they do get married, there’s a feeling of defeat and helplessness that comes with them into the marriage, unless they get some wise counseling in order to correct the damage that has been done.
Now, this obviously doesn’t happen to every couple who has premarital sex. However, most couples who have premarital sex don’t go to S. M. Davis’ church or listen to his lectures. If they did, then Davis’ words above would quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy because the couple would be given no tools to move forward after their action. Even if they didn’t feel guilt and shame themselves (though they probably would in that environment), I expect others would be sure to heap it upon them in spades anyway. After all, if hand-holding qualifies as “crossing the physical fence,” then what is fornication? Clearly, something much more serious than getting the cart before the horse. In fact, under Davis’ system, it could probably be described as outright cataclysmic. (I don’t intend any of this to imply that fornication is not sin, but nevertheless it’s unclear how Davis or his followers could cope with it in a healthy, reasonable manner if they’ve already lumped it into the same category as hand-holding.)
Also related to this is Davis’ claim that Satan attacks couples during their first year of marriage (another extension of the “firstfruit principle”). Frankly, I don’t think Satan needs to do this under Davis’ system, because Davis is making their lives hard enough to begin with. How is a couple not supposed to have problems early on, when Davis forbids them from even holding hands before marriage? Davis can make the wedding night sound romantic and sacred all he wants, but it almost certainly won’t be if it’s the couple’s first experience with any kind of physical intimacy. To go from no physical contact at all to sex, in one day, sounds more like a recipe for disaster than a recipe for a healthy marriage.
Finally, even though I promised here that I wouldn’t interact with Vision Forum’s views on the age of the earth and a strictly literal creation account, I’m going to have to contradict myself today and address Davis’ statement above about Genesis. Not only is his extension of the “firstfruit principle” to the topic invalid, he’s grossly misrepresenting the views of theistic evolutionists, and even old-earth creationists, by claiming they don’t believe Genesis 1:1. Simply because they have a different view of how creation occurred or how long it took, does not mean they don’t believe God’s hand was behind it (which is all Genesis 1:1 really says anyway).
Furthermore, whether Davis realizes it or not, he may be setting young people up to actually disbelieve the Bible with his incautious broadbrush statements about inerrancy. When he says that “every detail of Genesis 1:1 is true,” I’m certain he means literally true and does not allow for metaphor, allegory, etc. This doesn’t cause many problems with Genesis 1:1, but when applied to the rest of the creation account things get a bit hairier. Add in ancient prescientific views about the structure of the universe, and it becomes extremely difficult to maintain that the Bible is 100% literally true on every point of scientific detail. Fortunately, most mainstream definitions of inerrancy allow for this fact. Davis, however, does not, because he maintains that if Genesis is not literally true, then it is a “lie” and we would thus be justified in throwing out the Gospels and abandoning Christianity.
Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Davis, but that dog don’t hunt. In what universe is a person justified in disbelieving the Gospel narratives (even though we have an excellent understanding of their historical context, and know for a fact that Jesus was a historical person and the crucifixion really happened), just because the creation account in Genesis (which self-consciously describes the beginning of time and thus by definition can’t have human eyewitnesses or direct documentation) turned out to contain metaphor or figurative language? And what will you do, Mr. Davis, when your young people discover the all-too-pertinent facts linked to above about the ancients’ beliefs, and ask you how that fits with your unnecessarily strict view of inerrancy? Scream at them? Call them heretics? Ignore them? Or will you actually interact with the facts of the situation in an honest manner (unlikely, in this listener’s estimation)?
sign birth order?
You may be wondering by now what Davis actually says about firstborns, beyond tying them to his “firstfruit principle” and a few ceremonial laws in Exodus. Well, as it turns out, he has a lot to say, and it’s even more bizarre than what he said about firstfruits. The first thing we learn is that firstborns have enormous potential – more potential, in fact, than their younger siblings – and all because of Jacob’s description of his eldest son Reuben in Genesis 49:3:
Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power.
Davis then goes on to say this:
Reuben was the first, the beginning of Isaac’s [sic] strength. His was the excellency of dignity, and excellency meant superiority and preeminence. His was the excellency of power, and that wasn’t just a description of Reuben, it is also a Bible description of the position of the firstborn. Of the original twenty-three astronauts in the United States space program, twenty-one of the twenty-three were firstborns. All of the original Mercury astronauts were firstborn. More than fifty percent of United States presidents have been firstborns. More than sixty percent of the people listed in Who’s Who in America are firstborn. You got to remember, when you look back at figures like that, you say, well, that’s a significant part of the population, but if you go back to when many of the presidents of the United States lived, there were much larger families than now, families average seven or eight children in the family.
Hmmm. So, apparently, firstborns have a proclivity for greatness, fame and high achievement – based on nothing but their birth order. Davis says elsewhere that they’re also good administrators, and especially prone to getting angry when they don’t get their way. You know, sort of like Virgos are modest perfectionists, and Geminis are adaptable and inquisitive.
But wait! This isn’t like astrology at all because God chose your birth order! In fact there’s even a special word for this: firstbornness!
Some firstborns have trouble dedicating their lives to God and dedicating their lives to serving others because they reject their firstbornness. Most people who reject themselves reject God as well. Your birth order was not something you could choose or reject. Your birth order was chosen for you by God Himself, you have no choice about it at all. He let you be whatever you are today because He knew you could handle it. Everything about your entire life is designed by God Himself so that your life is able to be all God meant for it to be. You had no more choice about being firstborn than the Levites did to be the Levites. But there were and are distinct privileges that come with the acceptance of the responsibility of your birth order.
Huh. Who knew birth order was so important. I thought it was only important during that awkward Sunday School lesson on the ten plagues, when the teacher makes all the firstborns raise their hands and then feels compelled to tell them they would have died. (Yes, I’m a firstborn. And yes, my mother taught Sunday School. What tipped you off? 🙂 )
But Davis doesn’t stop here. No, he has even more to say about this superstitious hogwash. For instance, the idea that pastors’ firstborn children are prime targets of Satanic attack because they are so-called “triple firstborns.” You may be wondering how someone can be a “triple firstborn,” but don’t worry, Davis will make it all clear. The church is God’s firstborn, so there’s one. Pastors are the “firstborns” of their congregations because they’re equivalent to the Levites under the Old Covenant, and Levites were the firstborn of Israel, so there’s two. (Just ignore the fact that this could be construed as pastors salvifically mediating for their parishioners. You didn’t see nuthin’.) And finally, of course, the pastor’s firstborn is actually a physical firstborn, so alakazam! Triple firstborn!
See now why I dread listening to these lectures sometimes?
Being serious again, it befuddles me why this terrible lecture and all the horrendous “reasoning” inside of it got airtime at Vision Forum. I can only assume that Doug Phillips or someone else at the company had to actually listen to it before approving it for sale. Presumably that means that whoever approved it agreed with it, and not only agreed with it, but agreed with it enough to promote it. And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, it was featured in the 40-CD set that my mother purchased on sale, which, I can only assume, means that they liked it so much that they thought it would be a good lecture to include in one of their “greatest hits” or “best of Vision Forum” packages.
Well, heads up, Vision Forum, even though I know you’re not around to listen anymore. If Why Satan Wants Your Firstborn was your best, then – wow. Just wow.
Sometimes, there really are no words.