The Likable Legalist Dr. Laura

Is She A Much Needed
Prophetess for Our Times?

by G. Richard Fisher

“Dr. Laura Schlessinger espouses what I would call a modified or theistic humanism,” so says Tom Allen in his recent volume, A Closer Look at Dr. Laura.

There is a humorous witticism that states: “Give a woman an inch and she’ll become a ruler!” That may be in jest but there is no doubt that Dr. Laura Schlessinger rules the airwaves these days. Her immensely popular call-in show is a mix of practical advice and pounding persuasion with doses of religion thrown in. She is a no nonsense advice giver who takes no prisoners.

Called “America’s Mom,” Dr. Laura is anti-abortion, pro-capital punishment, anti-drugs, anti-divorce, anti-adultery, anti-homosexual, pro-marriage and a children’s advocate.1 She upholds the Judeo-Christian view of morality and ultimate accountability to God. She is strongly against a couple living together outside of marriage. She is an advocate of James Dobson and the moral campaigns of his ministry. These are the things every believer wants to hear. Understandably, she is quite appealing to the conservative Christian segment of our society. Her standard and stand for practical righteousness is to be applauded. She at least enforces one primary use of the Old Testament Law, that is, the restraint of sin and the sinner. However, in spite of all the favorable, not all is well in “Lauraland.”

Radio psychologist Laura Schlessinger is a 52-year-old Brooklyn-born Ph.D. (from the physiology Department of the Medical School of Columbia University in New York). She has Post Doctoral Certification in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Southern California.2

She is openly hostile to modern views of self-esteem and people who whine that they are victims. Herein lies a paradox in her advice. Self-esteem concepts and victimization are clear staples of modern psychology which makes it hard to understand how she at times can tell people that they need therapists. Most therapists who are Freudian or eclectic will feed the very attitudes that Dr. Laura rails against and opposes.

If you are a real fan, you can get an “I am my kids’ Mom” coffee mug or tee-shirt from Dr. Laura. There is no doubt about where people stand in their opinions of her — they either love her or hate her.

She has received accolades that strain credibility, some of which are excessive and certainly overstated. She has been called by a wide variety of impressive titles: “Queen of Talk Radio,”3 “a spiritual guru for multiplied thousands,”4 “a prophetess for our times,”5 “a voice in the wilderness”6 and “a petite, blonde, latter-day version of Moses.”7

Dr. Laura has spoken in Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral church and has more listeners to her daily broadcast (5 mornings a week) than Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh boasts a 16-million listener audience while Schlessinger celebrates with nearly 20 million.8 More than 60,000 callers a day jostle the phones for a few minutes with their favorite shrink and advice-giver, and Dr. Laura does not disappoint.

LAURA RULES

Raised in an unhappy non-religious home with a nominal Catholic mother and a Jewish father who argued frequently, Dr. Laura says she often felt lost. U.S. News & World Report pictured her on the cover of its July 14, 1997 issue. Bold letters beneath her picture proclaimed “Laura Rules.”

The magazine’s article entitled, “NO WHINING!,” detailed her conversion to Orthodox Judaism approximately seven years ago.9

Dr. Laura has authored three best-selling books. In 1994, she released, Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives. In 1996, she authored, How Could You Do That?! And also in 1996 came Ten Stupid Things Men Do To Mess Up Their Lives, apparently her sequel to her first volume. In September 1998, there was the release of her fourth book, The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Law in Everyday Life. This volume was coauthored with Rabbi Stewart Vogel.

Dr. Laura has her critics. They accuse her of “3 R’s.” They say she is rough, rude and rigid. Some say she is, at times, impatient, abrupt, abrasive, arrogant and openly disdainful of her callers. She has severely chastised callers for laughing or nervously giggling over serious matters but she herself has an annoying laugh (as some have referred to it) throughout the show. If some disagree, she will wait for fax messages from those who do agree and read them as an added support and justification. In that case, the majority rules.

MICROWAVE SOLUTIONS

In a day of fast food and microwaves, critics ask if bona fide problems can be resolved in a minute or two over the airwaves. Quick answers may work for shallow and superficial problems where a quick decision is needed. However, real deep-seated problems require time for proper analysis and diagnosis. No radio host gives anyone with pervasive, deep-seated problems that kind of extended counseling, although as mentioned, Dr. Laura will suggest therapy which may be a grab bag affair at best for most people.

Dr. Laura is usually direct, practical and to the point but not every problem can be handled in just that way. For the Christian who is committed to the New Testament, the difficulty with her is not only technique, but theology which is more foundational and fundamental. How solid is her theology?

One-stop shopping (for answers) may appeal, but no one, including Dr. Laura, has all the answers. She is estranged from both her mother and sister.10

MESSIANIC MISSION

There is no doubt that Dr. Laura sees herself in deeply religious terms. One day after watching a Holocaust documentary with her son, she solidified her Jewish identity which led to her “conversion” as noted above. Later, when reading Genesis, she says her life purpose clicked in. She told her husband: “I’m a priest and my mission is to help God perfect the world!”11

Is she a priest? Even within Judaism, priests were male and there were no female priests. Further, though it is a lofty goal, is the world perfectible? Dr. Laura’s mission sounds almost Messianic. Maybe it is just hyperbole. While it is commendable to want to better the world, it is a stretch to think it can be perfected. However, there is no doubt that Dr. Laura is a religious teacher and a very persuasive one.

HOLES IN THE DAM

There are inconsistencies in Dr. Laura’s advice which even the secular media has pointed out:

“Schlessinger admits now and then that moral absolutes don’t always hold. More than once she has advised callers against honesty, which ‘can be evil if it’s harmful or cruel.’ ... The particulars of morality can always be debated, she says. What matters is the overall effort to be a person of character.”12

Dr. Laura says that God Himself told a “white lie.” While explaining the “white lie” of God, she distorts and misunderstands two passages from Genesis 18 and tries to use them to say God told “a white lie in order to avoid family discord.”13 In her zeal to make her point, she may not realize that she has tried to pull God down to the level of fallible sinful man. The passages she refers to are easily reconcilable and do not teach dishonesty by God.

Stranger still is the fact that Dr. Laura leaves the door open a tiny bit for the viewing of pornography in some situations and under some circumstances. In addressing why pornography is wrong she states that it does lessen love in the marriage and does disrupt the relationship with one’s wife. Yet she still finds a place for it. In the context of the pornography discussion, she states:

“Occasional viewing or reading of ‘sexy’ material often helps stimulate ‘sexy behavior’ when stress, family, and work distractions might be stalling you in ‘neutral.’ So, as an aphrodisiac to help jump-start you and your wife — fine.”14

Although she says that viewing this “sexy material” is not an alternative to meaningful and reciprocal love, she misses a major point, that is, the words of Jesus. Married love is not to be stimulated by sinful and lustful viewing. Jesus emphatically said that this kind of toying with mental sin must be dealt with:

“I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you” (Matthew 5:28-29).

Sexuality is viewed wrongly when it is seen as a need and not what it really is, a desire. The Hebrew Scriptures, to which Dr. Laura readily appeals, very clearly emphasize this. Job declared: “I have made a covenant with my eyes” (31:1). David determined: “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not cling to me” (Psalm 101:3).

In giving her “permission” for this occasional viewing under the right circumstances, Dr. Laura is opening up an avenue for mental sin and coveting.

Tom Allen rightly notes:

“... adultery can be committed in the mind and heart of man without even touching a woman. ... The real point was this: Faithfulness to one’s spouse — which includes a pure mind — can only be achieved by the radical change of heart that Christ alone can deliver.”15

While some are encouraged that Dr. Laura has constructed a dam and barrier for honesty and against the use of pornography, upon closer examination, her dam has a serious breach.

WE’RE NOT SO BAD AFTER ALL

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, while not saying that each man is as bad as he can be, does unquestionably teach that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (3:23) and are therefore in need of salvation. Romans 5 teaches that we are born with a sinful nature because of Adam (called Original sin): “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (v. 12). John Phillips affirms the imputation of Adam’s sin to every one of his descendants:

“All sinned in Adam and death was imputed immediately and directly from Adam to each individual human being.”16

Isaiah 64:6 tells us that even our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God. Psalm 51:5 affirms that from conception we were tainted by sin. Christ’s imputed righteousness is the only answer for our inherited and actual sins (Romans 5:14-21).

John Murray affirms:

“If we appreciate this fact of racial solidarity and therefore the solidaric relationship which Adam sustains to posterity and posterity to him, we shall be less reluctant, to say the least, to entertain the proposition that the one trespass of Adam can properly be construed as the sin of all.”17

Orthodox Judaism, and consequently Dr. Laura, take a much more benign view of man and his sinfulness. Dr. Louis Goldberg details this:

“Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews deny that man’s nature is basically evil and always inclined to do evil. ... In summary, none of the Jewish theological camps teach that man is born with a sinful nature which will ultimately condemn him.”18

Jewish belief is that whatever evil inclination we have, it can be overcome by our own efforts — thus Dr. Laura talks of our perfectibility. In this view, we are all like blank slates and we must do the writing.

Dr. Laura states straight out that “neither men nor women are inherently bad.” There is an “inherent magnificence” in all of us, she says.19

When this kind of teaching (autonomous, neutral, self-perfecting man) was first promoted in Church History, it was branded as heresy. The lack of original sin and man’s perfectibility was promulgated by Pelagius in the early fifth century.

Church historian, Elgin Moyer, of Moody Bible Institute describes Pelagius and summarizes his errors:

“An English monk of culture and education, of devout and virtuous character, but developed unorthodox views on the dignity and self-sufficiency of man, and on original sin and divine grace. At Rome [he] came into intimate fellowship with Celestius, a lawyer of noble descent. Together they developed this doctrine, Celestius being the chief proponent of it, though the heresy took the name from Pelagius. Faith with them was hardly more than a theoretical belief; the main thing in religion was moral action, the keeping of the Commandments of God by one’s own strength. They were more concerned with the ethical side of religion than with the dogmatic.”20

Moyer then outlines Pelagianism:

“Pelagianism is summed up as follows: (1) Man has no original sin inherited from Adam. Sin is a matter of will and not of nature. (2) Each person is created with perfect freedom to do good or evil. Hence a sinless life is possible, and salvation can come by good works. ... The Pelagian heresy spread in North Africa so widely and so effectively that Augustine felt it necessary to oppose it. ... This heresy never formed an ecclesiastical sect, but simply a theological school or movement that did make a powerful impact upon the Church.”21

Allen concurs with the above:

“Dr. Laura indicates that a positive self-image can be obtained through choosing right over wrong and good over evil. She implies that righteousness can be attained through human aspiration ... Such a humanistic approach to holiness caresses the ego because we can take the credit for choosing good over evil, mastering our passions and creating our own righteousness.”22

While we may help our self-image by doing right, our right-doing will never effect righteousness before God. In making man autonomous, Dr. Laura is the perfect (or imperfect) blend of Pharisee and Pelagian. While not always agreeing with William Barclay’s theology, it must be admitted that he has incredible insights into first century Jewish manners and customs and can teach us much in that area of study. He reminds us:

“In many ways the Pharisees were the best people in the whole country. There were never more than 6000 of them; they were what was known as a chaburah, or brotherhood. They entered into this brotherhood by taking a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of the scribal law.”23

TRY A LITTLE HARDER

Dr. Laura’s view is that we just have to try harder. Though we have the capacity for bad, we just have to decide to be good. Scripture indicates we are fallen, with a fallen nature and a decided bent toward sin and that even our best works are tainted as to motivation (Isaiah 64:6). In our lost and unsaved condition, we have an inherent inclination and bent toward evil and are in desperate need of a new birth, that is, an internal regeneration by God’s Holy Spirit through the salvation secured and offered by Jesus.

While individuals are capable of good (there is still the marred image of God in us) they can never be good enough or do enough good to save themselves (Ephesians 2:8-9). Leonard Verduin reminds us:

“This is one of the New Testament’s boldest innovations ... it is plainly implied that there are resources in the as yet not regenerated human heart, due to the remnants of the original righteousness left after the Fall.”24

Whatever and to what degree these “remnants” are left over in us, there is neither enough nor are they sufficient to save us eternally. That can only be realized through an application of the finished work of Christ to our lives.

THE DEVIL DIDN’T MAKE ME DO IT

Not only is the biblical view of salvation missed by Dr. Laura, but she dismisses out of hand the reality of Satan. In a taped show from May 6, 1998, she admits, “I don’t believe in Satan either. We don’t need Satan.”25 Here Dr. Laura is even inconsistent with her Judaism. Not only is the Old Testament clear on the existence of a malignant evil spirit entity called Satan, but Jewish reference works affirm the Jewish belief in his existence:

“He first tempts, then accuses and slays. But monotheism has circumscribed his powers ... Ultimately he will be vanquished by the Messiah.”26

From the beginning, Adam and Eve struggled with Satan and his wiles (Genesis 3). Even Christ had to confront Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4). The religious Pharisees were said to be his children (John 8:44). Ephesians 6 shows him as a constant enemy who needs to be resisted. The Book of Revelation spells out his final doom. One cannot pick and choose some parts of the Bible and not others.

A POTPOURRI OF ERRORS

Does Dr. Laura say good things? Yes. Does she help people? Yes. Does she offer practical advice? Yes. Is she often right on? Yes. Is she right all the time? Obviously, no. The things that she is wrong about should concern a Christian because they are serious errors and they are in vital areas of belief, doctrine and the very Gospel itself. If Dr. Laura was not teaching things about God and religion, it might be easy to just enjoy her helpful hints, her direct approach, her practical insights and sense of humor.

For one thing, Dr. Laura teaches that God’s will is not found primarily through the Scriptures, but through each individual’s religious traditions. She is very clear on this when she writes that, “We attempt to discern and clarify ‘God’s will’ (expectations, obligations, rituals, etc.; in other words, what God wants of us) through the filter of our religious tradition (expectations, obligations, rituals).”27

Jesus showed the downside of tradition when He said; “Thus you have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition ... in vain do they worship me teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:6, 9).

It is obvious from the words of Jesus that some traditions contradict the Scriptures and are in error. As well, one must be honest in admitting that traditions within various religions contradict one another at major points.

In the end, Dr. Laura puts forth the illogical view that any religion can be right as long as we sincerely embrace it. The Christian News recently reported:

“From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (9/30/98) comes a bit of advice from this popular radio talk show host. Responding to a young woman who was raised Catholic, but wanted to be married in the Methodist church, much to the dismay of her ‘Easter and Christmas’ Catholic parents, Dr. Laura, who is of Jewish faith, said, ‘This is not a question of right — either religion is ‘right’ if you embrace it with honesty, dignity and a commitment to lead a moral and even holy life.’”28

Can we even make a cult, the worst of cults, right if we embrace it with honesty? Any particular cult may well help one to lead a more moral life but does the sincerity of followers morph the cult into acceptance as long as no one is being hurt or seemingly helped? Dr. Laura’s “logic” is hard and dangerous to follow here.

Dr. Laura also endorses the prayer of a listener that teaches the error of the universal Fatherhood of God. She writes:

“One of my listeners, Pat, from San Diego, California, wrote the following passage, which describes a relationship with God: ‘I see God in everything, everyday. I believe He is in all of us all the time.’”29

This sounds more New Age and pantheistic than Scriptural. It is ecumenical gobbledygook meant to pacify. Is God in all of us all the time? Was He in Hitler? Was He in Mohammed? Was He in Jim Jones, David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite? Colossians 1:27 tells us that it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ can only be in us by invitation, according to John 1:12.

Further, Dr. Laura knows the issue of what distinguishes Christianity and Judaism when it comes to salvation and yet states the two contradictory positions as if they were equally valid:

“There are differences in the perspective of how and what that salvation entails. Both Jews and Christians see God as ‘Savior.’ For Jews, that saving grace is our survival in spite of external oppression and enemies. For Christians, that saving grace is Christ’s sacrifice to save each Christian’s soul from its own inner tendency toward sin. In the Christian view, the world is redeemed as each individual’s soul is saved through Jesus Christ. In the Jewish view, we are redeeming the world by our own efforts.”30

Dr. Laura has the right verbal formula as far as Christians are concerned, but what a radical difference she articulates as far as Judaism. She can state that Christians must be internally regenerated by Christ (in so many words) but that Jews redeem themselves and others by their own external efforts. How can the two be equally valid? How can they be the same thing? Romans 4:4 says that works and grace are mutually exclusive. If it is one, it can’t be the other. John Phillips states that, “Under a system of works, everything depends on the sinner; under grace, everything depends on the Saviour.”31

One of the greatest Jews who ever lived said regarding another of the greatest Jews: “What then shall we say that Abraham our Father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Now to him that works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:1-5).

Respected Bible commentator, Dr. Harry Ironside points up clearly the vast difference between law and grace:

“What the law, with all its stern and solemn warnings and threatenings could not accomplish (that is, produce a life of holiness, because of the weakness and unreliability of the flesh), is now realized in the power of the new life by the Spirit. ... The law demanded righteousness from a man whose nature was utterly corrupt and perverted, and which could only bring forth corrupt fruit. The Holy Spirit has produced a new nature in the man in Christ, and linked with this new life are new affections and desires so that he gladly responds to the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word.”32

MOUNT SINAI VERSES MOUNT ZION

Dr. Laura feels so strongly about Mount Sinai that she says: “Mount Sinai is the metaphor for God’s continuing presence in the world.”33 Is that statement true? Was Mount Sinai ever a metaphor for God’s presence? God’s presence was on Mount Sinai but the mountain itself became a metaphor for judgment and death. In the Old Testament the symbol of the real continuing presence of God was the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:22) and later the Tabernacle, but never Mount Sinai.

Jeremiah predicted clearly and dramatically that God localizing Himself for the Nation of Israel would change (see Jeremiah 3:16-17 and 31:31-34) and that the symbolism of the Ark would be replaced by a new inner direct faith in God through the coming New Covenant.34 God would be found in Christ (John 1). John 4 teaches us that God would not be localized in a place (neither Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim) but in a Person. Our worship is in “spirit and in truth.”

The writer of Hebrews shows us that Mount Sinai is a metaphor for God’s judgment (as was stated) and that it is not where the true Christian has gone:

“For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: ‘And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.’ And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.’) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:18-24, NKJV).

J.C. Macaulay rightly comments on Mount Sinai, reminding us that:

“Here we have a vivid picture of the terrifying accompaniments of the giving of the Law at Sinai. ... The Law, with its thunders and lightings and clouds and darkness, has no release for sinners.”35

Adolph Saphir further shows the stark contrast between Sinai and Zion:

“Upon God’s holy hill of Zion He hath set His King, even the Son. Mount Sinai represents the law, temporary and intermediate; mount Zion the Gospel, eternal and abiding; mount Sinai is connected with God’s dealings with man according to responsibility; mount Zion with the eternal election of grace. The one is touched by God as it were for a moment; the other chosen to be His habitation. The one brings fear and terror; the other brings joy and peace, because God delights in it. In the one, the very Mediator trembles; in the other, God’s own Son, crowned with glory and power, brings nigh His people, who approach ‘boldly’ in the peace and joy of Christ.”36

Dr. Laura’s main confusion is in making sanctification equivalent to salvation. She does not state it that way, but it is the obvious problem. Even if one held, as a Christian believer, to the moral aspects of the Law, they would in most cases assign it to the sanctification or growth process of the believer.37

Reformer Martin Luther, for one, was emphatic about the distinction between salvation and sanctification, knowing that we can easily create a works/salvation mindset. Luther’s words are helpful and important:

“We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts. Romans 3:28 Our opponents insist that good works are necessary for salvation, and the world enthusiastically agrees with them. Certainly, what the saints did was admirable, and they did many great works. But even if you were to show me the most holy saint of all, would that person have done enough good works to earn God’s approval?”38

Luther’s rhetorical question answers itself. He goes on:

“Therefore, we should value good works and remember doing them is still necessary. But we should value God’s Word and his promises even more highly. We will live in God’s presence because we believe in what he says, not because we do good works that make us holy. We have to a make clear distinction between our good works and our faith in God’s Word. Believing in God’s Word defeats the devil and makes us holy children of God.”39

Commenting on Galatians 3:19 (the Law was given to show us sin), Luther observes:

“Although the Law doesn’t justify us, it’s still useful and necessary. First, in society, it holds the lawless people in check. Second, it shows each person that he is a sinner guilty of death and worthy of eternal wrath.”40

We must keep before us the biblical fact that when the people of Israel failed to keep the Law (and God had anticipated they would fail) they had to run to the Tabernacle, the Priesthood, the sacrifices and the blood. There may have been certain blessings and external benefits in keeping the Law but access to God was in the sacrificial system which was a type of Jesus (Hebrews 8). Whatever use we make of the Law, we cannot see it as a means of salvation or perfectibility.

WHAT IS MISSING IN THE COMMANDMENTS

The Ten Commandments do not require prayer or Christian service, evangelism, missionary outreach or Gospel preaching. They do not offer union with Christ or a walk in the Holy Spirit or the enablement of grace or the fellowship of believers. They offer no hope of eternal salvation or heaven. We can delight in the Law of God and its power to bring conviction but must remember that it is the agent that drives us to Christ and salvation not the means of salvation.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, noting the absence of these above mentioned things in the Ten Commandments, elaborates:

“If it is asserted that we have all these because we have both the law and grace, it is replied that the law adds nothing to grace but confusion and contradiction, and that there is the most faithful warning in the Scriptures against this admixture. A few times the teachings of the law are referred to by the writers of the Epistles by way of illustration. Having stated the obligation under grace, they cite the fact that this same principle obtained under the law. There is, however, no basis here for a commingling of these two governing systems. The Law of Moses presents a covenant of works to be wrought in the energy of the flesh; the teachings of grace present a covenant of faith to be wrought in the energy of the Spirit.”41

The confusion will only deepen if we believe the error that somehow the Old Testament people were saved by law keeping. The New Testament (Hebrews 11 and Romans 4:3) makes it amply clear that the Old Testament saints were saved by faith rather than works.

Wayne Strickland makes it abundantly clear that Israel was not saved by the Law:

“As one studies the Mosaic law, it becomes increasingly clear that its purpose was not to save, for it contains no clear message of salvation or redemption. ... God gave His law to an already redeemed or covenant nation (Ex. 20). ... In short, God is addressing his laws to a covenant, believing nation, giving no indication that salvation is in view. The law presents Moses and the redeemed people with their responsibilities as a theocratic nation under God; obedience to the commandments will bring physical blessing and long life. ... according to the testimony in the Old Testament, the Mosaic law was never intended to provide salvation. All expositions of the law lack statements that suggest a soteriological purpose. ... Dispensationalists and non-dispenstionalists admit that no one (apart from Christ) has ever obeyed, or could ever obey, the law perfectly enough to merit salvation.”42

PROGRAMS THAT FAILED

Trying to get to heaven by our own efforts and law keeping without a relationship to Christ is like a man trying to swim the ocean from New York to England with a weight on his back when he has a boat available. Sin makes us poor spiritual “swimmers” and Christ is the only safe vessel.

The Galatians were inundated with “Judaizers” who attempted to get them back under the Law as a way of justification before God.

The Apostle Paul assures us in Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

C. Norman Bartlett, commenting on Galatians 2:16, asserts:

“Despite these clear statements as to the utter hopelessness of men’s saving themselves by their own good works, we find countless men and women vainly hoping to justify themselves before God on the basis of character building. If they had even the remotest conception of what an infinitely holy God requires in the way of moral perfection, they would realize the utter futility of such efforts. They seem blissfully unaware of the ever receding horizons of what the law demands in the way of fulfillment in spirit as well as letter (cf. Matt. 5:17-48).”43

The New Geneva Study Bible translates Paul’s meaning in Galatians 2:16:

“His phrase ... includes all the efforts of fallen humanity to keep God’s law so as to merit His justifying verdict.”

It is not Christ plus the Law that justifies as Marvin Vincent points out:

“Paul means that justification is by faith alone. The use of ean ma is to be thus explained: A man is not justified by the works of the law: (he is not justified) except by faith in Jesus Christ.”44

The old adage that “Men that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” applies here. Early Jewish Christian believers who mingled the Law and the Gospel, mutated into groups broadly classified as Ebionites. Some of the Ebionites were unorthodox when it came to Jesus and relied wholly on the law and human works.

There were subgroups like the Symmachians and others. One such hybrid group was known as Nazarenes. They were quite right in terms of Jesus and their theology of Him and accepted all the New Testament but merged it and amalgamated it into the Old Testament. By the fourth century A.D. they had disappeared.45 Being neither fish nor fowl, they were rejected by both Christians and Jews and had no longevity or lasting impact.

THE EXAMPLE THAT FAILS

The Apostle Paul, before his conversion, was an example of what Dr. Laura says every person ought to be. Paul, known then as Saul, was the perfect law-keeper, the perfect Pharisee. Yet in Philippians 3, after laying out his pedigree and near perfect conformity to the law, Paul avows: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ” (v. 7). The word translated “loss” is the Greek word skubalon. That word can mean waste of any and all kinds, including animal excrement and was also used of table scraps that were thrown in the garbage.46 Salvation by human works then is garbage doctrine.

Shocking to think that Paul would refer to an exemplary life as garbage. Vine has an interesting take on this verse and its meaning:

“Judaizers counted Gentile Christians as dogs, while they themselves were seated at God’s banquet. The Apostle reversing the image, counts the Judaistic ordinances as refuse upon which their advocates feed.”47

So, in spite of Dr. Laura’s helpful advice and moral teaching which resonates and touches chords in all Christians, we must part company at the thought that man is perfectible or can earn his way to God. As helpful as Dr. Laura is in some areas, this major area of theology is crucial and cannot be compromised. The very Gospel is at stake.

Martin Luther reminds us:

“Faith is very fragile and needs to hear the command: ‘Forget your father’s house.’ Something inside of us strongly compels us to keep trying to earn God’s approval. We look for good works, in which we can place our trust and which will bring us praise. We want to show God what we have done and say, ‘See, I have done this or that. Therefore, you must give me your approval.’ ... The Holy Spirit provides us with a way to counter this godless delusion. We need to hold tightly to what we have received through the undeserved kindness of God. God’s approval doesn’t come to us by what we do. Rather, it comes through the holiness of Christ, who suffered for us and rose again from the dead.”48

LESSONS AND CONCLUSIONS

Two lessons can be learned from the Dr. Laura phenomenon:

1. She is outspoken about religion and that ought to shame us if we are reticent about sharing our faith in Christ.

2. In counseling others, either formally or informally, we ought to be aware (as Dr. Laura demonstrates) that people want a frank, open, direct approach. Who better than the Christian to boldly lay out solutions from Scripture in a forthright, direct way. There should be no hesitation in stating God’s solutions to problems.

As much as we are grateful for Dr. Laura’s emphasis on self-determination, character, responsibility and goodness, her ideas, when seen as a means of self-salvation, have a fatal flaw. We are saved not by character but the cross, not by determination but by the death of Jesus, not by goodness but by grace, not by fortitude but by faith, not by our merit but by our Mediator, not by conduct but by Christ and Christ alone. Proper conduct will flow out of genuine salvation (Titus 2:10-15). Sola fide — sola gratia — sola Scriptura!

Endnotes:

1. The Christian News, “Turret of the Times” news item, Sept. 21, 1998, pg. 2.
2. Tom Allen, A Closer Look at Dr. Laura. Camp Hill, Penna.: Horizon Books, 1998, pg. 8.
3. Ibid., pg. 2.
4. Ibid., pg. 3.
5. Ibid., pg. 5.
6. Ibid., pg. 25.
7. Ibid., pg. 27.
8. Ibid., pg. 9.
9. U.S. News & World Report, “NO WHINING!,” July 14, 1997, pg. 51.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., pg. 55.
13. Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel, The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God’s Law in Everyday Life. New York: Cliff Street Books, 1998, pg. 287.
14. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives. New York: Cliff Street Books, 1997, pg. 148.
15. A Closer Look at Dr. Laura, op. cit., pg. 154.
16. John Phillips, Exploring Romans. Chicago: Moody Press, 1969, pg. 96.
17. John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1959, pg. 25.
18. Dr. Louis Goldberg, Our Jewish Friends. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1986, pp. 84-85.
19. Ten Stupid Things Men Do, op. cit., pg. 300.
20. Elgin S. Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History. Chicago: Moody Press, 1962, pg. 324.
21. Ibid.
22. A Closer Look at Dr. Laura, op. cit., pg. 85.
23. William Barclay, The Gospel of John. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975, Vol. 1, pg. 120.
24. Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1964, pg. 22.
25. Quoted in A Closer Look at Dr. Laura, op. cit., pg. 173.
26. Article entitled: “Satan,” from The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion. New York-Chicago-San Francisco: Holy Rinehart and Winston, 1965, pg. 344.
27. The Ten Commandments, op. cit., pg. 8.
28. “Dr. Laura, Typical Ecumenical, Works Religionist,” from The Christian News, Feb. 1, 1999, pg. 20.
29. The Ten Commandments, op. cit., pg. 8.
30. Ibid., pg. 13.
31. Exploring Romans, op. cit., pg. 78.
32. Harry A. Ironside, Lectures on Romans. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1956, pp. 97-98.
33. The Ten Commandments, op. cit., pg. 15.
34. See further, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publishing, 1975, Vol. 1, pg. 310.
35. J.C. Macaulay, Expository Commentary on Hebrews. Chicago: Moody Press, 1978, pp. 230-231.
36. Adolph Saphir, The Epistle to The Hebrews. New York: Bible Truth Press, n.d., Vol. 2, pp. 847-848.
37. See further this author’s article, “There Ought to Be a Law — Or Should There? The Old Testament Law and the New Testament Church,” The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2.
38. Martin Luther, By Faith Alone — 365 Devotional Readings Updated in Today’s Language. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Word Publishers, 1998, entry for February 10.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid., entry for July 27.
41. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology. Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948, Vol. 4, pg. 211.
42. Wayne Strickland in Five Views on The Law and The Gospel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1996, pp. 233-236.
43. C. Norman Bartlett, Galatians and You. Chicago: Moody Press, 1948, pg. 47.
44. Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in The New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946, pg. 104.
45. See further, Ray Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1988.
46. See W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984, pp. 335-336.
47. Ibid., pg. 336.
48. By Faith Alone, op. cit., entry for March 1.

 

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