Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pro-Life: The Right Side of History

Guest blog by Dr. Justin Bass

“One of the chief features of the state of Peace we now enjoy is the killing of a considerable number of harmless human beings.” —GK Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows

When it comes to the controversial issue of gay marriage, we regularly hear the statement from gay marriage advocates, ‘You’re on the wrong side of history.’ They mean by this that those who believe that marriage has been definitively defined by God (Gen 2:24) and Christ (Mark 10:5-9) as the union of one man and one woman are behind the times, draconian, and need to join with the rest of humanity progressing towards a marriage defined by the culture trends of the moment. The fickle winds of the culture do happen to be blowing towards gay marriage at the moment and if the Supreme Court redefines marriage later this year, we will in coming years witness the cultural winds blowing towards polyamorous marriages and same-sex ‘thruple’ marriages and even new ideas for ‘marriage’ our culture’s imagination has yet to invent. This is the slippery slope that even the Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito asked about because if there is no limiting principle by which we define marriage, then there is no legal reason to deny polygamous, polyamorous and even couples in various forms of incest the right to marry.

The situation in the early 1970s is very instructive here in the case of abortion. Soon after the case of Roe vs. Wade, the culture was also saying in so many words to those who were pro-life ‘You’re on the wrong side of history.’ And yet over 40 years later, we see that the pro-life movement is stronger than ever and the majority of the people you will find at 40 Days for Life or praying outside of abortion clinics are millennials. In fact, Gallup recently found that the number of Americans who identify as pro-choice is at a record low (41%). Wendy Davis led a campaign last year with the mantra she was fighting for Texas women’s reproductive rights, but when Texas women went to the polls, they voted overwhelmingly against her. Texas women did have a choice and they chose Life.

Moreover, just as Ryan T. Anderson, in his early 30s, is one of the leading voices defending traditional marriage, so too are the leading voices rescuing babies from destruction; young men and women using their gifts, talents, backgrounds and influence to stop our modern day holocaust (around 55 million babies murdered and counting since Roe). Lila Rose, in her late 20s, is the president of Live Action devoted to ending abortion and building a culture of life. Lila was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for more “creative extremists.” She is definitely a creative extremist as she has gone undercover to many abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood organizations exposing sexual abuse, racism, assistance to sex traffickers, sex-selective abortion, and infanticide. She has even been responsible for a number of workers being fired, clinics shutting down, and countless women choosing Life.

In addition, we have seen abortion clinic after abortion clinic close down over the last decade all across America. In 1991, there were 2,176 surgical abortion clinics in America which is the highest number of clinics since Roe. As of 2014, there are only 582 left! 87 clinics closed in 2013 alone and I have personally witnessed since 2011 the abortion clinics in Texas drop from 42 to less than 20! In the states Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming — just one clinic remains. The abortion rate even hit an all-time low in 2011 since Roe. Every state that has seen this significant decrease in abortion clinics has seen a corresponding decrease in the number of abortions annually.

Why has the majority of our culture, especially the younger generation (who are no doubt moving more in favor of gay marriage), been moving more towards a culture of Life and against abortion? Here are some contributing factors.

The Ultrasound and even 3D/4D imaging has allowed an entire generation of mothers (and fathers) to watch their baby grow within their womb even to the point of seeing them smile and even clap! Just hearing that strong, on average 150bpm, heartbeat has saved many lives. A famous example is Governor (running for president) Chris Christie who converted from Pro-choice to Pro-life after hearing his daughter’s heartbeat. Despite all the debates about personhood, it is an undeniable fact that all 327,653 abortions Planned Parenthood performed in 2014 stopped a strong, healthy beating heart.

The more our culture is educated on the science of embryology and what actually happens during an abortion procedure the more likely they will be pro-life. Even the late great atheist Christopher Hitchens said: “I do, as a humanist, believe that the concept ‘unborn child’ is a real one and I think the concept is underlined by all the recent findings of embryology about the early viability of a well-conceived human baby, one that isn’t going to be critically deformed (or even some that are) will be able to survive outside the womb earlier and earlier and earlier, and I see that date only being pushed back. I feel the responsibility to consider the occupant of the womb as a candidate member of society in the future, and thus to say that it cannot be only the responsibility of the woman to decide upon it, that it’s a social question and an ethical and a moral one.” 

And as far as the brutal nature of the procedure, read how a former abortion doctor testifying before congress described a late term abortion. “The toughest part of a D&E abortion is extracting the baby’s head. The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. You will know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby’s brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you.” 55 million little faces are staring back at all of us.

When is the Baby a Baby?
In 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on partial birth abortion that involved cutting the baby’s head in two, sucking his or her brains out and now in 2015 at least one state has stopped the procedure that dismembers a baby inside the womb during a second trimester abortion. You’d think all 50 states would be against dismembering babies wouldn’t you? Apparently only one is.

79% of pro-choice advocates believe abortions during the third trimester should be illegal.
But why? Why is it nothing but a medical procedure (even “women’s health”) to abort a baby at 15 weeks, but it is murder that should be illegal at 30 weeks? What is different about a baby at 15 weeks vs. a baby at 30 weeks? If viability is the dividing line then all abortion should be illegal after 20 weeks as we have record of babies surviving even at 21 weeks outside the womb. But the vast majority of pro-choice advocates still want abortion legal during the second trimester (13-28 weeks). The fact is there is no clear dividing line (like conception) for the pro-choice advocate and so they inevitably have to argue that the women’s choice must trump the baby’s right to life.

This irrational line was made even more abundantly clear in the case of Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor, who put babies to death minutes after they exited the womb. Gosnell was found guilty of 3 counts of first degree murder as he snipped the spines of 3 babies minutes after they were born. Gosnell also performed numerous third trimester abortions and parts of those babies were found all over his clinic. But in all these cases the law said he did nothing but perform “a medical procedure on fetuses” because they were still inside the womb. Madness!

A young atheist mother named Jennifer Fulwiler was staring at her newborn baby one day and realized in that moment the bankruptcy of the atheistic worldview, and gave her life to Christ. We need the culture to see these babies’ faces. Sometimes they do need to see dead faces looking back at them like the former abortion doctor mentioned that still haunts him, but we must constantly be putting the beautiful living, smiling faces before them as well. Being for Life, especially for the lives of precious children, is always the right side of history.

May God give us more “Creative extremists” to fight for them.

Monday, May 18, 2015

10 Ideas Embedded in the Slogan “All Truth Is God’s Truth”

Duane Litfin writes that the slogan “All truth is God’s truth” became popular because it “encapsulated a set of convictions that are vital for the Christian’s intellectual task. These ideas lie embedded in the sloan as entailments, necessary implications. To embrace the slogan was to embrace these implications. My purpose here is to surface these entailments so that, even if we may allow an overworked catchphrase to rest in peace, we will not lose the truths it was designed to express.”
Here is his outline:
  1. God exists. (“This is the most basic idea of all. It is the foundation for all that a Christian can know.”)
  2. Through the agency of his Son, God created the universe and all that is in it.
  3. We can therefore entertain an intellectual construct called “reality.” (Reality = “things as God knows them to  be.” “While a God-centered definition of reality does not by itself grant us access to that reality . . . it is nonetheless what makes it possible to talk about reality in the first place.”)
  4. This reality is complex and multi-dimensional. (“The cosmos God created . . . has physical, spiritual, and moral dimensions to it, but each dimension is fully real because its reality is anchored in the fact that it is part of what God knows to be the case.”)
  5. This reality, though complex and multi-dimensional, is also coherent and unified, centered upon the person of Jesus Christ. (“When [the universe] is properly understood, as by God himself, Jesus Christ is seen to be the Source, the Sustainer, and the Goal of all created things.”)
  6. God has created humans with the capacity to apprehend, however fallibly and incompletely, this reality.
  7. Genuine knowledge is therefore feasible for humans. [“. . . in some ways, humans are able to some extent, to know and describe some dimensions of the reality God knows.” Jonathan Edwards: true knowledge consists of the “agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.” ]
  8. Human knowledge of reality stems from two prime sources: special revelation and discovery. (“Humans can come to know that something is the case because God has told them by special revelation it is so . . . ; or they can know something is the case by discovering it for themselves—that is, by applying their God-given capacity for apprehension to those dimensions of the created order that are available to them.”
  9. We can therefore maintain a distinction between truth and error. (“. . . in the end, some version of a representational theory of language and or a correspondence theory of truth must remain in play if we are to conceive of truth in a fully biblical way.”)
  10. All that is truthful, from whatever source, is unified, and will cohere with whatever else is truthful. (“Because God’s reality is unified and coherent, centered as it is on the person of Christ, all truthful apprehensions of that reality, or truthful expressions of those apprehensions, will cohere and contribute to an integrated, unified, Christ-centered vision of all things.”
—Duane Litfin, Conceiving the Christian College (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 86-95.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Love Theologically

by Mike Wittmer

I learned today that a prominent evangelical pastor warned in a sermon that we must not let our theology get in the way of our love. I didn’t hear the message myself, as I rarely listen to podcasts besides “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and “Planet Money.” But I trust my friend who told me, and even if he heard wrong, it’s a sentiment I hear often.

I’m always shocked to hear pastors warn against theology, because it amounts to an act of self-sabotage. Theology is all we’ve got, so we can no more be against theology than the George Foreman grill can be against meat. Take away either the meat or the theology, and all that’s left is hot air.

I understand how bad theology can get in the way of our love. In fact, if it’s bad theology then it must. But good theology is simply God’s view about creation, humanity, sin, salvation, sex, and so forth. To the extent that what we say about any of these things lines up with what God says, to that extent we have good doctrine. This right thinking about God and his world must prompt us to love both God and his world, or either we don’t yet really understand or we’re willfully blind sinners, or both.

The Bible nowhere suggests that good theology can hinder love. Paul spends the first half of his letters expounding good theology. When he transitions to application in the second half, he never warns that some of that good stuff he mentioned up front might now become a hazard. And neither should we.

I suspect the pastor believes there is something wrong with our theology, but since he was addressing the issue of homosexual practice, he was afraid of offending his conservative listeners. So he conceded that our theology is good. But he also wanted to keep his progressive crowd, so he said that love rather than doctrine is the important thing.

What he forgot, or counted on us forgetting, is that we don’t even know what love is apart from theology. John wrote, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Those are theological statements. Like all good theology, they lead us to love. That love may be misunderstood and slandered, as Jesus’ was. But it remains the purest form of love, because it started with God.

When we study this God of love, we’re doing theology. Theology is not an obstacle to love, but as 1 John repeatedly says, it’s the only way we can.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Concise Summary of Reformed-Evangelical Spirituality

Peter Adam, seeking to show that the shape of Evangelical and Reformed spirituality corresponds to revelation, both in content and in form:
  • Christ is the mediator of the revelation of God, so this spirituality is Christ-centered, responding with faith in Jesus Christ, and especially to his saving death and resurrection.
  • Christ has revealed the Father, so this spirituality is that of trust in God our Father, his love and kindness in Christ, and his sovereign and providential rule over everything.
  • Christ has sent the Spirit, so believers are sealed or anointed with the Spirit, the Spirit witnesses within them that they are the children of God, and they use the gifts of God in the service of God.
  • The response of trusting Christ and obeying him, of loving God with heart, mind, soul and strength is common to all believers, so spirituality is not just an option for the advanced but is required of all the saints. It is a spirituality common to all the people of God. It is a spirituality of normal humanity, of daily life and duties, or work and play, of family and society.
  • God’s grace and acceptance of us in Christ means that we do not have to search for God, find him, ascend to him or journey towards him. God has come to us in his Son Jesus, spoken to us in the gospel, and welcomed us into his presence through Christ our High Priest. We stand now in God’s grace, we are now at peace with God, we can now have assurance of final salvation, through trust in his promises.
  • The great barrier to true spirituality is not the lack of technique in spiritual aptitude, but sin. Sin is the state of humanity in every aspect of life and personality, and the wages of sin is death. But God has dealt with our sin by the sacrifice of Christ, and has accepted us as his children. His holiness and righteousness are demonstrated in the death of Christ, our sin is atoned for and we are forgiven. We stand in his grace, and he works in us by the death and resurrection of Christ and by his Spirit, to change us into the likeness of Christ. God gives us faith and obedience, God trans- forms us, and God does his good works through us.
  • God has provided ‘means’ by which he works in us for his glory. We must make good use of the means provided by God, and not replace or supplement them with means that we devise. The means provided by God are explained in the Bible, namely the Bible itself, the fellowship of the people of God, prayer, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and a right use of the creation. We should not neglect these means, nor use other means, such as statues, pictures, icons, silence or impressions of God’s will. We should not over-value the sacraments, those visible words of God. While we will hear echoes of the Bible in our inner selves, the God-given and certain place to hear God speaking is in the Bible.
  • The great means is the Bible, in which we find Christ clothed in all his promises. To love God is to love his words, and to be alert to the Spirit is to receive the words of the Spirit in the Bible. In the Bible we find God’s self-revelation, God’s character, God’s will and God’s plan. In the Bible God’s mystery, Christ, is now revealed. A corporate and personal spirituality of the Word is at the heart of biblical faith and life. We do not know everything about God and his plan, but what we do know is found in the Bible.
  • Prayer is an expression of our trust in God, and our dependence on him. It is gospel-shaped: we come to pray to God our Father through the power and goodness of Jesus’ death on the cross. This is the means of our access to God. We pray in response to God’s words in the Bible, so that we know the God to whom we pray, and what he has promised. As we read his Spirit-inspired words, the Spirit also works within us, prompting us to know that God is our Father, and that we may approach him with boldness because of Christ’s death for us on the cross. We pray to God alone, and not to saints, because we pray as instructed by God in the Bible.
—Peter Adam, Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (Apollos/IVP, 2004), 39-40.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Does the Church Have Authority over the Scriptures?

Does the Church Have Authority over the Scriptures?
Martin Bucer admits that it is true, in some sense, that the church came before the scriptures. It is true that the church was established before the canon of the New Testament was closed. This does not mean, he insists, that the church had (or continues to have) the authority to make or change God’s word. Bucer does not, however, merely argue that the church should accept God’s word on blind trust. On the contrary, he says that the church must test the scriptures to make sure they are authentic and not forgeries. So, the church does maintain an authority with regard to the scriptures, but one of protection rather than creation. Bucer explains by way of various analogies, that it is a desire for loyalty, rather than an attempt at subterfuge, that drives the church to established the authenticity of the scriptures:

A city whose life is governed by the decrees of the prince has to determine aright whether laws or edicts published in his name have really been issued by him, or are forgeries; but would this justify your saying that the city possesses legal power over its prince’s laws or confers on them their authority or authenticates them? It is one thing to recognise gold, another thing to make it. Penelope recognised Odysseus, but in order to give him, when recognised, not orders but obedience. Likewise the commands of princes are certainly not accepted by their subjects unless it is established that in fact they are their princes’ commands, and to this end they are first investigated with great care. But no one in his right mind claims that on this account the subjects have power over these commands or can change them. Indeed, it is for the very reason that they have no rights over them but are themselves entirely under their authority that they are so keen to discover whether they are actually what they are given out to be, their purpose being of course to avoid transgressing their prince’s commands by accepting the orders of others. 1

1 Notes: D.F. Wright trans. and ed., Common Places of Martin Bucer, (Appleford, England: The Sutton Courtney Press, 1972), 187.