Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Top 50 Most Influential Churches

After surveying 2,000 church leaders last year about the fastest growing churches and churches with a weekend attendance of at least 2,000, The Church Report came up with this ranking. Joel Osteen only came in at #5 but give him time. (HT: Kevin Hendricks)

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Prince Charles: Defender of the Faith(s)?

From the online edition of The Independent:

Prince 'cannot defend all faiths'

By Martin Hodgson
Published: 28 May 2006

A Church of England bishop has thrown doubt on the Prince of Wales's intention to be seen as the defender of all faiths, rather than just Christianity.

The Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, said that differences between religions made it impossible to defend all of them.

The Prince first said that he wanted to be known as "Defender of Faith" - as opposed to "Defender of the Faith" - in 1994, when he suggested that the monarch's traditional title implied that he or she would protect only Christians.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday, Dr Nazir-Ali said that such a change would be impossible. "The coronation service is such that whoever takes the oaths actually takes oaths to defend the Christian faith," he said.

"If, by saying that, he meant that he wanted to uphold the freedom of people of every faith, then I have no quarrel with that. But you can't defend every faith, because there are very serious differences among them."

In an interview earlier this week, the bishop - who was born a Muslim - called on fellow Anglicans to reassert Britain's "Christian character" and resist the trend towards a "multi-faith mish-mash".

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Kevin Vanhoozer Talks about The Drama of Doctrine

I was glad to see that two recipients of Christianity Today's 2006 Book Awards are projects of Dr. Kevin Vanhoozer of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He's the general editor of the Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible and author of The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (about which I've written here and here).

The current issue of Trinity Magazine, a publication of Trinity International University, contains an interview with Vanhoozer about The Drama of Doctrine. Here are some select quotes that demonstrate why this volume is deserving of CT's recognition and evangelicals' attention.

Doctrine is dramatic precisely because it is about real life, namely, the way of truth and life identified with Jesus Christ. It's all about equipping the people of God to walk the way of Jesus Christ in the real world, a world that is complex and confusing. If theology is to serve the church, what it produces - doctrines - should help us understand not only the past but also our present.

Theology is 'faith seeking understanding' (Anselm), but understanding is not merely theoretical. We demonstrate our understanding only when we show that we know how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, people who know how to embody the truth of the gospel in diverse settings and situations. Doctrine is dramatic when it aids and abets lived understanding.

Christianity is essentially about dramatic action, about what God has done in the history of Israel and especially in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world. Drama means 'doing,' and the Bible is all about the 'doings' of the triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Speaking is a form of doing, too; the action in some plays is largely dialogical. In Scripture, God gets the most important speaking and acting parts.

Doctrine directs disciples to act, yes, but to act not as hypocrites but according to their true natures and in accordance with the way things really are in Christ. Doctrine tells us not how to pretend to be something that we are not, but rather who we really are; the vanguard of a new creation. Doctrine defines me as a creature of God made in his image and as an adopted child into God's family. My true identity is ultimately a matter of my union with Christ. All other identity-markings-political affiliation, class, race, even gender-while important, are ultimately only secondary.

[T]he imagination enables us to see the parts of the Bible as forming a meaningful whole. But we can go further still. The imagination also enables us to see our lives a part of that same meaningful whole. This is absolutely crucial. Christians don't need more information about the Bible, trivial or otherwise. What the church needs today is the ability to indwell or inhabit the text, the ability to make the Bible serve as the framework through which we interpret God, the world, and ourselves.

I think a picture of doctrine as theoretical information has held evangelicals captive for too long. We believe the right things and sign on the dotted line of our confessional statements, but too many of us are unable to relate our official theology to everyday life. There is a tremendous disconnect. We know how to profess, but not to practice, the cross.

Most evangelical textbooks view doctrine in terms of teaching or of factual propositions. Liberal theologians tend to see doctrine as an expression of religious experience. So called 'postliberals' have recently suggested that doctrines are like grammatical rules that describe Christian talk and Christian action. My own view is that doctrine is a matter of dramatic direction, direction for understanding and participating in the gospel action. In other words, doctrine gives us guidance for our new life 'in Christ.' What you have to remember is that understanding is not merely theoretical: Christians have not only to know but to do the truth.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Christianity Today Book Awards 2006

Out of 240 titles, the magazine's staff selected 22 that they regard as among this year's best. Check to see if any of your favorites made the list.

Thanks. No.

I've considered composing a form letter with which to reply to those who well-meaningly include me in the group to whom they forward the latest e-rumor, joke, inspirational story, or "If you really love Jesus you'll forward this" email (my fondness for which I expressed here). Until I get around to composing that letter, I'll just send this link. (HT: Greg Linscott)

Busting a Drug Myth

Theodore Dalrymple, author of Romancing Opiates, calls commonly held beliefs about opiate addiction and withdrawal poppycock:

Heroin doesn't hook people; rather, people hook heroin. It is quite untrue that withdrawal from heroin or other opiates is a serious business, so serious that it would justify or at least mitigate the commission of crimes such as mugging. Withdrawal effects from opiates are trivial, medically speaking (unlike those from alcohol, barbiturates or even, on occasion, benzodiazepines such as valium), and experiment demonstrates that they are largely, though not entirely, psychological in origin. Lurid descriptions in books and depictions in films exaggerate them à la De Quincey (and also Coleridge, who was a chronic self-dramatizer).
I have witnessed thousands of addicts withdraw; and, notwithstanding the histrionic displays of suffering, provoked by the presence of someone in a position to prescribe substitute opiates, and which cease when that person is no longer present, I have never had any reason to fear for their safety from the effects of withdrawal. It is well known that addicts present themselves differently according to whether they are speaking to doctors or fellow addicts. In front of doctors, they will emphasize their suffering; but among themselves, they will talk about where to get the best and cheapest heroin.
When, unbeknown to them, I have observed addicts before they entered my office, they were cheerful; in my office, they doubled up in pain and claimed never to have experienced suffering like it, threatening suicide unless I gave them what they wanted. When refused, they often turned abusive, but a few laughed and confessed that it had been worth a try. Somehow, doctors—most of whom have had similar experiences— never draw the appropriate conclusion from all of this. Insofar as there is a causative relation between criminality and opiate addiction, it is more likely that a criminal tendency causes addiction than that addiction causes criminality.
Dalrymple offers the following explanations for the perpetuity of what has become the "orthodox view" about opiate addiction:
First, the literary tradition sustains it: Works that deal with the subject continue to disregard pharmacological reality, from De Quincey and Coleridge through Baudelaire, Aleister Crowley, Bulgakov, Cocteau, Nelson Algren, Burroughs and others. Second, addicts and therapists have a vested interest in the orthodox view. Addicts want to place the responsibility for their plight elsewhere, and the orthodox view is the very raison d'être of the therapists. Finally, as a society, we are always on the lookout for a category of victims upon whom to expend our virtuous, which is to say conspicuous, compassion. Contrary to the orthodoxy, drug addiction is a matter of morals, which is why threats such as Mao's, and experiences such as religious conversion, are so often effective in "curing" addicts.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Still Here

I know. I committed the cardinal sin of blogging. I haven't posted anything for over a week. Fortunately, my hiatus was not due to illness or any other emergency. I've just been giving my attention to some other things on my plate that outweigh keeping the blog current. Not only did I fall behind in posting here, I also fell way behind in reading the blogs I usually check on a daily basis. I shuddered to see how many entries I had missed when I finally checked my Bloglines subscriptions. Had I tried to get caught up I'd still be reading so I'm sure I deleted a lot of good stuff. I was even more nervous about seeing how many subscribers I lost due to my inactivity but I guess it pays to be quiet sometimes because there are actually more than there were before my hibernation. Anyway, I intend to get back to posting more regularly even if it may not be a daily occurrence.

I can't recall which of his books I read it in but I'm confident that somewhere years ago I read John Piper recommend that believers select a trustworthy saint from the past to serve as a spiritual guide through their writings. Of course, Jonathan Edwards served in that capacity for Piper and at one time I thought I'd follow suit. Ambitiously (and perhaps naively) I determined to make it my lifelong goal to forge through all of his works. That didn't last too long. Don't get me wrong. I've profited immensely from reading him and expect that I will continue to in the future. However, the combination of the density of his thought, the style of his writing, the small print (at least in the two-volume collection of his works that I own) and my aging eyes has made me reconsider.

I now have what I believe is a more realistic endeavor that will not require my reading the entire corpus of the author's work but one volume. The author is the seventeenth century Puritan pastor Richard Baxter and the book I'd like to complete before my dying day is his A Christian Directory which I've made reference to in the past. No, it's not a phone book (though it's certainly thick enough). Baxter called it a directory because it is a compendium of pastoral counsel or directions for Christian living; hence it's alternative title A Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience. Baxter divided it into four parts: Christian ethics, family life (or economics), Christian ecclesiastics (having to do with the ministries of the church), and Christian politics in which he addresses the believer's societal responsibilities to his neighbors.

The more I read the more I understand why Dr. Tim Keller has called it "the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced." Baxter had a wonderful way of dovetailing biblical doctrine and specific situations with which people struggle. He didn't leave orthodoxy hanging in the air in vague generalities but brought it into potent contact with concrete life situations. Nor did he settle for simplistic behavioristic prescriptions. As Kenneth Roth notes in an article titled "The Psychology and Counseling of Richard Baxter (1615-1691)": "Baxter's approach aims at internal insight and change because he realizes that it is the internal motivations from which the external behaviors and problems stem" (Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 17 (1998): 323).

One of the things I appreciate most about works such as Baxter's is the repeated emphasis that doctrine, in concert with the Holy Spirit's activity, is intended to illuminate and transform how we live. That's the reason counseling issues are of such great interest to me. I fear that a largely theologically illiterate church has prematurely concluded that the Bible is only peripherally relevant to the nuts and bolts personal and interpersonal problems we've come to associate with mental health professionalism. Mine is but one voice in a chorus lamenting the psychologizing of the faith. What Christian psychiatrist Jeffrey Boyd has declared of our larger culture is likewise true of the household of faith. "Homo psychologicus has replaced Homo theologicus."

But it's not enough to bemoan the current situation, at least it's not if it's to be corrected. We need to admit that the emergence and proliferation of the therapeutic mindset in the church is due in large measure to the absence of the kind of personalized pastoral theology that Baxter and his peers were so skilled in. When we preach to a congregation we do our best to illustrate and apply the truths about which we're speaking. It's more challenging, however, when dealing with a particular person facing a specific trial or temptation, to help him interpret his life in terms of biblical themes and see the relevance of the gospel to the uniqueness of his situation. What, if anything, does Christ have to say to a young mother so frustrated by her child's behavior that she literally bangs her own head against the wall? What motivates her to such self-destructive and unproductive action? What biblical themes and categories might inform our conversation with her? Is there a way to give her biblical help without merely hurling verses at her? Is it possible to explore with her the possibility (make that the likelihood) that sinful desires are the delta from which her behavior flows but to do so in such a way that she knows that she is being loved and not condemned? And above all, can we aid her in seeing that the gospel has far greater relevance to moms who bang their heads against walls than she had ever thought?

Many of the pioneers of secular psychotherapy understood their efforts as an attempt to address issues that had previously been framed and treated in a theological context. Freud wrote in The Question of Lay Analysis that the analyst's function could aptly be described as that of a "secular pastoral worker." And Carl Jung, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, wrote that "...we psychotherapists must occupy ourselves with problems which, strictly speaking, belong to the theologian." How ironic and tragic. Theses unbelieving men clearly saw their work as being about the same subject matter as that of the church. Today, the church has become so intoxicated from drinking from the therapeutic goblet, that its members are often resistant to the idea that theology is of any value for dealing with the complexities and pains of life.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Breakfast Links

Doug Groothuis writes my kind of poetry.

New addiction alert:

The world's greatest thinkers now have bodies to match their minds. Don't just read your favorite philosopher -
play with him! (Thanks, A.D.!)

DC Comics has launched a mature "graphic novel" (formerly known as a comic book) called "
American Virgin" whose main character is a Christian youth pastor who spearheads a national virginity movement. Based on this downloadable sneak peek (pdf), if there's a theological consultant he or she should be fired.

Speaking of comic books, you can discover your favorite hero's religious affiliation here.

Finally, for a more serious look at religious themes in comic books, check out this article.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

How to Reduce Crime, Poverty, & Illiteracy: Abort!

A legal watchdog group researching the Clinton administration's policy on the abortion drug RU-486 has discovered a letter urging President-elect Clinton to "eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy and poor segment of our country" by means of liberalized abortion legislation. Its author is Ron Weddington, co-counsel in the 1973 Roe decision. (Source)

Just a few excerpts from the disturbing communication (which can be read in its entirety beginning on page 60 of this pdf document):

There have been about 30 million abortions in this country since Roe v. Wade. Think of all the poverty, crime and misery...and then add 30 million unwanted babies to the scenario. We lost a lot of ground during the Reagan-Bush religious orgy. We don't have a lot of time left.

The biblical exhortation to 'be fruitful and multiply' was directed toward a small tribe, surrounded by enemies. We are long past that. Our survival depends upon our developing a population where everyone contributes. We don't need more cannon fodder. We don't need more parishioners. We don't need more cheap labor. We don't need more poor babies.

Apparently, abortion is not only the solution for reducing poverty and illiteracy, but Christianity as well.

I agree with Ramesh Ponnuru who writes, "Now of course these sorts of sentiments aren't shared by all or even most supporters of legal abortion, but I suspect they are more widely thought than voiced."

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

On Uniting Zeal and Knowledge

We are such creatures of extremes, frequently preferring one thing at the expense of another which, according to God, is of equal importance. It's so much easier to pit doctrine against life and the intellect against the affections than it is to strive for the harmony that the Bible says should exist between these dimensions of our experience.

I was reminded of this yesterday by Melinda Penner's post on the importance of loving as well as knowing the truth, and again this morning by the following counsel from Richard Baxter:

Your first question must be, Whether you are in the right way? and your second, Whether you go apace? It is sad to observe what odious actions are committed in all ages of the world, by the instigation of misguided zeal! And what a shame an imprudent zealot is to his profession! While making himself ridiculous in the eyes of the adversaries, he brings his profession itself into contempt, and maketh the ungodly think that the religious are but a company of transported brain-sick zealouts; and thus they are hardened in their perdition. How many things doth unadvised affection provoke well-meaning people to, that afterwards will be their shame and sorrow.

Labour therefore for knowledge, and soundness of understanding; that you may know truth from falsehood, good from evil; and may walk confidently, while you walk safely; and that you become not a shame to your profession, by a furious persecution of that which you must afterwards confess to be an error; by drawing others to that which you would after wish that you had never known yourselves. And yet see that all your knowledge have its efficacy upon your heart and life; and take every truth as an instrument of God, to reveal himself to you, or to draw your heart to him, and conform you to his holy will. A Christian Directory, Part I, Chapter II, Direct. II.

Lord, keep us from separating what you have conjoined and make us a people of well-informed zeal.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"Powerlessness Never Felt So Good"

I'm in the midst of tackling a project for which I feel inadequate. Fear and anxiety are daily companions. Doubts about my ability to accomplish what I must, pummel me. When I read Scott Armstrong's testimony about encouragement he received in the midst of his own desperation, I took heart. Scott writes:
I can easily be indifferent and self-sufficient and not know my desperation, depending on my abilities rather than His power through me. You see, here is the thing I am learning about desperation: it is a paradox. Though we have everything we might truly need and even though God is our strength and will see us through any circumstance we face, he gives us just enough to keep holding on that we might feel our great need of Him.

If you can identify with the feeling of being overwhelmed, do your soul a favor and read the rest of what Scott has to say.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Joel Osteen on the Today Show

If, like me, you missed Katie Couric's interview with Joel Osteen this morning, you can view it here.

In addition to asking how he squares his lifestyle with what the Bible has to say about wealth, Katie queried Osteen about what the word "evangelical" means to him and why he has chosen to stay away from addressing controversial issues like abortion and homosexuality. Katie also read some comments from anonymous theologians critical of Osteen's ministry including one who charges him with using the Bible like a fortune cookie. Joel's response? People need to come to his church to see how lives are being changed. They deal with everyday, "rubber meets the road" kind of issues, not just "a lot of theology." I don't think Joel should sell himself short like that. He teaches a lot of theology. It's just bad.

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More Powlison Audios

In the lectures he gave to counseling students at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary earlier this month, David Powlison made reference to talks he gave on campus last year. I found them last night and thought I'd provide the links for others interested in biblical counseling. Both of the talks are based on Ephesians 4:15 and address the informal ministry of the Word in the context of friendships and family relationships.

In his talk with Southern students earlier this month Powlison made the point that there are three aspects of the ministry of the Word. There is public ministry (preaching and teaching), private ministry (personal devotions and Bible study), and interpersonal ministry that consists of skillfully helping each other to interpret our lives in terms of a biblical frame of reference as well as to lay hold of our riches in Christ so that we can respond to trials and temptations in godly ways. I think Powlison is right in noting that while there is great emphasis in evangelicalism on the public and private dimensions, the third aspect is woefully neglected. It's not enough to merely sit under solid preaching once a week and have our daily quiet time. God's plan for growing us includes our bringing the gospel to bear on each others' lives through our daily conversation.

"Christ the Conversationalist" [stream][download]
"Counseling is the Church" [stream][download]

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Goodbye, Old Friend

1983 - 2006

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves


Yesterday morning as the kids were getting ready for school they asked me why Sidney was staying on the bottom of his cage. “He’s probably just biting the paper like he usually does,” I replied. However, when I returned home around lunchtime and he was still sitting on the cage floor, I knew something was wrong. Another sign of his being in less than optimal condition was that when I reached in to pick him up, he didn’t playfully peck at me as I’d come to expect. It didn’t take long to discover that something was wrong with his right foot. He wasn’t putting any weight on it nor could he grasp my finger with it. It felt limp and lifeless.

For years I had been trying to prepare the kids for Sidney’s inevitable demise. Now I feared it was at hand.

I called the nearest animal hospital to see if I could bring him in only to be informed that they don’t treat birds. They did, however, recommend other practices that did. One of them, about ten minutes away, did have someone who specializes in birds but her appointment schedule was booked for the day but she did take walk-in clients after five. When I called my wife and told her that that was the earliest I could find she wisely noted that that might be best as it would give the children an opportunity to see Sidney after school, perhaps for the last time.

I felt so helpless. I shed tears. I prayed. I regretted not playing with him more often (which made me think about the human relationships I currently take for granted and neglect that will one day be no more). I hoped that this might just be a minor injury caused by getting one of his claws caught in his cage cover overnight but I couldn’t convince myself of that. I knew that Sidney had exceeded the average lifespan for cockatiels by a few years and that this was most likely his waning.

As expected, when the kids arrived home from school and were given the news that something was wrong with Sidney they were deeply saddened. In a matter of moments my son was in tears, feeling sorry for Sidney and for me. He asked if we could pray and we did. We prayed for Sidney to be spared undue suffering, we prayed for the vet who would be seeing him, and we prayed that the Lord would prepare us for whatever happened. We also thanked God for the years of amusement, companionship, and wonder he added to our lives through this small creature.

When the veterinarian witnessed Sidney’s behavior her first concern was that he might be experiencing kidney problems. She said that in older birds lameness in one foot is often attributable to this. However, she said that she should be able to feel a mass of some kind if that was the case. She couldn’t detect anything which was a relief. After further examining his leg and foot and taking an x-ray which revealed no fractures, she concluded that somehow Sidney had injured his foot, possibly spraining it. But she couldn’t guarantee that this was so. She prescribed an oral pain medication the first dose of which she administered with a tiny syringe to show me how to do it. It was a crushed up pill mixed with syrup and Sidney didn’t seem to mind the taste. How relieved I was to return home with Sidney and a diagnosis that gave cause for greater optimism than I had left with. I reminded the children (and myself), however, that Sidney could still die. Sometime last night, he did.

Sidney came into my life in 1983 when I was a sophomore in college. He was hand fed and tamed as a baby but he could still be ornery. He was a macaw in a cockatiel’s body or so he thought. If he didn’t want you in his space he’d use the pointy tip of his beak to let you know. He could apply enough pressure to draw blood if he wanted but he usually refrained from such drastic measures. He’d usually play fight with my fingers, stopping now and then to bow his head so I could scratch it. Sidney loved feet whether in socks or out. I first discovered this while studying on my bed one day in college. I was lying on my stomach reading and put him on my back, thinking he would sit quietly on my upper back. He proceeded to waddle down my back, over my rump, and down my legs until he reached my tube sock-clad toes. He began to chirp at them as they wiggled and then broke out into melodious whistling. Since then, Sidney always opted for a foot over a shoulder. I have no explanation for this odd phenomenon but it has provided my family and me great entertainment over the years.

So, today marks the first day of Sidney’s cage being vacant. We’ll miss his vocal contributions to our home’s environment. As long as Otto, the African Grey, is our guest, though, we’ll hear echoes of Sidney thanks to his amazing mimicry.

Yes, I’ll miss Sidney. But I’ve lost pets before. What’s harder is watching my children encounter grief for the first time, knowing that it will not be their last. They will have to part with other dearly loved animals and, even more sadly, people. There is wisdom to be gained for each of us in saying goodbye to Sidney. I pray that we will.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

"They Should Have Killed Him"

In an excellent article in today's Wall Street Journal Peggy Noonan explains why there appears to be so much support for yesterday's decision to give Zacarias Moussaoui life imprisonment and why he should have received the death penalty:
No one wants to say, "They should have killed him." This is understandable, for no one wants to be called vengeful, angry or, far worse, unenlightened. But we should have put him to death, and for one big reason.

This is what Moussaoui did: He was in jail on a visa violation in August 2001. He knew of the upcoming attacks. In fact, he had taken flight lessons to take part in them. He told no one what was coming. He lied to the FBI so the attacks could go forward. He pled guilty last year to conspiring with al Qaeda; at his trial he bragged to the court that he had intended to be on the fifth aircraft, which was supposed to destroy the White House.

He knew the trigger was about to be pulled. He knew innocent people had been targeted, and were about to meet gruesome, unjust deaths.

He could have stopped it. He did nothing. And so 2,700 people died.

Contrary to the claim that the death penalty fails to acknowledge the value of life, Noonan goes on to show how it is actually a strong affirmation of life's worth:

I happen, as most adults do, to feel a general ambivalence toward the death penalty. But I know why it exists. It is the expression of a certitude, of a shared national conviction, about the value of a human life. It says the deliberate and planned taking of a human life is so serious, such a wound to justice, such a tearing at the human fabric, that there is only one price that is justly paid for it, and that is the forfeiting of the life of the perpetrator. It is society's way of saying that murder is serious, dreadfully serious, the most serious of all human transgressions.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pro-Life Chat

Once, the best adjective one could have used to describe my stance on pro-life issues was "apathetic." Had you asked if I was pro-life, I would have said yes but it was motivated more by a desire to conform to what I perceived to be the general evangelical consensus than by deeply held and well reasoned personal convictions. My assent was accompanied by little indignation or grief over the millions of innocent lives destroyed by abortion and other destructive technologies.

I have three men to thank for rousing me from my moral lethargy and helping me to realize the dignity of all human beings regardless of their stage of development or abilities. The ethical implications of a doctrine I heartily affirmed, that human beings are the unique bearers of God's image, pressed upon my conscience through their teaching. Consequently, my attitude changed not only with respect to the unborn but toward people I found it difficult to interact with due to their mental and emotional limitations. I may not have been taking anyone's life but I was failing to honor them as likenesses of God.

The three men are John Kilner from whom I had the privilege of taking a class on bioethics and cultural engagement, Scott Klusendorf (whose lecture Abortion & Moral Chaos: The Role of Clergy in Building Christian Thinkers I wish every pastor would listen to), and Stand to Reason's Greg Koukl, who persuaded me that when it comes to abortion and embryonic stem cell research, there really is only one question that needs to be answered. I admire these men for their commitment to speaking on behalf of the most defenseless and vulnerable as we well as for training and encouraging others to do likewise

Here's an online exchange I had with someone I've chosen to call ProRoe in which I sought to employ some of the things I've learned from these brothers.

KP: Do you think we should exterminate other unwanted human life as well?

ProRoe: First, abortion is not, according to the law of the land, murder. And if I have a fatal disease I would like the chance to end things with respect and dignity.

KP: You didn't answer my question. If someone's being unwanted is justification for ending their life, then why should this just be the case with pre-born humans?

ProRoe: Because after they are born it is murder. And need I remind you that most people in prison and ALL the mass murderers were unwanted and/or unloved children?

KP: Underlying your argument seems to be the assumption that whatever is legislated is morally right. Am I correct?

ProRoe: Not always. But to approach this from a different angle - are you saying that women are not smart enough to make the right decision on this topic?

KP: It has nothing to do with my saying anything of the sort. I'm saying that the taking of innocent human life is wrong and should not be allowed in the name of allowing an individual to exercise choice.

ProRoe: That is your opinion and your perception. That is fine. I honor that. Why can't you honor a difference of opinion? Outlawing this would be imposing your opinion on millions of women.

KP: And legalizing it is imposing death on millions of human lives. And let's be honest. You don't really "honor" my opinion. You think it's wrong just as I think yours is. Do you think that we should make taking all life legal and justify it by saying "Well, people are smart enough to make their own decision about these things?"

ProRoe: No, you are wrong. I believe that you do have the right to your opinion. Personally, I disagree, but, I don't think it is wrong. By having a choice though, you can exercise your rights. If your choice becomes the law of the land, though, people lose those choices.

KP: Do we have the right to choose to do whatever we want regardless of its impact on others? (And how exactly does one disagree with a position and not think it's wrong?)

ProRoe: I have a great deal of confidence in the decision making of the people. I'm sorry you don't. In answer to your question, no, we absolutely do not have the right to do whatever we want regardless of its impact on others.

KP: So the right to choose should only be protected in cases where choice does not infringe on the life and welfare of others?

ProRoe: Infringing on whom? Are you going to take all those kids? Probably not. But you, as a taxpaying member of society will pay for the results.

KP: I don't think you really answered my previous question though. How would you feel about our making the taking of all life legal on the grounds that we believe that people are smart enough to make the right decisions concerning which lives to take? Are you suggesting that anyone that I'm not willing to care for can be killed?

ProRoe: I believe I did answer it. And don't we already do that with the death penalty?

KP: You see, whether or not I'm willing to take all the kids is really immaterial to the issue of whether killing them is morally justified. No, we don't give private citizens the right to take life. How would you feel about our making the taking of all life legal on the grounds that we believe that people are smart enough to make the right decisions concerning which lives to take?

ProRoe: No, it isn't immaterial. If you outlaw abortions, you have to find something to do with those children unwanted by the birth mother. And adoption is not an option in many cases, especially for non-whites.

KP: So again we're back to saying that what determines whether a life should be protected is whether or not he or she is wanted by someone else? What if I should cease wanting my own born children? Can I kill them?

ProRoe: I would not be in favor of it but, once again, it has been determined that the aborted fetus is not a life. You could not kill your children once they had been born because that would be murder.

KP: What's the difference between a pre-born and a born human life? Are you denying that the fetus has a distinct genetic identity and is alive?

ProRoe: I am neither a supreme court judge nor an attorney in the Roe v. Wade decision.

KP: So you don't know whether the fetus has a unique genetic code, distinct from that of its mother and whether it is alive? If it is not a human being, what kind of being do you say it is?

ProRoe: Look, you have your right to do what you can within the law to change the law. I have the right to oppose you. But you don't see any pro-choice people bombing Right to Life rallies, do you?

KP: I don't advocate such violence. Immaterial to the topic at hand. Now, if the fetus is not a human being, what kind of being is it?

ProRoe: Yes, it is material. What we are talking about here is rescinding someone's right to make a decision concerning their body.

KP: Oh, but they're not just making a decision about their body. They're making a decision to terminate the life of a body not their own.

ProRoe: And no, you have not advocated violence. It's just a shame so many in your cause have.

KP: So, if the fetus is not a human being, what kind of being do you suggest it is?

ProRoe: If it cannot survive independent of that body, then it IS their body.

KP: That's not correct. The fetus does not have the same genetic constitution as the mother. It has its own genetic identity.

ProRoe: Being an arts and humanities graduate, I avoid the science aspect of it. And as for it having its own genetic identity, so does a mole or a cyst.

KP: You avoid the science aspect of it? How can you say that it is permissible to kill something without dealing with what it is? A mole does not have a distinct genetic identity from the rest of one's bodily cells.

ProRoe: Do you really think you will make a convert of me?

KP: No. It's obvious that you don't really care about the facts. I was just hoping that you'd be honest with the weakness of your position.

ProRoe: Try on this fact: it is currently legal. Try this one: the majority of Americans want the right to chose. Another fact: it is within your rights to try to change it. And it is within my rights to try to stop you.

KP: Are you saying that whatever is legal OUGHT to be?

ProRoe: You discount any contrary opinion as "not being honest."

KP: No, I don't. I find it odd that one would admit that he doesn't involve himself in the scientific question of what the fetus is before condoning its killing.

ProRoe: There are laws I disagree with. I have the right to try to change them. This is not one of them.

KP: But does the fact that something is legal mean that it is necessarily right?

ProRoe: At that point, it becomes an issue of personal opinion, i.e., prohibition.

KP: So the fact that abortion is legal doesn't necessarily mean that it is morally justified, does it?

ProRoe: By it being a legal option, it becomes a personal decision. It is an individual moral choice.

KP: So, when slavery was legal, for example, it was simply a matter of personal choice?

ProRoe: Outlawing it would impose one group's definition of "moral choice" on the entire nation.

KP: And legalizing it is also to impose someone's morality on an entire nation by saying that it is justified to take innocent human life. All legislation imposes someone's moral views.

ProRoe: As a matter of fact, it was a matter of personal choice for those that could own slaves just like it is for those that are pregnant.

KP: But was it wrong?

ProRoe: You just don't get it! IT IS NOT CONSIDERED A HUMAN LIFE!!!!

KP: What is it?

ProRoe: It is considered a fetus.

KP: To say that it is a fetus is just to speak of one stage in human development. That doesn't mean that it is not a human life. Is the fetus a member of the human species, having the genetic composition essential to humanness?

ProRoe: Can it live independent of the mother?

KP: Answer my question first and I'll answer yours.

ProRoe: Oh, show me yours, I'll show you mine?

KP: Yeah, something like that. Is the fetus a member of the human species, having the genetic composition essential to humanness?

ProRoe: Not according to law.

KP: The law denies that the fetus has human DNA. Please refer me to the books for that one. If it doesn't have the DNA of a human, what species DOES it belong to?

ProRoe: OK, here's one for you. Why does it matter? I assume you make your opinion known at the ballot box. So do I.

KP: It matters because if it IS a member of the human species and it IS alive then you are defending the right to take its life in the name of choice. Why can't you just answer the question? Do members of the human species procreate and conceive other members of the human species?

ProRoe: I have answered your question as have the courts. That is why abortions are not allowed after a certain time frame. See you at the ballot box.

KP: No, you haven't answered the question. If you are saying that the fetus is not a HUMAN life, what kind of life is it? Gorilla? Starfish? Border collie?

ProRoe: Thank you. You have expressed your opinion. That's fine. I have expressed mine. I respect your right to yours. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that you are willing to show any for the other opinion. I suggest you do what you feel you need to do to change the law. I will legally resist you and your closed-minded cohorts. Good night.

KP: Let's see. You're not willing to acknowledge the human fetus as a member of the human species and I'M closed-minded? Why do you guys always resort to the name calling and red herrings? It really doesn't make your argument one whit stronger.

ProRoe: Name calling? You are the one that calls abortion murder when the law of the land says otherwise. If you are against it I suggest you not have one.

KP: Let's see, were those who called slavery inhumane involved in name calling, too?

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Christian Book Summaries

Thanks to Tom Gilson for pointing to Christian Book Summaries, a free service that provides summaries of Christian books to help readers make informed decisions about which books to invest time and money in. Their purpose is theefold:

1. To convey the essence of books of particular interest to thinking Christians through complete and accurate summaries.

2. To support the faithful ministry of Christian authors and publishers.

3. To encourage our readers to buy and read quality books. We believe that a good book can be life changing (see “Why Summaries?”).

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What do Islamic Revolutionaries and the Christian Right Have in Common?

Former secretary of State Madeleine Albright answers in her new book on religion and world affairs, The Mighty and the Almighty.

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