28 February 2013

Experience and effective ministry

by Dan Phillips

Someone of whom I think very well once objected to recommending Spurgeon as good for the depressed because Spurgeon was so deeply-acquainted with depression. This worthy brother thought that this made the Word slave to experience, as if to say that Spurgeon's experience made him effective, not the Word.

It was one of those situations where I thought a good brother was right in intent, but wrong in application. For instance, one might hear this commendation of Spurgeon as saying that the same Biblical truth, if spoken by some sunny soul who's never known a moment's depression, is not really true on that person's lips — it will only become true when someone like Spurgeon speaks it. That would be existential nonsense; it would imply that the Word is not really true until we experience it as true, as if its truth and power depends on our experience of its truth and power.

I don't think, however, that this is what folks are saying, when they say they love how Spurgeon speaks to those of us who have known depression.

Think of it analogously to other areas. Suppose you  have a migraine killing your world. Who will capture your confidence, when he recommends a surefire cure? Would it be a man who can faithfully read off the ingredients and the PDR articles on such drugs? Or wouldn't it be a man who says, "My life was being ruined by migraines until I tried this"?

It isn't that the medicine changes, becomes more or less effective, depending on who's describing it. It's the confidence and connection you feel in the person who's commending it to you. A theoretician would have a theoretician's level of acquaintance. He would have been satisfied by a much shallower trial and inquiry.

Just ask yourself: Who  would be likelier to have been driven to make deepest study and trial of a medication? A man to whom migraine pain is a matter of academic interest, or a man whose life is periodically shredded by the condition?

So it is with depression, and other life-issues. If that's your thorn in the flesh, your "bad leg" so to speak, who's likelier to apply salve where you're hurting? In fact, who's likelier to have been driven to find and test the very best remedies? A theoretician, even a really good and good-hearted one? Or someone to whom it was a matter of personal survival, again and again?

You know the answer.

We aren't mere data-banks broadcasting to data-banks. There is something to being able personally to affirm "He restores my soul" (Ps. 23:3), as opposed to "the Bible says God restores souls" and nothing more. The Psalmist says, "Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul" (66:16). Being able to echo that call personally is an enhancement to ministry not to be despised.

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27 February 2013

The Basis of Authentic Repentance

by Frank Turk

Some of you have stopped by today because of this tweet I made last week:

Yes, well we'll have to have that merciless beating another time.  I have it bookmarked for such a thing, but work has me stacked up and I've only got so many hours to dedicate to the simple pleasures.  This week and next we'll take a look at a recent sunday school lesson I taught recently which I haven't gotten around to blogging yet. (You can find the full audio here)

The last time I blogged a Sunday School lesson, we thought about the ordinary nature of the 1st letter to the Thessalonians.  We looked at Paul’s vision for the ordinary church, God’s Ordinary Means for delivering the Gospel to the world.  The list was simple – Pastoral Care, Personal Affection, Proclaiming the Gospel, and Perfecting the Gospel.  I also said back then that it’s understandable why most pastors don’t want to linger on the letters to the Thessalonians because they deal broadly in the doctrines of the second coming of Jesus, and that threading the eye of that needle can cause us a lot of trouble.

So God in his good humor and providence gave me this passage to teach from – which is explicitly about the return of Christ, and the final Judgment of God.  I guess I get to thread the eye of the needle today.

2Thes 1.  The Apostle Paul wrote (starting in verse 5):
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
When John MacArthur preached through these verses, he preached 3 Sundays on them, noting that the main idea here is that Jesus will be revealed, Jesus will come to bring retribution, and Jesus will come to bring relief.  There’s no criticizing that outline – it’s utterly sound, and if I wanted to cheat up a little today I would have followed it.  But there’s a phrase here from Paul which I think deserves special attention as the whole passage is hung on it: “those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is an interesting turn of phrase in Paul – and it only occurs twice in the New Testament: here, and in Romans 16.  The other place in English where it turns up in the Bible is 1Pet 4, but the Greek there is different – Peter uses a different word there.  It interests me because, it seems to me, we get a lot of teaching about “the Gospel,” meaning what God has done for us.  That is: the Gospel is something we receive, not something we obey.  Somehow we believe it, or we hear it, and it’s the declaration of what God has done.  Professor Michael Horton has written:
we often hear calls to "live the Gospel," and yet, nowhere in Scripture are we called to "live the Gospel." Instead, we are told to believe the Gospel and obey the Law, receiving God's favor from the one and God's guidance from the other. The Gospel--or Good News--is not that God will help us achieve his favor with his help, but that someone else lived the Law in our place and fulfilled all righteousness.
This seems true enough.  The work of Christ is certainly the keystone of the Gospel as Paul preached it.  But here in this letter, Paul has put in contrast those who do not obey the Gospel over against those he is writing to in Thessalonica – those who we assume do obey the Gospel.  Because of this, and the consequences Paul says lay stored up for each side in the end time, I think we need a minute or two to think about what Paul means to say when he pointing out those who do or do not obey the Gospel.

The first thing to say is this: Paul is not confusing the Law and the Gospel.  That is, we cannot simply substitute the word “Law” here and suppose that what Paul really meant was that sinful men – men who disobey the law of God – are the ones who will receive the final consequences Paul describes here.  Paul says it is the Gospel – the good news of God – that these people do not obey.

MacArthur deals with this issue by saying that in some sense the Gospel contains the call the repent and believe.  He says it this way:
This gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is a command. That is why God will come in vengeance, because you who disobey the command have flaunted yourself against His authority. … So when the gospel is preached, it is a command. When is the last time you said to somebody, "I command you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? God commands you." John the Baptist or Jesus didn't come along and say, "It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent," he said, "Repent, or else."
This seems to eliminate the tension in the phrase “obey the Gospel,” because it is meant to be obeyed the way any command ought to be.  It eliminates the contrast between what we usually understand as the Law which convicts us and the Gospel which saves us.  But when it is said this way, it seems to me that it also eliminates the reason the Gospel is a relief when compared to the demands of the Law.  Since it is Paul we are talking about, we have to remember that he was the one who makes it clear what that contrast ought to be in Romans 8, and again in Romans 10

Reducing the Gospel down to a mere command, then, is probably not as helpful as it looks on the first pass – because the command to repent is itself part of the Law.  Martin Luther put it this way:
The law is a light that illumines and shows, not the grace of God or righteousness and life, but the wrath of God, sin, death, our damnation in the sight of God, and hell. Such an awareness of divine judgment, which brought knowledge of oneself through the revelation of the law of God, is the basis of authentic repentance.
When Paul is talking about whether or not one “obeys the Gospel,” he is talking about the true dividing line between faith and unbelief.  We'll discuss it further next week.

26 February 2013

The most offensive verse in the Bible

by Dan Phillips

In the Sunday School class at CBC we're doing a series called Marriage, the Bible and You. In the second lesson of the series, I brought up the subject of secular talk shows and how they like to try to beat up on Christians of any size, shape, and significance about whatever topic they think is most embarrassing and controversial. Of course, at the moment it's "gay" "marriage," or the topic of homosexuality at all.

In the course of the lesson, I remarked that I think — from the comfortable quiet safety of my study — that I'd take a different approach.

When Piers or Larry or Tavis or Rosie or Ellen or The View or whoever tried probing me about homosexuality, or wifely submission, or any other area where God has spoken (to the world's consternation), I think I'd decline the worm altogether. I think instead, I'd say something like,

"You know, TaPierRosEllRy, when you ask me about X, you're obviously picking a topic that is deeply offensive to non-Christians — but it's far from the most offensive thing I believe. You're just nibbling at the edge of one of the relatively minor leaves on the Tree of Offense. Let me do you a favor, and just take you right down to the root. Let me take you to the most offensive thing I believe.

"The most offensive thing I believe is Genesis 1:1, and everything it implies.

"That is, I believe in a sovereign Creator who is Lord and Definer of all. Everything in the universe — the planet, the laws of physics, the laws of morality, you, me — everything was created by Another, was designed by Another, was given value and definition by Another. God is Creator and Lord, and so He is ultimate. That means we are created and subjects, and therefore derivative and dependent.

"Therefore, we are not free to create meaning or value. We have only two options. We can discover the true value assigned by the Creator and revealed in His Word, the Bible; or we can rebel against that meaning.

"Any time you bring up questions about any of these issues, you do so from one of two stances. You either do it as someone advocating and enabling rebellion against the Creator's design, or as someone seeking submissive understanding of that design. You do it as servant or rebel. There is no third option.

"So yeah, insofar as I'm consistent with my core beliefs, everything I think about sexuality, relationships, morals, the whole nine yards, all of it is derived from what the Creator says. If I deviate from that, I'm wrong.

"To anyone involved in the doomed, damned you-shall-be-as-God project, that is the most offensive truth in the world, and it is the most offensive belief I hold.

"But if I can say one more thing, the first noun in that verse — beginning — immediately points us forward. It points to the end. And the end is all about Jesus Christ. That takes us to the topic of God's world-tilting Gospel, and that's what we really need to talk about."

I mean, why quibble about minor offenses, when we know how to take them right to the mother lode of all offense — that God is God, and we are not?

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24 February 2013

Bought and paid for

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Morning and Evening, January 12, AM, "Ye are Christ's." 1 Corinthians 3:23.
“Ye are Christ's." You are His by donation, for the Father gave you to the Son; His by His bloody purchase, for He counted down the price for your redemption; His by dedication, for you have consecrated yourself to Him; His by relation, for you are named by his name, and made one of His brethren and joint-heirs.

Labour practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus. When tempted to sin, reply, "I cannot do this great wickedness, for I am Christ's." Immortal principles forbid the friend of Christ to sin. When wealth is before you to be won by sin, say that you are Christ's, and touch it not.

Are you exposed to difficulties and dangers? Stand fast in the evil day, remembering that you are Christ's. Are you placed where others are sitting down idly, doing nothing? Rise to the work with all your powers; and when the sweat stands upon your brow, and you are tempted to loiter, cry, "No, I cannot stop, for I am Christ's. If I were not purchased by blood, I might be like Issachar, crouching between two burdens; but I am Christ's, and cannot loiter."

When the siren song of pleasure would tempt you from the path of right, reply, "Thy music cannot charm me; I am Christ's." When the cause of God invites thee, give thy goods and thyself away, for thou art Christ's. Never belie thy profession.

Be thou ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Saviour's, recognizing in you His features of love and His countenance of holiness.

"I am a Roman!" was of old a reason for integrity; far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, "I am Christ's!"

22 February 2013

"The Beauty of Truth...and a lesson about true worship"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in November 2010.  Phil explains what David meant by "the beauty of the Lord."

As usual, the comments are closed.

"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple."—Psalm 27:4 

What did David have in mind when he spoke of "gaz[ing] upon the beauty of the Lord" in the Lord's Temple? Surely it was not any physical beauty embodied in the Tabernacle itself or its furnishings. Nor is it likely that David saw much loveliness in the Temple liturgy, which featured nonstop animal sacrifices that were anything but beautiful.

As a matter of fact, the Tabernacle where David worshiped was a temporary, makeshift arrangement on mount Moriah. In 2 Chronicles 1:3, we are told that the Tabernacle of Moses' time was kept at Gibeon. Presumably, most of the tabernacle's furnishings were kept in storage there, too—until a generation after David, when Solomon built a more glorious Temple. During David's reign, the tent that was situated on the future temple grounds in Jerusalem was just a temporary place David had prepared as a shelter for the ark of the covenant. There was nothing elaborate about it. In fact, David himself thought the temporary tabernacle was woefully inadequate, and he pleaded in vain with God to let him build a permanent, more elaborate, place of worship (2 Samuel 7:1-13).

So be sure you understand what David is saying in Psalm 27. The whole psalm is an expression of longing for his favorite place of sanctuary—"the house of the Lord." But it was not the structure, or the location per se, that gave him a place of sanctuary. And "the beauty of the Lord" that he wrote about could not have had anything to do with the tabernacle itself, its furnishings, or the bloody rituals involved in the offering of sacrifices.

But when David speaks of "the beauty of the Lord" in verse 4, he is talking about the glories of divine truth. That's obvious from the parallel phrases: "To behold the beauty of the Lord / And to meditate in His temple."

David's profound love for the beauty of revealed truth is evident everywhere in his poetry. In fact, the psalms themselves were inspired verses—God's Word in written form, reciting His attributes, rehearsing His faithfulness, exalting His glory. Those psalms constituted the music of Israel's worship. The very essence of worship for them was (and still ought to be for us) a celebration and recitation of God's truth. True worship is not the spewing forth of indiscriminate and unintelligible passion; it is and must always be anchored in truth, and a celebration of the magnificent beauty of God's self-revelation.

21 February 2013

Leaky canon = lazy disciple: a story

by Dan Phillips

Valerie was preparing some dish for our church pot luck, and needed lime-flavored tortilla chips.

I looked and looked among the chips, the tortilla chips. Nothing. Up, down, back and forth. Nothing. I mean, yes: there were chips of all kinds; there were even tortilla chips of all kinds.

Just no lime-flavored tortilla chips.

But I really wanted to please and serve Valerie, and I tend to be very tenacious in situations like this. So I kept looking, back and forth, up and down, back and forth, up and down.

Then I looked in a totally different area from where all the tortilla chips were — and there it was.

If I didn't care, I would have quit earlier. If I didn't have the conviction that Walmart had to carry this kind of chip, I would have quit earlier.

Moral: The effect of these "God whispered in my ear and it worked out" stories is to encourage and validate giving up, and thus to encourage laziness.

After all, if you have the conviction that Scripture doesn't have every word you need from God, you'll look a bit... then you'll quit. If you don't see it on the shelf after a couple of glances, and your theology tells you that not everything you need is in fact on the shelf, and that there is in fact an entirely different way to get what you're looking for... done!

What's more, if you have a choice between close, hard, focused, disciplined study, and maybe the humbling experience of asking for help, on the one hand — and having God just murmur the answer directly into your ear, on the other (thus giving you the unchallengeable G-card) ... who'd choose study?

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20 February 2013

The Be-Happy Attitudes

by Frank Turk

So I posted that tweet a couple of weeks ago, and because I had other things to say I didn't comment further.

Here's my further comment:

The difference between the Gospel and the preaching of our identity (whatever its basis) is the difference between the preaching of God's supremacy expressed in Christ's superiority and telling people they can have their best life now.

I'm on an airplane again today.  Behave yourselves.

19 February 2013

"Who are you to judge?" dodge (NEXT! #31)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: Who are you to judge [insert actions or words here]?

Response: Absolutely no one. But God is. I'm just someone who can read, believe, think, understand, discern, and affirm out loud.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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17 February 2013

The mother of Hell

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 18, sermon number 1,058, "No quarter."
"Sin always hunts in packs. See one of these wolves, and you may be certain that a countless company will follow at its heels."

My brethren, what has sin done for us? Can it point to any advantage or blessing with which it has enriched us?

Look down the roll of history and see if sin be not man’s worst enemy. Whose hot breath blasted Eden, withered all its bowers of bliss, and caused the earth to become barren, so that without labour even unto sweat she will not yield bread for our sustenance! Mark well yon innumerable graves which cover every plain with hillocks. Who slew all these? By what gate came death into the world? Was not sin the janitor to open the portal?

Hearken at this moment to the shouts of war which in every age of the world’s history have created a horrible din of groans of dying men, and shrieks of flying women. Who first dipped yon flag in blood, and made the air pestilent with carnage? And yonder despotic throne which has crushed down the multitude and made the lives of many bitter with hard bondage, who laid its dark foundations and cemented it with blood? Whence came war with its carnage, and tyranny with its sufferings? Whence, indeed, but from the sins and lusts of men?

All over the world if there be hemlock in the furrow, and thistles on the ridge, sin’s hand has sown them broadcast. Sin turned the apples of Sodom to ashes, and the grapes of Gomorrah to gall. The trail of this serpent, with its horrid slime, has obliterated the footsteps of joy. Before the march of sin I see the garden of the Lord, and behind it a desert and a charnel.

Stay ye awhile. Nay, start not, but come with me. Look down into the ghastly gloom of Tophet, that region abhorred, where dwell the finally impenitent, who died with unforgiven sins upon their heads. Can you bear to hear their groans and moans of anguish? We will not attempt to describe the sufferings of spirits driven from their God, eternally banished from all hope and peace; but we will ask you, O son of man, who digged yon pit, and cast men into it? Who provides the fuel for that terrible flame, and whence getteth the worm that dieth not its tooth which never blunts? Sin has done it all.

Sin, the mother of hell, the fire-fountain to which we may trace each burning stream. O Sin, it is not meet that any heir from heaven, redeemed from hell, should make friends with thee. Shall we fondle the adder, or press the deadly cobra to our bosom? If it had not been for the grace of God our sins would have shut us up in hell already, and even now they seek to drag us there; therefore, let us take these enemies of our souls and slay them—let not one escape.

15 February 2013

"The Second Great Commandment"

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the blog back in November 2010; it was first published in the July 2005 issue of Tabletalk magazine.  Phil fleshes out the practical implications of Luke 10:29.

As usual, the comments are closed.

God's image in every person is the moral and ethical foundation for every commandment that governs how we ought to treat our fellow humans. Scripture repeatedly makes this clear. Why is murder deemed such an especially heinous sin? Because killing a fellow human being is the ultimate desecration of God's image (Gen. 9:6).

In the New Testament, James points to the image of God in men and women as an argument for allowing even our speech to be seasoned with grace and kindness. It is utterly irrational, he says, to bless God while cursing people who are made in God's own likeness (James 3:9-12).

That same principle is an effective argument against every kind of disrespect or unkindness one person might show to another. For example, to ignore the needs of suffering people is to treat the image of God in them with outright contempt. Proverbs 17:5 says, "He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker." Neglecting the needs of a person who is "hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison" is tantamount to scorning the Lord Himself. That's exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 25:44-45: "Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me."

Who is our neighbor? That's the question a lawyer asked Jesus when He affirmed the priority of the first and second commandments (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, poignantly making the point that anyone and everyone who crosses our path is our neighbor—and truly loving them as ourselves means seeking to meet whatever needs they might have.

One of Jesus' main points in that parable was this: we're not to love our own brethren and fellow believers to the exclusion of strangers and unbelievers. God's image was placed in humanity at creation, not at redemption. Although the image of God was seriously marred by Adam's fall, it was not utterly obliterated. The divine likeness is still part of fallen humanity; in fact, it is essential to the very definition of humanity. Therefore every human being, whether a derelict in the gutter or a deacon in the church, ought to be treated with dignity and compassionate love, out of respect for the image of God in him.

The restoration of God's image in fallen humanity is one of the ultimate goals of redemption, of course. God's paramount purpose for every Christian involves perfect Christ-likeness (Rom. 8:29; 1 John 3:2). That will consummate the complete restoration and utter perfection of God's image in all believers, because Christ himself is the supreme flesh-and-blood image of God (Col. 1:15).

But if you're a believer, your conformation to Christ's likeness is gradually being accomplished even now by the process of your sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18). In the meantime, Jesus taught that one of the best ways to be like God is to love even your enemies. Not only do they bear God's image, but (more to Jesus' point) loving them is the best way for us to be like God, because God Himself loves even those who hate Him.

14 February 2013

When you become an evangelical rock-star, remember this

by Dan Phillips

A person who simply gives up on many of the current stable of evangelical rock-stars is probably a happier person.

When I say "gives up on," I do not mean not supporting the things they do effectively and well for the Kingdom of God. As you will see, that would itself create a reality-disintegrating paradox. Rather, I mean try to stop caring too much. Don't waste your life on it, to coin a phrase. They probably won't change. Not happy to say that; driven to it reluctantly, truth be told. But there it is.

So let's hope for better things from NextGen. Actually, let's do more than "hope." I believe in always trying to do all that one can do to be proactive. And that is exactly what this post is about.

We have a lot of readers, and I think it's more than possible that a few of you Dear Readers will, one day, become first or second tier evangelical rock stars.

Yes, you. It's possible. You will be invited to big conferences. Publishing companies will approach you. When your books come out, they'll instantly be broadly reviewed, commended, chatted up, made the issue, brought into the discussion. You'll be interviewed and quoted. Your name will be known and respected by good folks, and hated by bad.

Let me tell you some things that I hope you'll remember. These are thoughts that the current tier probably won't hear from their cushioning phalanx of enablers and supporters... unless they have a friend that will point them to this post.

So: Whether or not you remember me when you come into your kingdom, remember this:
  1. Do not allow yourself to be surrounded with fanboys so eager to protect your ego that they will bitterly attack and mindread and heart-judge anyone who even seems to hint at a word of criticism of your majestic self, however solid that criticism might be.
  2. The principle of noblesse oblige is probably more Biblical and far-reaching than you think. So think again.
  3. Don't create a cozy, smug country club whose members are limited to the already-arrived.
  4. Don't use your fame to promote others to whom fame will mean the proliferation of harmful doctrines or examples.
  5. Do be the "rising tide" that "lifts all boats" who sail for the same King you sail for. Specifically:
  6. Don't seal yourself off from Lesser Beings.
  7. Don't hold yourself too lofty and too important to touch the rabble beneath you.
  8. Don't regard the rabble as "beneath" you in the first place. They're really not.
  9. Do use your influence to elevate those with a sound message and a small platform. For instance;
  10. Do comment on and point folks to smaller blogs.
  11. Do "follow" smaller Twitter accounts who serve the message you serve.
  12. Do retweet sound and on-target tweets from unknowns. (Wouldn't it be great if there were more prominent proclaimers of the truths you cherish and promote?)
  13. Do suggest small names of those who preach big truths well to conference organizers. When you accept, suggest that a "small name" be added to the rostrum. When you have to decline, recommend a "small name." 
  14. When you screw up publicly — and you will, we all dorepent just as publicly. Godly leadership means not only showing people the God-honoring thing to do by doing it, but it also means showing fellow-mortals how to handle it when we fall short or afield.
  15. Leave none in doubt that you care infinitely more about the Gospel than any Coalition you might be part of.
  16. Listen to your critics. I don't say "obey" or "believe" them all; many have heads full of brawling alley cats. But do listen.
  17. Never ever allow yourself to be cocooned off from "commoners," whether in pastoral ministry (always visit, counsel, disciple "commoners," not just the strategically useful) or any other.
Perhaps I'll expand this list in time, as I have Phillips' Axioms. But this will make a start.

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13 February 2013

Unleash the Reproach

by Frank Turk

Last week, I started a 2-part series on how to talk to other human beings about Abortion, and I think I owe two clarifications before we go on.

Clarification #1: There's no question Dan and I (and Phil, in spite of his internet retirement) are ardent proponents of the humanity of the unborn, and therefore the right to life of the unborn. However, to be fair to Dan and Phil, they probably don't share my opinion on the use of Presuppositional apologetics in dealing with this issue.  Please keep your hate-mail contained.

Clarification #2: I'm not an enemy of Presuppositional apologetics.  I think that the idea that Christians have been given The Truth, and The Truth is utterly embodied in Christ, and that we shouldn't pretend like other explanations of reality have any worth because they have no eternal worth is, at its core, the only true monotheism. It's unquestionable that this is the reason we evangelize and not merely discuss our faith as if it was one of several viable choices.

But, last week set the hairs on fire of people who, in all good intentions, use the highest-minded version of theology and philosophy to try to convince other people that they must repent and become disciples of Christ in order that those converted people will stop killing babies via abortion.  Of course, in their view, they are not "convincing" anyone of anything -- that's too synergistic a word.  They are declaring and demanding what God demands, they say.

And, of course, I am personally notorious for perpetuating the idea that "the Gospel is the Solution to Culture."  I believe it.  I think the history of the church demonstrates it.  There's no question that the Culture in the West has followed where the Christian faith has lead -- even over the cliff in the last 200 years, and now it has followed the church into a post-Christian age.

Abortion is a great place to notice this -- because the culture followed us over the cliff in seeing abortion as terrible but plausible.  Now that it is beyond plausible to being a required convenience, having us lead them back to something less barbaric is going to be quite a long and serious slog.

So in some sense, we have to have sympathy for our Presuppositional comrades: the change needed is radical, and they are presenting the only radical solution which can be tenable: repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

In the best possible case, this is what that can look like:

UPDATED: Before you read another word, this video is an example of a perfectly-good method of declaring the Law for the sake of convicting sinner of their wrong-doing.  It's perfectly-good.  This is the right-sided example of using the Law.

It's the total package -- it bases the entire argument on the truth of Scripture, declares the truth, calls sin sin, and calls the sinner to repentance   When God wills it, that kind of preaching wins the sinner eternally, and also saves the baby, right?  When it doesn't yield converts, it yields condemnation, and that's all we can expect, I guess: either the redeemed or the reprobate.  Those doing it can boast of Christ alone, and can count themselves faithful.

Here's what worries me about this approach those who have been arguing with me over the last week: those who see it that way think this stands alone as the only method worth practicing. The Gospel is the Solution to Culture, after all.

But what if, following their demands, this happens?

Evangelist (E): The Bible says, "No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."  The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself, and that baby is your neighbor.

[Clinic Staff Member (CSM) comes out of the building]

CSM:  um, Hello?  Hello? Can I, um, can I talk to you for a second?

E: We want to talk to you.  We want to talk to you about repentance.

CSM:  Yes, I understand that.  I understand you think we are doing a bad thing in here.  That's why I finally came out to you.

E: Have you come out to repent?

CSM:  No.  Not, not at all ...

E: Then you have to repent!  Jesus said that unless you repent you shall all likewise perish.

CSM: I know: I get it that you think Jesus hates what we're doing here.  Why do you believe that?

E: Scripture tells us that its wrong to murder, and this is murder.

CSM: Well, what about self-defense?  Does your scripture say that self defense is wrong?

E: That has nothing to do with this, where innocent babies are being killed.

CSM: You say that, but there's a woman inside out clinic right now with enclampsia.  It's a disorder which threatens her life if she does not end this pregnancy.  Do you think it's right to demand that she die because she is pregnant?

Now, Look: everything after that question is no longer about sin and repentance.  If it is, I suggest that the evangelist is not hardly listening to the person he or she is preaching to -- and is missing the point of what he or she has set out to do.  The person asking a question like that is trying to listen and explain, and when the other party is not willing to engage, it is the end of the conversation.

That's at the actual clinic.  But what if you're having this conversation with a senator or a congressman, or some lobbyist?  The point in that discussion may be to convert that one person to a living faith -- but the context of the discussion is policy in a society where there are both believers and unbelievers.  In that context, demonstrating that they know God's righteous decrees, and that those who practice such things deserve to die is an urgent matter -- but that's just one quip from Romans 1 dislocated from the rest of that chapter and the following chapter.  They know these things because God has shown it to them. These things have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

That is: there is a common basis for human discussion of what is right and wrong because of the way God made the world.  That's true presuppositionalism -- not just that God is transcendent, but that He is Creator and Sustainer, and that human beings have no excuse for denying his moral law.

So pointing out, for example, that only 4% of abortions are due to the endangered life of the mother or the equally-tragic condition of incest or rape is an entirely-cogent and biblical rebuttal of the idea that abortion ought to be practices because it is somehow more humane.  And it is equally-cogent and biblical to point out that 86% of doctors who are informed about this procedure and the contents of the womb will not perform this procedure because they have all the observational facts.  The facts in a sovereignly-run universe are on display to that end.

True presuppositionalism assumes all the things the Bible assumes about people and the world, and works from that -- not from the few verses that are declarative of God's decrees and man's unwillingness.

Which brings us to the part I promised last week: when the empirical facts of abortion are evident, it's the end of the line for the advocate for "choice."  And we know this becuase of what they are willing to say when it's all said and done.

For example, Mary Elizabeth Williams seems quite pleased with herself to discuss the state of the abortion debate in this country.  This is her lead thesis:
I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.
From there, she is in 110%.  Her first waypoint is public opinion in spite of the state-level activism which has enacted the highest number of abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade was decided.  Her second waypoint is that all life is not equal.  How she justifies this is chilling:

We can’t have it if those of us who believe that human life exists in utero are afraid we’re somehow going to flub it for the cause. In an Op-Ed on “Why I’m Pro-Choice” in the Michigan Daily this week, Emma Maniere stated, quite perfectly, that “Some argue that abortion takes lives, but I know that abortion saves lives, too.” She understands that it saves lives not just in the most medically literal way, but in the roads that women who have choice then get to go down, in the possibilities for them and for their families. And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.
You know: wow.  If you want to get after Rom 1:21-23, it's not for the person who has a legitimate question about the ethics involved.  It's for people like this who have inverted the priorities of life which are transparently evident to them -- that it is the parent who ought to sacrifice for the sake of the child -- especially when the so-called "sacrifice" is merely economic freedom.

It's with a person like this that we ought to unleash the reproach on her own self-invented moral order.  It's here where we ought to ask the question, "you're saying some people are going to be too poor to live?  Or that somehow perceive economic advantages ought to dictate the value of human lives?  How have you decided that economic scales are the best arbiter of the life-worthiness of a human being?"

The person who is confused or mis-informed doesn't need their foundations of epistemology undone: they need to see the facts for what they are.  For the person who sees and accepts the facts and still embraces moral quackery for the sake of a purely-political agenda?  Those people require the heavy equipment to move in. 

12 February 2013

How to shut down gossip and its nasty kin

by Dan Phillips

 For lack of wood the fire goes out, 
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.

 As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, 
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; 
they go down into the inner parts of the body.

Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel 
are fervent lips with an evil heart.

(Proverbs 26:20-23)

Gossip kills churches. If you're reading this blog at all, odds are I don't want your church to be killed! So here's what you do.

First, understand what gossip is. Gossip is spreading harmful information in an ungodly manner — without love, and thus to no positive end. Its bastard stepchildren are the triplets: Strife, Dissension, Division. Once again, my focus is the life of the local church.

Second, do any or all of the following steps, as needed. Some of them help identify whether you're actually hearing gossip or not. All of them will stop it dead. But none will work... unless used.

  1. Ask, "Why are you telling me this?" Often, that in itself is such a focusing question that it can bring an end to the whole unpleasant chapter. It has the added benefit that it can help a person whose intentions are as good as his/her judgment is bad.
  2. Ask, "What's the difference between what you're telling me and gossip?" See above; same effect, same potential benefits.
  3. Ask, "How is your telling me that thought, that complaint, that information going to help you and me love God and our brothers better, and knit us closer together as a church in Christ's love?" Isn't that the goal we should share, every one of us? Won't it take the working of each individual member (Eph. 4:16)? Isn't the watch-out for harmful influences an every-member ministry (Heb. 3:12-13; 10:24; 13:12-15)?
  4. Ask, "Now that you've told me about that, what are you going to do about it?" While the previous two are subjective, this is not. If neither of the previous two questions succeeded in identifying gossip/whispering/sowing-dissension for what they are, the answer to this question will do so. Tip: if the answer is "Pray," a good response might be "Then why didn't you do that and leave it there in the first place?"
  5. Say, "Now that you've told me about that, you've morally obligated me to make sure you talk to ____ about it. How long do you think you need, so I can know when this becomes a sin that I will need to confront in you?" The least that this will accomplish is that you'll fall of the list of gossips'/whisperers' favorite venting-spots. The most is that you may head off a church split, division, harmed souls, sidelined Gospel ministry, and waylaid discipleship. Isn't that worth it?
You're welcome!

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10 February 2013

The strong One

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 11, sermon number 613, "The strong one driven out by a stronger one."
"The might of Satan would crush thee to thy ruin if it were not that the almightiness of Christ comes in to the rescue."

Oh, well do I remember when the stronger than Satan overcame in my soul. Five years was there a conflict, more or less. Sometimes my proud heart would not yield to sovereign grace; at another time a wilful spirit would go astray after vanity; but at last, when Jesus showed his wounds and said unto me, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” I could hold out no longer, and the evil spirit could resist no more, the wounds of Christ had wounded the old dragon, and the death of the Saviour became the death of sin.

Oh! there are many of us who know what it is to be conquered, to be subdued by a power other than our own, and in every case there must be this experience, or there is no real life. Dear hearer, if your religion grew in your own garden it is a weed and good for nothing; if your grace springs as the result of your own willing, your own acting, and your own seeking, it is good for nothing; Christ must seek you, it must be a power far above you, mightier than you, far stronger than you and the devil put together, which must deliver you from your sins.

As soon as ever the stronger man has conquered the enemy, what does he do? He takes his sword of rebellion, snaps it across his knee, and pulls the armour from the back of the unclean spirit. Prejudice, ignorance, hard heartedness, all these are pulled off the old enemy. I think I see him—I think I see the Saviour stripping him to his shame and ejecting him from the heart with abhorrence. There, let him go among the dry places and again seek rest and find none.

Happy day! happy day for the palace which he once defiled when he is cast out, and cast out for ever! Christ Jesus then proceeds to divide the spoil. “There is the man’s heart, I will take that,” says he, “that shall be a jewel in my crown. The man’s love I will set as a jewel upon my arm for ever. His memory, his judgment, his power of thought, utterance, and working,—these are all mine,” says Christ. He begins to divide the spoil, he puts the broad arrow of the king upon every room in the house, upon every piece of furniture.

The garnishing he pulls out, “I will adorn it far better than this,” saith he. “There shall be no pictures of faith, but faith; there shall be no ornament in yonder grate except the ornament of the glowing fire of fervid zeal; there shall be no borrowed flowers, but I will train round this window the sweet roses and jessamine of love, and peace of mind; I will wash what was only swept, with my blood I will make it white, and sweet, and clean; and I will strike the lintel and the two side posts with the hyssop, and with the blood mark, and then the destroying angel when he sweeps by shall sheathe his sword, and the black fiend when he would enter shall see the mark there, and go back trembling to his accursed den.”

This is conversion, the other was only conviction; this is change of heart, the other was only change of life. I do trust, if you have been content with the former, you will now bestir yourselves, and never be satisfied without the latter.

08 February 2013

"Sometimes fellowship is better than a fight. Sometimes not."

Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, the unpaid and overworked staff at TeamPyro presents a "Best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog back in September 2005.  Phil discusses the dilemma of when to engage in doctrinal debate, and when to set it aside.

As usual, the comments are closed.

One thing you'll quickly notice if you make even a casual study of historical theology is this: the history of the church is a long chronicle of doctrinal development that runs from one profound controversy to the next.

In one sense it is sad that the history of the church is so marred by doctrinal conflicts, but in another sense that is precisely what the apostles anticipated. Even while the New Testament was still being written, the church was contending with serious heresies and dangerous false teachers who seemed to spring up everywhere. This was so much a universal problem that Paul made it one of the qualifications of every elder that he be strong in doctrine and able to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). So the church has always been beset by heretics and false teachings, and church history is full of the evidence of this.

Obviously, then, we who love the truth cannot automatically shy away from every fight over doctrine. Especially in an era like ours when virtually every doctrine is deemed up for grabs, Christians need to be willing and prepared to contend earnestly for the faith.

On the other hand, even in an obsessively "tolerant" age such as ours, the opposite danger looms large as well. There are some people who are always spoiling for a fight over little matters, and no issue is too trivial for them to overlook. It seems they are looking for reasons to take offense, and if you're not careful what you say or how you say it, they'll throw a major hissy. More often than not, it's an insignificant issue, an unintentional slight, or an inadvertently indelicate "tone" that provokes the tantrum. (Ironically, these same folks are sometimes more than willing to tolerate major doctrinal errors in the name of "charity.")

Scripture includes all the following commands: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11). "I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations" (Romans 14:1). "Follow peace with all men, and holiness" (Hebrews 12:14).

Clearly, there are two extremes to be avoided. One is the danger of being so narrow and intolerant that you create unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. The other is the problem of being too broad-minded and sinfully tolerant—so ecumenically minded that you settle for a shallow, false unity with people whom we are commanded to avoid or whose errors we are morally obligated to refute.

It would seem that the only way to be faithful to all the above commands is to have a sound and biblical understanding of how to distinguish between core doctrines and peripheral ones.

But search for serious material that carefully discusses biblical guidelines for making such distinctions wisely, and you'll come up mostly dry. This is an issue I fear most Christians have not considered as soberly and carefully as we should, and it would be my assessment that one of the crying needs of the church in this age of mindless postmodern subjectivity is a clear, careful, and thorough biblical understanding of when it's time to fight and when it's time to fellowship.

07 February 2013

"God Listens." True. But not necessarily good news

by Dan Phillips

Driving home the other day I saw a truck with the bumper sticker "God Listens." It's advertisement for a local Christian radio station about which I know next to nothing, since most of the programming fires well wide of my tastes.

My first thought was, "Isn't that the quintessence of 'getting-it-wrong'?"

Doubtless, it's meant to be a great warm and loving invitation, and maybe it strikes a lot of people-who-aren't-me exactly right. But what does it actually say? Doesn't it tacitly confirm our fundamental Adamic belief, that what really needs to happen is that God needs to listen to us?

Remember the story. Remember the source of absolutely every bit of misery and sadness and brokenness in our universe. What happened? A perfectly adequate summary would be:

God spoke
We didn't listen

And now here is an outreach that says, not "God has spoken, and we'd better listen," but "God listens." God is made passive, we are made the actors. God is a harmless, benevolent Grandpa just waiting for us to climb up in His lap and vent, or a submissive servant waiting for us to work the machinery to extract our Best Life Now©, as The Gospel Coalition's Golden Boy's Golden Boy is fond of saying. It's up to us. We control the relationship.

Of course, you'll search in vain for this note in any of the apostles preaching in the NT. The closest I can think of in the prophets is of a very different spirit. First is Hosea 14:2, which indeed says, "Take with you words and ...to the LORD; say to him..." Okay, that sounds close. Until we quote it in full:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  2 Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips. 3 Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, 'Our God,' to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy" (14:1-3)
Then there is the more famous word in Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together." That sounds like an invitation to a conversation. Until, once again, the context is brought in:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.  18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (1:16-20)
Once again, it is a call to repent in view of the already-known word of God (vv. 2-4, 10).

In both cases, then, you could apply the prophets' words to the bumper sticker in the sense, "When we respond to God's Word with repentance, God listens."

However, if the thought is meant to be, "Just as you are, unrepentant and unbelieving, all you have to do is pray, and God cares and loves and accepts you and will help you fix what you think needs fixing," then it simply is not true. It may be a "precious promise," but it's a false one.

To take some passages opened and developed at length here, Prov. 28:9 says, "If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination." If "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD" (Prov. 15:8), his prayer won't be more acceptable, because "The LORD is far from the wicked" (Prov. 15:29).

My second thought was that the statement is certainly true, taken all by itself — though I don't think it is true in the sense intended.
Proverbs 15:3 — The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 — For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Matthew 12:36 — "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak."
So: those times you lied? Those times you manipulated the truth to get your way, to work your will on someone weaker? Those times you denied or twisted the truth of God? Those times you made excuses which amounted to lies and deceptions, to get out of work or trouble?

God listens. And God will judge.

So really, the bumper sticker is true, as-is.

And, to sinners outside of Christ, and apart from the Good News, absolutely terrifying.

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06 February 2013

Defaming the Wrong Flying Spaghetti Monster

by Frank Turk

The real shame of this post is that I'm getting on an airplane at 4 AM Wednesday morning, and I won't be here to field your "yeah Buts ..." to my point today.  However, It's my intention to field some of them from 10,000 feet if the WiFi hangs in there, so keep your fingers crossed.

And: Pack a Lunch.

I usually check in with Dan (and even Phil in spite of his so-called "retirement" from the internet) before I make a statement as broad as this, but I'll say it: there should be no questions in anyone's mind about where TeamPyro stands on Abortion.  Life begins at conception, and it is a gift from God.  Every person is made in the image of God.  Re-read Genesis 9 if you have trouble wrapping your mind around the idea that murder is wrong.

"Yes, But," comes the objection from the person who thinks a woman has a right to choose, "How is this murder?  Far many more of these so-called 'people' die in the womb due to a lot of other causes and complications than by the act of an OB-GYN, so doesn't that make your so-called God a murderer?"

Before we get to the meat and potatoes, I have a brief foreword for those in the Abortion apologetics business.  The people who are in favor of abortion as a policy is a broad spectrum of people -- and almost none of them are philosophers.  Most of them, if I can be so bold, are people under the age of 35 who are in their sexual prime and who have grown up in the most absurdly-comfortable and safe civilization in the history of human kind.  Most of them are emotional adolescents at best, and intellectually? They have a hard time distinguishing between facts (that is: the sort of thing their convenient pseudo-religion of Science is allegedly based on) and emotions (that is: how a story makes them feel).

We know this because every conversation, every conversation, every conversation about this subject with one of these people starts with their urbane narrative about the social mandate for abortion: people who wouldn't allow abortions are stupid, because abortion saves the lives of women.

Before I get into the thick of that, let me say this to the pro-life apologist who has just started unpacking his Greg Bahnsen playbook (some of you have blacked out "Greg Bahnsen" and have written "Cornelius Van Til" on a piece of tape and plastered it over the title) for presuppositional ribaldry: put a sock in it.  Even if you are dealing with a rank nihilist (and you might be), the problem here is not establishing a plausible epistemological system in order to detail the ethical implications of the Creator/Sustainer as it relates to reproductive ethical reasoning.  The problem in rather that this person is not reasoning at all: they are emoting.

Look: if you're on a stage with Gordon Stein having a debate about whether or not an atheist has philosophical justification to make comparative statements without an eternal and objective external standard to create the basis for saying anything is "good" or "better" or "best," I am sure everyone will be entertained by your high-brow retelling of "Who's On First?"  But the average so-called atheist, or the average so-called feminist, or the average woolly post-protestant doo-gooder, or the person who is some mash-up of all three,  isn't trying, really, to undo Jesus here; they haven't come to their decision because they have worked for decades on the problem of metaphysics in a universe sans teleology.  In their minds, the problem is that people are dying.

You know, Margaret Sanger was a vile racist.  That is: in retrospect.  She wasn't vile because she tossed around denigrating epithets, made profane jokes, kept slaves and shot guns at Jamie Foxx.  She was an educated woman, and was in the company of the intellectuals of her time -- who were, among other things, convinced that some races were superior to others.  Her racism was subtle, superior, and ineffable -- so much so that in her own mind, she was never any kind of racist.  She was an idealist, and wanted what was best for all humanity -- and especially for women.  Here's one of the slogans the American Birth Control League produced when she helped found it:
We hold that children should be (1) Conceived in love; (2) Born of the mother's conscious desire; (3) And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health. Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.
Now seriously: who would say otherwise?  It's only in retrospect that we see that her motives came from an urge to eliminate poverty, and therefore an urge to eliminate all impoverished people pro-actively.  She wanted it not because she was a committed atheist, or because she was some sort of necrophile: she wanted it because she had witnessed herself the awful state of women through the lens of her own mother's life. Her mother, Anne (Purcell) Higgins, was a devout Catholic who went through 18 pregnancies (with 11 live births) in 22 years before dying at age 50 of tuberculosis and cervical cancer.

And this is the narrative that survives through to today: women are oppressed by the state of their reproductive shackles, and suffer horrible consequences because of the futility of pregnancy and the profligacy of pregnancy -- while men are, they say, scott free.

This is why calling abortion "murder" lights the advocates for such a thing up into such white-hot indignation.  "Murder?"  You mean like all the women who die in childbirth?  Or how about the murder by inches of a woman trapped in poverty because she has more children than days of the week?  How dare you toss out a moral evaluation like "murder" when what a woman actually faces is both more morally-complex and morally-blighted than you so-called theologians and men can comprehend?  Trying to walk that person through the argument that you can't really say what is "good" or "better" without first referencing God's law is too clever by a long shot.  They are wrapped up in a compelling, emotional story upon which to base their support of abortion.  The idea that mothers put their lives at risk when they enter into pregnancy has a kind of gothic allure; it rings of Margaret Atwood by way of Mary Shelley.  Nobody wants their wife or mother to die for any reason -- let alone in child birth.

So you will excuse me if, on that basis, I will ask the presuppositionalist to stay out of it.  He's most of the way out of it already anyway.  If he wants to get involved, he should start where the person in question actually is rather than where he would rather they be.

And, as I said: where they are is emoting, based on a story they believe in, rather than considering the facts of the matter.  For example, they don't consider that the trend in the US for abortions over the last 20 years is, thank God, going down.  That's without much legislation, without much government intervention.  2009 (the last year for CDC reporting) counted "only" 784,507 abortions -- which is down from a peak of 1.4 million in 1990.  That kind of downward trend is really exceptional progress in spite of the number of abortions still being blasphemously-high.

The reason this fact has to be the starting point in this discussion is simple: the number of abortions have effectively been cut in half in the last 25 years, and there has been no correlating explosion of women dying in child birth.  In fact: the single most obvious cause for the change in the rate of maternal deaths in the US in the last 30 years has been the change in CDC policy for reporting maternal death in childbirth. Until that point, that rate had flat-lined at roughly 9 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies.  It's not hardly the riskiest thing women do.  Factually, vehicular accidents claim 10-times as many women each year -- and there is no narrative which casts a dark shadow over women with drivers licenses as there is over the fact that women give birth to children.

Abortion is not causing pregnancy to be more or less safe for women.

But that's not the end of the line: the next question is how we account for what happens in the abortion clinic as "murder."  Is this just an edict from our version of the flying spaghetti monster, or are we simply too stupid to understand that a fetus is no more or less viable outside the womb than a liver is outside the stomach cavity?

Well, we all appreciate a good one-liner because that's the kind of literate and sanguine Christians we are -- even when the humor masks a terrible and indefatigable ignorance and arrogance.  But if we again engage in facts, we see that perhaps the other side is defaming the wrong flying spaghetti monster.  It's not the God of Abraham who has his facts out of kilter: it's the god of Science.  Or rather: only her hapless accolytes.

It turns out that as recently as 2011, fewer than 14% of OB-GYNs are willing to conduct abortions for any reason -- at least, according to those knuckle-dragging fundamentalists at PBS and the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, who don't spare a moment to get to blaming traditional religion for that problem.  However, that doesn't account for the fact that only one in 4 OB-GYN's with no religious affiliation are willing to perform abortions.  It turns out that those who actually understand what's inside the womb -- because they are actually fully-informed about the Science, you see -- think it is unconscionable to go in after it.  That is: the Scientists are against the idea because  it turns out, it looks like murder to them.

So abortion isn't affecting the survival rate of pregnant women in our country, and the overwhelming majority of OB-GYN's have a moral objection to doing unspeakable things to unborn human beings.  Nobody expected that the story we find ourselves in looks more like Exodus than Rosemary's Baby, but the truth, as it turns out, is God's truth and declares to us our shortcomings rather than His.

It also declares to the so-called fact-based advocate for this procedure that she's not immune to the power of a good story.  However, if she's the sort of idealist and realist she says she is, when the fact is cleft from the fiction, she should calmly and consciously change her mind.

Next week, we'll take a look at the objection: "Of course it's murder.  So what?"

05 February 2013

Coda on the marriage doublets

by Dan Phillips

Last week I put up Marriage: a tale of paired assertions. Many of the comments it engendered were afield from my point to varying degrees, but even most of them had value of their own. It was a good discussion.

I'm adding a brief afterword to make my main point clear. It was:
  1. Both of the assertions communicated Biblical truth. However
  2. In each case, virtually always it is only the first assertion that is said, repeated, stressed, emphasized, and hammered home. And...
  3. I think that's because a number of public Christians are, to some degree, cowards.
It's just been hitting me over and over again: public Christians often just seem to be plain embarrassed by this Jesus who I do believe they largely love and revere. They'll stand foursquare with Him on some issues, but on others they're fairly easily cowed into silence, or at least mumbly equivocation.

Marriage and the relations of the sexes is certainly such an issue. Paul never seemed to be the least embarrassed to speak for Christ on the issue, any more than Peter did. Yet their modern expositors are less full-blooded, and more apologetic — meaning "apologetic" in the sense of "I'm so sorry!", not  "Here I stand, and here's why." We all know that some people will harass us and cast out our name as evil if we agree with God on this issue, out loud; but we're supposed to be prepared for this. In fact, we should expect it!

Yet I think on the issue of marriage, many public Christians have been less helpful than they can be. I mean, if you agree that the real problem always and everywhere is men, and the real solution is shaming them into being more ladylike, then I guess they're doing a great job. But if you think that the real problem always and everywhere is sin, and the real solution is Christ, who is known through repentance, faith and obedience, then they're coming a bit short here and there.

So today the ritual dance is that if a man even will agree out loud about women being morally obligated to subordinate themselves to their husbands, he must immediately hurry to qualify the whole idea almost out of existence. Yet when he calls men to sexual fidelity and love for their wives (which is taught in Scripture neither less clearly nor more clearly than the other), there are no such apologies and equivocations, no darting eyes and shuffling feet, no mumbling and nervous laughter.

My point of course is not that the latter should not be the case, but that the former should not overbalance it. Yes, men can be horrid louts; and women can be appalling shrews. But isn't it simpler (and more Bibley) to say that men can be sinners, and women can be sinners, and call both to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance, faith, and obedience?

And that's what I'm saying.

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