Recently, while reading through the minor prophet Haggai in the LXX (the Greek Old Testament), I noticed a phrase that looked familiar: “before a stone was laid on a stone (λίθον ἐπὶ λίθον) in the Temple of the Lord…” (Hag 2:15). Hmm… where had I seen λίθον ἐπὶ λίθον before? Yes: in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, when he describes the coming destruction of the Temple buildings: “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth: there will not be a stone left on a stone (λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον) here; all will be torn down” (Matt 24:2; see parallels in Mk 13:2, Lk 19:44).
After being unresponsive for two days, my dad was escorted into the presence of his Savior on Saturday May 4, 2013 at 2 AM. Family and friends gathered to celebrate his life last Friday. I shared these words:
¿Por qué las cosas son como son? ¿Dónde está Dios cuando el mundo lo ignora a Él y a sus principios? Cuando Dios actúa, ¿por qué hace Él lo que hace?
Todos nos hemos hecho alguna vez preguntas difíciles respecto a Dios y a nuestra fe. En muchas ocasiones, lo que vemos aparentemente no concuerda con lo que creemos acerca de Dios. ¿Qué hacer en estas circunstancias? En Habacuc encontramos un libro bíblico que nos muestra un modelo para enfrentar estos momentos y acrecentar nuestra fe en el Dios que sostiene el universo con su poder.
*Posted by Joe Wooddell
Today’s is the seventh and final post in our summary of Jay Wesley Richards’s Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperCollins, 2009), and it covers Chapter 8, “Are We Going to Use Up All the Resources?” In this chapter Richards confronts the “freeze-frame myth,” which believes that “things always stay the same – for example, assuming that population trends will continue indefinitely, or treating a current ‘natural resource’ as if it will always be needed.” The chapter discusses three broad topics – resources, global warming, and population – which we shall consider one by one.
Regarding resources, fear is always on the horizon. Doomsdayers constantly proclaim how we are running out of food, farmland, and fuel. Many think we are depleting the earth’s resources, but this is simply not true. 17th century England used wood for fuel, and after a while began to have lumber shortages. Prices went up in response, and people stopped using lumber, eventually switching to coal. Over time the forests grew again. Scarcity leads to rising prices, and in a free society with the rule of law and private property rising prices lead to creativity and technological breakthroughs. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
Some critics complain that 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of the world’s energy, but this fails to notice that it’s normally those 20% who are producing the energy. People who use more energy tend to produce more energy. We need to figure out ways to help societies become free and law-abiding so they themselves can produce and use whatever energy is necessary for them to prosper.
What about global warming? Al Gore says the earth is warming, and he wins an Academy Award and a Nobel prize. Many Christians are rushing on board. But the environmental movement is simply the left’s latest line of defense against global capitalism. The idea is that all of our policies should be given up to the United Nations, that there should be more national or international control of the economy. But while it might be true that the planet has warmed slightly in the past century, we cannot say one way or the other that human activity (like carbon dioxide emissions) is causing it. And all things considered, it might actually be a net gain that it is warming instead of cooling. Finally, the policies normally advocated to reduce global warming would have such a negligible effect as to be worthless. For example, “experts” say it would cost $10-50 trillion to reduce the earth’s temperature by .07 of a degree centigrade by 2050. This is basically no change. But we could spend just $200 billion outfitting the rest of the world with water sanitation!
Humanity is faring better now than ever before. We are living longer, healthier, more prosperous lives, largely because of economic and technological freedom, and keeping things clean and prosperous involves more respect for private property, not less.
What about population? Are we becoming too numerous as a species? No. More people means more creativity; people are our greatest resource. And population trends don’t continue indefinitely. Some people, however, want to omit humanity altogether! For many today, not having children is a sacrifice and a virtue, while having them is selfish and cruel. One problem with this view is that it pits us against nature. We are, however, part of creation, not an alien species. And populations don’t always go on increasing. For example, in Europe it’s currently decreasing, and even the UN predicts a leveling off at around 9 billion in 2050.
People are not the problem, they are the solution if they are left free, along with private property and the rule of law. Global warming is not the problem. Using up all the resources is not the problem. The key is a continual respect for freedom, creativity, respect for humanity, private property, and the rule of law. If these things are in place, things tend to get better, not worse. There will always be short-term resource shortages and spikes in prices, but over the time history has shown that when freedom, private property, and the rule of law are in place, humanity always rises to the challenge, finding cheaper, more efficient ways to get the job done.
Richards closes his book with what he takes to be the top ten ways to alleviate poverty, and I summarize them here for readers’ consideration:
- Establish and maintain the rule of law.
- Focus government’s jurisdiction on maintaining the rule of law, and limit its jurisdiction over the economy and civil society.
- Implement a formal, simple, consistent property system, for securing a clear title to property one owns.
- Encourage economic freedom, free trade, and get rid of price controls, undue regulation, and restrictive immigration policies.
- Encourage stable families and other private institutions that mediate between the individual and the state.
- Encourage belief in the truth that the universe is purposeful and makes sense.
- Encourage the right cultural mores: e.g. progress but not utopia is possible, savings and delayed gratification are good.
- Teach people that wealth is created, free trade is win-win, risk is essential to enterprise, and one can pursue legitimate self-interest and the common good at the same time.
- Focus on your competitive advantage rather than protecting what used to be your competitive advantage.
- Work hard.
Of course, I would add to Richards’s book the reminder that this is not salvation. Economic prosperity is not the ultimate goal. 1 Timothy 2 reminds us to pray for our leaders and for a peaceful society so the gospel can go forth freely. Ultimately people need inner transformation that only God’s Holy Spirit can effect. May we pray and work to this ultimate end.
CNN reported on a tragic story about a woman whose boyfriend tricked her into taking an abortion-inducing drug after she told him she was pregnant. The boyfriend, John Andrew Welden, is now facing first-degree murder charges for killing the unborn child. Welden told his girlfriend that his father, a doctor, had prescribed her an antibiotic for an infection. In reality, Welden gave her an abortion-inducing drug, and the pregnancy was terminated.
This story is undoubtedly tragic, and Welden deserves to face punishment for first-degree murder. However, the undercurrent of this story is working against the tide of abortion-rights advocates. Note with me the inconsistency of the logic of our laws and of abortion advocates.
The pregnancy of Remee Lee was terminated by her boyfriend, the supposed father of the child. Since it was against the will of the mother, Welden is being charged with first-degree murder. However, if Lee had terminated the pregnancy herself, it would have been perfectly legal and perhaps even applauded by abortion advocates. Even if the abortion had been against the will of the father, the mother would have been within her legal rights to have an abortion.
Why is this a problem? The charge of first-degree murder implies the pre-meditated killing of innocent human life. It implies value in the life that is lost. In this case, it is the life of an unborn child.
What makes an abortion elected by the mother any different? The charge of first-degree murder cannot be levied against Welden for any physical harm incurred by Ms. Lee. Instead, it is directly centered upon the loss of life for the baby. The attorneys may even argue that the life was taken against the will and rights of the unborn child. In the same way, abortions performed according to the will of the mother take the life of an unborn child against his/her will and rights. Why is it murder for the boyfriend to induce an abortion and not when a woman chooses it on her own?
The inconsistency is glaring but unspoken in our culture.
Over at the Gospel Coalition blog, Joe Carter recently wrote about how four leading church historians responded to the question: “After AD 70, what day most changed the course of Christian history?” The respondents proposed four different answers. Two of the replies had to do with the advance of Islam. Specifically, one writer pointed to the Muslim invasion of the Middle East around 650 and the other to the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453. A third historian suggested the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in the early fourth century. And the final correspondent identified George Whitefield’s preaching at the church pastored by Jonathan Edwards on October 19, 1740, as the day that most changed the course of church history. I tend to think George Marsden’s brief answer is the best (though perhaps the least “interesting”) of the four, but you’ll have to read that post if you want to know which date Marsden proposed.
Reading Carter’s post reminded me of a book I read several years ago. I was reminded of the book, not because it focused on a pivotal day or a key event, but actually because it was written from a very different perspective. In 2009, Giusto Traina’s book 428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire appeared in English translation (from Italian). As the title suggests, Traina chose to focus his work on a relatively “ordinary” year—one of those years that is silently passed over in most history books. In 428 the Roman Empire was in the midst of slow but steady decline. Rome itself was still the symbolic center of the empire. But practically speaking, political power had been transferred to Ravenna in the West and Constantinople in the East. The city of Rome had been sacked by the Visigoths some eighteen years prior, and in less than thirty years the Vandals would come knocking as well.
By 428 Christianity had been the official religion of the empire for about a generation, and some church fathers were inclined to speak about the spread of the Christian faith in triumphal language. However, as Traina points out, paganism was still alive and well in some parts of the empire, even if it had gone largely underground. Of course, lots of things happened in 428. But for the most part, the things that happened were not the sort of things that usually make it into history textbooks. Traina’s book is both different and helpful because it provides a snapshot of the Roman Empire during the empire’s declining years. The book is a fairly quick and interesting read. It provides a sort of counterbalance to posts and books that focus on the “big events” of church history.
Studying major events like those mentioned by the four historians in Carter’s post is key to understanding the development of Christianity. But Traina’s book reminds us that history is largely composed of fairly “ordinary” years. During such years many unknown Christians have loved and served God, and Christ has providentially superintended the growth of his church.
Peter Drucker wrote that in our knowledge-based society, information is the key resource and building block for every type of organization. Information is the new money, currency upon which organizations rise or fall. How may a local church respond to the new currency of information in today's world?
More than 250 Southern Seminary students received degrees – ranging from certificates to doctorates – during commencement exercises on the seminary lawn, May 17, 2013.
“This great assembly is humbled by the knowledge that you will go where so many of us have never gone,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, told the 210th graduating class. “You will go to churches of all shapes and sizes and contexts. You will go into the streets with mercy and into the cities with compassion. You will go into homes with care and into places marked by both light and darkness. You will go to preach the Word, to declare the good news of salvation, to make disciples. You will teach and preach and care and pray. You will lead and learn and point people to Jesus.
“Our fervent prayer is that, as you go, you go with the longing to be asked the question that was so famously asked of Peter and John: ‘By whose power or by what name did you do this?’ We long to hear you answer, ‘This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’
“That question may land some of you in jail. It will be asked of others in jungles. But, wherever you are asked and regardless of who does the asking, the answer is always the same: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’”
Also at graduation, Mohler presented the Findley B. and Louvenia Edge Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Russell D. Moore, who, in addition to his role as dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration, has served as professor of Christian theology and ethics. This was Moore’s final commencement before beginning as president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, June 1.
Mohler presented a posthumous master of divinity degree to Heather Weeks on behalf of her husband, Wesley Matthew Weeks, who died March 28 after a short battle with cancer. Matt served as the administrative pastor at FBC Kissimmee in Kissimmee, Fla.
Mohler’s entire address is available in audio and video at the SBTS Resources page, www.sbts.edu/resources. A complete transcript of the address, “‘By What Power or by What Name Did You Do This?’ The Question Every Minister of Christ Must Long to Be Asked,” is available at www.albertmohler.com
Veteran Southern Baptist journalist James A. Smith Sr. has been named seminary executive editor and chief spokesman of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, school officials announced May 15.
“Jim Smith is one of the most respected journalists and writers in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a man of great gifts and tremendous experience,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, said of Smith, who has served as executive editor of Florida Baptist Witness since 2001. “I have known Jim Smith for many years, and I have seen the evidence of his work and leadership up close. I am tremendously proud to have him return to Southern Seminary in this important new capacity.
“I am so thankful for Jim Smith’s commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention and to the cooperative work of our denomination. He will bring a wealth of experience to this new position. Furthermore, he is passionately committed to the development of a Christian worldview and to the equipping of the church. We welcome Jim and Linda Smith back to Southern Seminary,” Mohler said.
In the new position, Smith, 48, will oversee the editorial content of the seminary’s publications, supervise the seminary’s news operation, and lead public and media relations. He is expected to start no later than Aug. 1.
“By What Power or by What Name Did You Do This?” The Question Every Minister of Christ Must Long to Be Asked
And so, you graduate. The Seminary Lawn is filled with hundreds of graduates, faculty, family, and friends. Everyone is playing his or her part. Parents are proud, spouses are glad, friends are happy, and a good number of infants are hungry. The faculty is feeling old and the graduates are feeling wise. And you are wise, for you have completed demanding courses of study that are rightly respected and widely envied. You are wiser for the knowledge that what you have learned thus far is only a prelude to a life of consecrated learning for the cause of Christ and the aim of faithfulness in Christian ministry. This great congregation gathered on this sacred soil is here to celebrate with you, and to thank God for you. Furthermore, we are here to set you loose and to pray for you as you go out into the fields of ministry, for, as our Lord has promised, the fields are white unto harvest.
In our imagination, we can see you in any number of contexts where you will surely go. We see so many of you in the pulpit, teaching and preaching the Word of God. We see many of you on the mission fields of the world, taking the Gospel where it has never been heard. We see you making disciples. Some will lead in worship and song, others in leadership and service. We can see you in so many places.
One of the most ridiculous books given to some high school graduates is Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It is filled with the kind of logic that fuels the self-esteem movement and the culture of self-expression. It’s message is encapsulated in passages like this: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY is being redefined in America, or at least many would like it to be. Our secular establishment wants to reduce the autonomy of religious institutions and limit the influence of faith in the public square. The reason is not hard to grasp. In America, “religion” largely means Christianity, and today our secular culture views orthodox Christian churches as troublesome, retrograde, and reactionary forces. They’re seen as anti-science, anti-gay, and anti-women—which is to say anti-progress as the Left defines progress. Not surprisingly, then, the Left believes society will be best served if Christians are limited in their influence on public life. And in the short run this view is likely to succeed. There will be many arguments urging Christians to keep their religion strictly religious rather than “political.” And there won’t just be arguments; there will be laws as well. We’re in the midst of climate change—one that’s getting colder and colder toward religion.
This is the introduction to a very insightful essay by R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, which was first given as a speech on February 20, 2013, at Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Bonita Springs, Florida. It is well worth your reading.
HT: Denny Burk
*Posted by Winston Hottman
Here’s a summary of this week’s For Christ and Culture radio broadcasts. I encourage you to take a listen!Cutting back on Giving (Friday, May 10)
Bill Watson joins Barry to talk about Obama’s push to reduce charitable contribution deductions.
Barry heads back to the book of Job to find out what our response should be when we compare ourselves to God and then finds God’s almost unbelieveable response to us.
Dr. Joe Wooddell joins us to discuss “The Artsy Myth” and asks the question, “Doesn’t capitalism create an ugly consumerist culture?”
Winston Hottman bring several topics to discuss with Barry: Just War and the presidency of George W. Bush.
David Henderson, Professor of Psychology and Counseling at Criswell College, is joined by David Griffin to talk through two responses to tragedy: fear and loss.
“He is intellectually the most eminent of conservative theologians. I would say he’s been the professor and I’ve been the student.” So said Billy Graham reflecting upon the influence of Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003). Like Philipp Melanchthon to Martin Luther, or Andrew Fuller to William Carey, with the passing of time the figures in history that built the theological infrastructure to support and defend an evangelical movement often fade from popular memory. Graham, Luther, Carey we know, but names like Carl F. H. Henry are not readily in view. Although unknown, Henry is not forgotten. Gregory Alan Thornbury’s latest work is quickly becoming one of the books to read this year. This is a welcomed and needed volume, for the perceptive Thornbury observes, “So it seems as though there may still be enough of us left who believe that Carl Henry, a key to evangelicalism’s past, may in fact be a cipher to its future.” What is it then that made Henry so effective in his day and thus worth reviewing now? Carl Trueman believes that one part of what made Henry remarkable was his “unerring ability to see the big picture, to focus on issues of real substance, and to communicate the significance of these issues to the theological public.” Henry saw this big picture first in his younger days as a journalist.
Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry was born to immigrant parents in January 1913 in Long Island, New York. Following the practices of American Episcopalianism, Henry ventured through confirmation at the age of twelve but later, in his words, abandoned “all that institutional religion could offer.” However, upon graduation from high school, Henry took a position at The Islip Press where he would meet one of the most important people to impact his life. Mrs. Mildred Christy “a white-haired, middle-aged lady” served as a secretary to the editor and would regularly tell Henry she was praying for him. On one occasion where Henry took the Lord’s name in vain, she expressed her hurt to Henry, and he felt it. “I knew she was a widow. What I did not know was that her teenage son, whom I apparently resembled, had recently died in California in a motorcycle accident. Nor did I know that she prayed God to give her a son in the ministry, or at least, in the Lord. What’s more she alerted two friends in Ohio—with whom as a teenager she had often sung gospel songs in churches and rescue missions—to put me, of all people, on their prayer list. To be on the prayer list of that triumvirate, of local believers like Martha Gorton, too, was like being at the mercy of an air assault.” Four years later, a persistent Mrs. Christy would offer Henry regular invitations to church and then finally to meet a special guest speaker. After a series of excuses and rebuffs, Henry finally agreed to meet the speaker, and the man both challenged Henry and answered the burdening questions of his heart. On June 10, 1933, Carl Henry trusted Christ.
To be on the prayer list of that triumvirate, of local believers like Martha Gorton, too, was like being at the mercy of an air assault.
After his conversion, Henry went to Wheaton College where he met his future wife, Helga, and continued working as a journalist. After marriage, he earned a degree from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. While serving as a part of the founding faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, he completed a Ph.D. from Boston University in philosophy. In 1947, Henry published The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, a book Russell Moore terms, “perhaps the most important evangelical book of the twentieth century.” There, Henry critiqued retracting fundamentalism as well as social gospel liberalism and called for a “rediscovery of the revelational classic and the redemptive power of God, which shall lift our jaded culture to a level that gives significance again to human life.” So it is fitting to see a call for the rediscovery of Henry as really a call to rediscover the foundational principles of a God who makes himself known in his revealed Word. While at Fuller, Henry helped launch Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine designed to “take academic theology to the masses” and to give pastors an alternative to the more theologically liberal Christian Century magazine. Henry’s tenure with Christianity Today lasted until 1968 and saw the magazine circulate to over 160,000. After spending a year researching and writing abroad, Henry returned to various teaching posts but focused primarily on his majestic six volume God, Revelation, and Authority. What is more, while rightly seen as the premier twentieth century evangelical theologian, Carl Henry was also a Baptist by conviction and served his denomination in a similar supportive role during a time of controversy. Henry passed away in 2003.
Henry’s journalism background helped him tackle substantive and crucial theological issues in a way that not only left no doubt what he believed but also displayed how his beliefs came as the result of well-reasoned arguments. In response to the idea that one might believe in Jesus but not in the truthfulness of Scripture, Henry states, “The indispensability of personal faith in Christ in no way implies the dispensability of the Scriptures as the Word of God written; apart from Scripture, we can say nothing certain either about Jesus Christ or about the necessity of personal faith in him” (GR&A, 4.203). Here, Henry in long form expounds what he had since been articulating for evangelicals for some time, that “if evangelicalism is not defined on revelatory grounds, then it wasn’t worth the effort.” When asked how he would define evangelicalism theologically, Henry replied, “In 1 Corinthians 15:1-14, the indispensability of biblical theology to a sound doctrinal foundation is placed beyond doubt. An evangelical is one who is Scripture-accordant. Twice, the apostle Paul stipulates faith ‘according to the Scriptures.’ He said this in a context that includes the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without this dependence on and submission to biblical revelation, there is no evangelicalism.” In a New York Times story chronicling his departure from Christianity Today, the author noted Henry’s flair, writing, “In a recent speech he called Protestantism’s ‘modernist’ bent ‘a bag of wind theologically,’ and said that the ‘death of God sideshow has already gone bankrupt.’” In a 1963 Christianity Today report following a meeting with theologian Karl Barth, Henry cleverly stated, “Barth has given new vitality to the Reformation formula of soli Deo gloria. But historical evangelicalism held not only to soli Deo; it held also to sola Scriptura.” As Albert Mohler notes, Henry’s style of “aggressive engagement” on these issues is the very thing that aided his “effective and thorough restatement of the evangelical doctrine of revelation and biblical authority.” In 2013, the year that would have marked his 100th birthday, the name Carl F. H. Henry is probably not known to many evangelicals. But, should a recovery of Henry’s life and thought occur, perhaps a new generation will join Billy Graham in the glad acknowledgement that Carl Henry’s “been the professor and I’ve been the student.”
- Carl. F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Word, 1986).
- Carl. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, 6 vols. (Crossway, 1999).
- Carl F. H. Henry, “Fifty Years a Baptist,” in Tom J. Nettles and Russell D. Moore, eds., Why I Am A Baptist (B&H, 2001).
- R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Carl F. H. Henry,” David S. Dockery and Timothy George, eds., Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (B&H, 2001).
- The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: http://www.henrycenter.org/about/timeline/his-works
- “Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003): A Tribute,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Winter 2004).
- Gregory Alan Thornbury, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry (Crossway, 2013).
*Posted by Kirk Spencer
While brushing my teeth and half-listening to the radio, I heard a woman pronouncing hard-to-pronounce scientific names. I could tell she had done this many times. They were the names of the serious illnesses her baby girl had developed. As I was getting dressed, I heard the mom say that it was a common sight to see EMS workers in her home. In my busy inattention, I didn’t hear much of the interview. However, as I was leaving the room I heard the mother say that all these large and dangerous illnesses were “just Goliaths.”
For the rest of the day, I could not get one particular word out of my head. Not the big word “Goliath” but the little word “just.” If this courageous mother had said “my” Goliaths or “the” Goliaths, my day would have been different—but she didn’t—she said “just” Goliaths.
It came at an odd time. Just the week before, I had heard someone arguing that Goliath could not be as tall as the Bible implies, because, once the human body reaches a height of over 8 feet tall it becomes dysfunctional. So Goliath could not have been so tall and also have been such a ferocious warrior.
However, at this point, I’m not so sure Goliath was a ferocious warrior—other than in the use of his mouth. Here is what the Scriptures say that Goliath did: He stood in a field, he shouted insults, he came closer, he fell down. He carried his spear on his back, his sword at his side and had someone else carrying his shield for him.
Just because giants may not be able to fight does not mean that Goliath could not be a giant, because he never fights. He is just a large body and a foul mouth. It very well may be that Goliath was too big to succeed, so he was just using his bigness to intimidate people into hopelessness and passivity. He may have been “just a Goliath,” just a shadow—a really long shadow—in the valley of the shadow of death.
“Goliaths” today are still large and foul mouthed. But because of what Christ has accomplished on the cross, they are just that and not much else, other than opportunities for us to glorify God and grow in Him. Because Christ has conquered Death, no matter how large life’s troubles are or how hard they are to pronounce, they are still just shadows in the light of eternity… just Goliaths.
One of the hardest things Christians face when they step out to share their faith with Muslims is that the conversation almost inevitably veers toward a competitive discussion about which religion is better: “You think this, but I think this.” “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Often you’ll find yourself on the defensive: “Yes, Jesus did die on the cross…” “Yes, Jesus is the Son of God…” “No, the Bible hasn’t been changed…” Is there any way to keep your conversation from degrading into an “I’m right and you’re wrong” discussion?
The doctor is a murderer. The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell ended yesterday, with the infamous abortion doctor convicted of three counts of first degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. The doctor’s abortion clinic, described by a Philadelphia prosecutor as a “house of horrors,” is no more, but the truth revealed in his trial remains. He is not the only one with blood on his hands.
The prosecution of Kermit Gosnell put the entire nation on trial. The doctor was indicted on hundreds of criminal counts, and in addition to the murder and manslaughter convictions he received yesterday, he was also convicted on more than two hundred counts including racketeering, infanticide, and performing abortions that violated Pennsylvania law. Most of those were illegal late-term abortions.
The evidence presented in the trial was gruesome. Investigators told of finding jars filled with parts of dismembered babies. Some of Dr. Gosnell’s co-workers told of seeing the doctor deliver babies alive, then murdering them by snipping their spinal cords with scissors. They told of babies moving their arms and legs and gasping for breath, even making noises as Dr. Gosnell murdered them.
The arrest of Dr. Gosnell in 2011 brought a wave of news coverage. That was not the case with his trial — at least not until public outrage demanded that the press pay more attention. The mainstream media largely ignored the trial, and national attention came only after a concerted effort in social media and on the Internet made inattention to the story nearly impossible.
As Kirsten Powers, writing in USA Today, wrote: “Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began on March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page. The revolting revelations of Gosnell’s former staff, who have been testifying to what they witnessed and did during late-term abortions, should shock anyone with a heart.” She concluded, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.”
*Posted by Winston Hottman
**This piece orginally appeared at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
According to Merriam-Webster, perfectionism can be defined as follows:
A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable; especially the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.
Despite the need for a little more nuancing, this description serves as a strong working definition. Perfectionism doesn’t seem like a big deal to most people, and even we as Christians tend to look at perfectionism as a “respectable” sin. The simple truth is that perfectionism, like all other sin, is a blatant form of human pride. One thing is clear too: I’m a perfectionist.
As a Christian, my brand of perfectionism can be a little more subtle because it sometimes disguises itself in pious clothing. But even when perfectionism seems to be aimed at godly living, it is prideful because it expects from ourselves now what only God has promised to accomplish in the future. Perfectionism disregards God’s promise to make us who we ought to be by attempting in our own strength to meet the goal of that promise in the present, and by positioning ourselves as the final judges of our performance.
Depending on how well we do in our own eyes, perfectionism can play out in a variety of negative responses: feelings of worthlessness, inordinate preoccupation with the opinions of other people, paralyzing fear, impatience with others, and a sense of superiority.
While I’ve recognized my perfectionist tendencies for some time now and while I am confident that God is changing me, the reality is that I tend to carry that disposition into my relationships, not least of which is my marriage.
The Perfect Marriage?
As an avid reader, I spent the years leading up to my marriage reading plenty of Christian books on marriage and husbanding. I gleaned much truth and wise advice, but as I grew in my understanding of what marriage should be, what was partially a sincere desire to glorify God became a self-oriented, unrealistic expectation. It led to an anticipation that if I just tried hard enough, I could meet the biblical standard of a godly husband, or at least come pretty close. It led to a demand for a spouse that was exactly what God says a wife should be, and a marriage that perfectly mimicked the scriptural picture of that relationship.
But when it comes to a struggle with perfectionism in marriage, I know I’m not alone. I have spoken with many fellow Christians, single and married, who operate under idealistic ideas of what their marriages will be or should be. Some of them have spent years overlooking potential mates as they search for that “perfect” match while others struggle for patience and joy when their marriages don’t measure up to the standard they have envisioned for the present.
And while singleness can often accommodate an inflated perception of one’s spirituality, marriage guarantees that a person’s imperfections are going to be exposed, as I quickly discovered once I became married. No matter how good our marriages are, as the most intimate relationship two human beings can share, marriage functions like a spotlight on our hearts by enabling us to see our selfishness from the up-close perspective of another person. It exposes us. And, consequently, it has a way of demolishing the pretensions of our self-confidence. It brings the abstract notion of our human depravity up close and personal, showing us the depths of our self-centeredness. And while all the right principles and steps may go a long way, eventually we have to come to grips with the reality of our weakness and the weakness of the one with whom we have taken up the sacred task of marriage.
In other words, God is using my marriage to destroy my pride.
The Power of the Gospel
While the principles, steps, and practices of Christian marriage advice are often helpful and correct, the gospel is most central truth in any marriage. As with the rest of our lives, it is the message of God’s redemption in Christ and our restoration in him that enables us to understand, process, and respond appropriately to the failures that we experience in our marriages. It keeps us from both a sinful arrogance that ignores the depth of our sin as well as a sinful shame that refuses to accept the forgiveness and promises of God for ourselves and our marriages. In the gospel, we find that indeed our marriages will be seared, smeared, and smudged by our best efforts, but that our Father is at work in our marriages through his Spirit, making something of beauty as he restores us and our spouses to the dignity and glory of the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
As a newly-wed, I don’t have anything new to propose by way of marriage advice. But if someone were to ask me one piece of counsel, I would offer this: know that it’s ok to be ok with not being ok. Complacent? No. Lazy? No. But aware and honest that you and your spouse are both sinful, imperfect individuals who in the present will never meet the perfect standard, or even near-perfect standard, of a marriage? Yes. And confident in the faithfulness of an all-powerful and gracious God who has promised to make your marriage the kind of relationship fit to communicate the love of Jesus for his bride even when the present reality of our marriages seems to fall so far short? Yes. It’s about in whom you place your hope and trust. To borrow the words of Saint Paul, our prayers should be:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in our marriages and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
In this post my goal is to utilize the issue of homosexuality as a case study to demonstrate that the “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” approach to sanctification is not merely an academic wrinkle, but an error of such prodigious import that it threatens the very essence of the Christian church.
American culture has apparently reached a tipping point when it comes to homosexuality. It’s OK to be homosexual now. In fact, those of us who aren’t homosexual are apparently supposed to trip all over ourselves in our affirmation of homosexuals to make up for all those years in which American consensus stood against this vice. Blah, Blah, Blech. I’m disappointed, but not particularly devastated: this kind of thing really is an inevitable result of the non-foundational, democratic, and relativist worldview that America has been cultivating for decades.
What is devastating to me, though, is some of the Christian responses to the problem that have recently been raised: applause for believers who have “come out” to unabashedly affirm (not to repent of, mind you, but to affirm) their homosexual status; gracious acceptance of and commiseration with homosexuals who sit beside us as fellow-members of the Christian church; etc. The new angle is that Christian homosexuals are a growing part of the Christian community and we need to be attentive to, not contemptuous of, their peculiar needs.
This conclusion is a necessary one if we hold to a “Jesus + Nothing = Everything,” “Preach-Justification-to-Yourself” approach to sanctification. At the point of salvation, we are told, nothing really happens to us: we still are what we were, with the only notable difference being that we have been declared righteous. If I was a thief before I was converted, I’m still a thief, but a thief saved by grace. If I was a drunkard before I was converted, I’m still a drunkard, but a drunkard saved by grace. If I was a homosexual before I was converted, I’m still a homosexual, but a homosexual saved by grace. And so forth. But this is an inaccurate explanation of the Christian experience. Note with me the following from 1 Corinthians 6:9–11:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
In these verses Paul clearly states that thieves, drunkards, and homosexuals (and a bunch of other sinner-types) will not inherit the kingdom of God. This does not mean that believers who feel acutely the temptation to steal, drink to excess, or to act homosexually are barred from heaven, but it does mean that anyone who unashamedly and persistently self-identifies as a thief, a drunkard, a homosexual, etc., is unconverted, should be excluded from membership in the Christian church, and must be handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:5). What Paul excludes here is any possibility of the kind of sanctification in which one “comes out” about what he irremediably is and then excuses his identity by musing repeatedly on what he has been declared to be in Christ. Instead, Paul’s vision of sanctification involves the repudiation of what one once was in Adam (the old man) and the embrace of the new creation in Christ that now is (the new man).
Paul does not allow Christians to self-identify as sinners. The church is not comprised of thieves, drunkards, homosexuals, etc.; instead, the church is comprised of Christians who once were thieves, drunkards, homosexuals, etc., but who are no longer what they once were. The church is to be populated by new creatures in Christ who have become “spirit people”—people who still sin, but whose dominant trajectory of life is upward. Christians persevere in their identity as spirit people, repent when they fail to live out their new identity, and beat and enslave their bodies lest they be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:27). Anyone who fails to do this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Period.
Of course we are rightly chastened by Paul’s reminder that we too were once enslaved by such sins. As such we should expect unbelievers to be thieves, drunkards, homosexuals, etc., and should treat them no differently than any other sinner—there’s nothing here to suggest that more sanitary sinners such as “the greedy” will fare any better than homosexuals at the Great White Throne. Further, we are sobered by Paul’s observation that all believers have lingering sinful tendencies (like stealing, drinking to excess, and acting on homosexual impulses) that need to be addressed with exhortation, discipline, encouragement, and love. There is no room here for sequestering particular kinds of sins as more contemptible or “yucky” than others. The church must surely learn this virtue and quickly.
But those churches who would accept sinners “as they are” (whether homosexuals or any other variety of sinner) into their memberships, and who would encourage such sinners to ponder the glories of justification rather than repent, engage in a great evil. Such acceptance violates this and every biblical text on church discipline, destroys the purity of the church by including in its ranks those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, and injures severely the witness of the people of God. The problem is not a minor one.
*Posted by Winston Hottman
At First Thoughts, Robert George argues that Kermit Gosnell isn’t the only one on trial in his prosecution. The ultimate defendent is the abortion license in America.
The Gosnell episode highlights the irrationality of the regime of law put into place by the Supreme Court in 1973 and fiercely protected by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the polticians they and other “pro-choice” advocacy groups help send to Washington and the state capitols.
Something as morally arbitrary as a human being’s location—his or her being in or out of the womb—cannot determine whether killing him or her is an unconscionable act of premeditated homicide or the exercise of a fundamental liberty. Yet something like that is the prevailing state of American law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Its incoherence and indefensibility have been laid bare by the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell. Whatever now happens to him, it will no longer be possible to pretend that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices.
This should be a time of particularly concerted prayer for Christians in America as the Gosnell trial has exposed the horror and irrationality of abortion. Perhaps, in God’s grace, public opinion and politicians will be swayed to end, or at least further restrict, this horrible practice. Read the rest of George’s piece here.
*Posted by Joe Wooddell
This post is the second-to-last in the series, “Christianity and Capitalism,” in which I have been summarizing Jay Richards’s Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. Chapter 7, “Doesn’t Capitalism Lead to an Ugly Consumerist Culture?” addresses the “Artsy Myth” which confuses aesthetic judgments with economic arguments.
Richards begins by looking at Hong Kong, a British colony from 1842-1997, which boasted a stable rule of law without an overly meddlesome government. However, some would say the skyscrapers, malls, street markets, and neon signs are “ugly.” In fact, critics often argue against capitalism by attributing to it such wasteful things as “urban sprawl,” with its boring McDonald’s restaurants, grasping merchants, and ugly billboards.
The message of Western capitalism seems simply to be, “consume, consume, consume!” In America even our poor are obese, we have high consumer debt, and we throw away perfectly good phones and computers each year just to get new ones. Some have responded by going back to intimate cultural traditions of the past, a simple lifestyle, buying goods locally, eating organically, and trying to capture the dignity of a slow family or community meal. And critics on all sides have accused capitalism of corroding the very cultural values rightly prized by conservatives: faith, family, and community, replacing them with an obsession for stuff.
Such problems, says Richards, are real problems, and they are symptoms of a disease; but the disease is not capitalism. Rather, things like greed, envy, selfishness, gluttony, and other vices are to blame. Take the example of gluttony. Gluttony is not mere consumption. We have to consume in order to survive: we breathe air, drink water, and eat food, which are all necessary. Gluttony is a problem of excess. But this brings up an important question: how much is too much? When does consumption become excessive? If we say “too much” is anything beyond what we need for mere survival, then we are all gluttons. Most of what we own we don’t really “need.” Unfortunately, however, there is no clear line between appropriate consumption and gluttony as it varies from person to person. Nevertheless, since gluttony means being consumed by the desire for more and more, even the poor can be gluttonous while the rich might not be.
Remember that capitalism and consumerism don’t necessarily go hand in hand. It is worth noting that Americans give more to charity by far than any other country. And since it is a system where the rule of law and private property are contained and where free exchanges can take place, capitalism enhances freedom and channels even our baser instincts (like greed) into the task of creating win-win scenarios with the people around us. So even though the system doesn’t determine what choices people will make, a free market is best suited for distributing goods, services, and information.
But isn’t capitalism still bad? Doesn’t capitalism still have vices? Doesn’t it destroy communities and traditional life, leading to ugly, crude art, music, and architecture, turning us into slaves of the economy? (Here Richards has quoted Rod Dreher.)
Actually, capitalism has done great good. Factory farming and buying beyond the “local” allow us greater variety and lower costs, and mass productions of things like automobiles makes such products available to more people at lower costs. And while most people don’t see these as beautiful, they do see them as better options than what they might have otherwise. And if you want to live on an organic farm and “survive” with just your family in a local community, you probably won’t be able to afford to do so until you use the capitalistic system to make enough money to buy everything you need, including the land, house, equipment, and everything else.
To sum up, we shouldn’t confuse aesthetic judgments with economic arguments. Some things are ugly. That is true. But “the real problem,” says Richards, “is not strip malls and factories that serve legitimate purposes, but modern architecture, art, and music that celebrate meaninglessness and ugliness rather than truth, goodness, and beauty. Capitalism is not the culprit here. The culprit is the materialist worldview that has infiltrated almost every nook and cranny of Western culture, a worldview that insists that ‘beauty’ has no objective basis in reality. Wherever we find the materialist worldview we find ugliness. It’s nowhere more apparent than in the hideous, depersonalizing art of Stalinist Russia and the modern-art rooms of most public museums, which aren’t exactly bastions of capitalism.”