Creation and Word

I started reading Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy yesterday.  Goldsworthy is one of the more quotable authors I’ve read, as of late.  Here is one from chapter six of Gospel and Kingdom:

“The creatorship of God tells us that all reality is God’s reality; all truth is God’s truth.  Nothing exists except by the will and word of God.  One could write whole books on the implication of creation for a Christian approach to education, politics, economics, family life, moral values, or scientific research.  if we believe in God as Creator, we may not divide the world into spiritual and secular  The fact that all reality depends upon the creative word of God means that the word of God must judge the ideas of men about truth and error, not the other way round” (58-59, italics original).

The Church Fathers on Abortion

I’m presently reading Dennis Di Mauro’s A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn (Wipf and Stock, 2008), in which he argues that historic Christianity has always opposed abortion, and that pro-choice Christians have departed from the biblical and historic teaching of the church.  In chapter 3, he makes the case from the early church fathers.  Following are a few noteworthy quotes.

This is Clement, from The Tutor:

“Our whole life can go on in observation of the laws of nature, if we gain dominion over our desires from the beginning and if we do not kill, by various means of perverse art, the human offspring, born according to the designs of divine providence; for these women who, in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs which expel the matter completely dead, abort at the same time their human feelings” (quoted in Di Mauro, 11-12).

Here is Tertullian, from his Apology:

“But for us [Christians], to whom homicide has been once for all fobidden, it is not permitted to break up even what has been conceived in the womb, while the blood is still being drwan from the mother’s body to make a new creature.  Prevention of birth is premature murder; and it makes no difference whether it is a life already born that one snatches away or a life that is coming to birth that one destroys.  The future man is a man already: the whole fruit is present in the seed” (quoted in Di Mauro, 13).

And Chrysostom, from his Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans:

“Why sow where the ground makes it its care to destroy the fruit? where there are many efforts at abortion? where there is murder before the birth? for even the harlot thou dost not let continue a mere harlot, but makes her a murderess also.  You see how drunkenness leads to whoredom, whoredom to adultery, adultery to murder; or rather to a something even worse than murder.  For I have no name to give it, since it does not take off the thing born, but prevents its being born.  Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws, and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?” (quoted in Di Mauro, 16).

Sure Looks a lot Like What We’ve Always Had

I have been hesitant to engage in much political commentary on this blog, not because I don’t think a lot about politics but because I am not confident in my competence as a political commentator.  So this post comes with a hint of throwing caution to the wind.

Last night, after the House of Representatives passed the Senate’s version of the health care overhaul bill, the President evoked a major theme from his campaign when he made the statement, “This is what change looks like.” 

The passage of the health care bill came with back room deals full of political bribery, strong arming, and sleight of hand which resulted in a vote in which the only bipartisanship came with the opposition.  The majority party consistently used the language of force despite public opinion that was at least skeptical of and at most opposed to the legislation.  The bill also falls in line with the governmental habit of a commitment to excessive federal spending funded through increased taxation.

In his campaign, the President promised the change of bipartisan compromise in a new Washington.  In the opening year of his presidency, he has demonstrated that he is committed to a form of bully politics that ignores the people by and for whom the government was constituted.  This so-called change certainly looks a whole lot like what we’ve previously had in Washington, only more so, and is characterized by power players looking to make their mark and leave a self-triumphant legacy no matter the cost to the nation.  That, my friends, is supposed to be change you can believe in.

Holy Abortion? by Gorman and Brooks

Can abortion ever be considered holy? New Testament scholar Michael J. Gorman and educator Ann Loar Brooks say, “No!” In Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Gorman and Brooks evaluate the position of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) by analyzing their published material and resources. The authors then proceed to critically compare the position of RCRC with official statements of its member Christian groups, among which two United Methodist agencies are numbered – the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries: Women’s Division. The authors aim to demonstrate that principles and values of RCRC are in fundamental contradiction with the principles and values of their Christian member groups.
RCRC is self-described as “the interfaith movement for choice” whose primary work is in education and advocacy for the pro-choice position on abortion. The authors’ critique of RCRC takes into account a number of their published resources but focuses primarily on a worship resource entitled Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship. The thorough critique of RCRC focuses on six themes prevalent in RCRC literature:
  • Absolute God-given Sexual and Reproductive Freedom, including Abortion Rights (12)
  • The Isolation of the Woman or Teen as Sovereign Moral Agent (16)
  • The Trivialization of the Moral Status of Unborn Human Life (19)
  • The Legitimacy of Abortion as Birth Control (22)
  • The Holiness of Abortion (26)
  • A Pro-Choice God, Attested in Scripture, Who Blesses All Decisions (28).
Gorman and Brooks conclude their critique by evaluating RCRC through the lens of the historic Christian debate on how to approach war. Three positions have been held: the non-violence tradition, the just-war tradition, and the holy-war tradition. The authors argue that these traditions developed chronologically and that Christianity has generally but not entirely been purged of the holy-war tradition. The authors use this lens to demonstrate that RCRC shares in principle the values of the holy-war tradition which include:
  • the absence of external moral or legal restraints
  • the isolation and sovereignty of the moral agent
  • the lack of concern for the moral status of the targets
  • the absence of criteria to justify the action
  • the holiness of the act
  • the blessing of God (31).
The authors charge that the presence of anything like a holy-war attitude or ethic in any organization ought to raise very serious and grave concerns among its members (31).
Having demonstrated the position of RCRC, Gorman and Brooks turn to the statements on abortion of its Christian member groups (The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church). In its social principles, the United Methodist Church, “in contrast to RCRC, affirms its reluctance to approve abortion, its belief in the ‘sanctity of unborn human life,’ and the necessity of assistance in decision making. It explicitly rejects abortion as birth control and places restrictions on its being considered at all (‘tragic conflicts of life with life’). Partial-birth abortion is permitted only in extreme cases” (36).
The authors argue that member bodies, like the two United Methodist agencies listed above, approach abortion through the lens of the just-war tradition, in which abortion is considered a lamentable last resort to be considered only in the case of tragic conflicts of life with life precisely because the unborn human life is held in sanctity. This, of course, is in contrast to the holy-war approach of RCRC where abortion is seen as an always available sacred and free choice sanctioned and blessed by god.
The authors, therefore, call for Christian groups to disassociate themselves from RCRC. Gorman and Brooks also seek to advance the conversation by considering abortion theologically and calling for abortion to be seen as, “a war of the powerful against the weak” (49, italics original). The authors also call for the conversation to be advanced through the articulation of a Christian and biblical theology of freedom, in which freedom is not the freedom to choose whatever one wishes but the freedom to sacrifice oneself in Christ likeness for the sake of the other (48-49).
This is a much needed volume that is an invaluable resources for pastors and laypersons. The authors provide a strong and thorough critique of RCRC and unmask its attempts to appear consistent with the historic and biblical Christian faith. I join the authors in calling for Christian groups to cut all ties with RCRC and to think more biblically and Christianly about the truly horrifying problem of abortion and the culture of death it perpetuates.

For further reading:
Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Pagan, and Jewish Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Wipf & Stock, 1998) by Michael J. Gorman

The First Amendment and the Myth of Neutrality

I recently attended a First Amendment Forum which included a presentation called “Finding Common Ground: Religious Liberty in the Public Schools” by Dr. Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. The forum was held at Milton High School in Santa Rosa County, Florida, and was attended by school administrators, teachers, and local clergy. The forum followed a recent lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County schools by the ACLU on behalf of two students who charged that teachers were forcing religion upon them. The first amendment restricts the power of Congress to make a law “respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The fourteenth amendment extends these restrictions to the states and agencies of the states. Dr. Haynes’ presentation advanced a reading of the first amendment which advocated a neutral position toward religion on the part of government and government schools. He advocated moving beyond two failed models which he termed: The Sacred Public School and the Naked Public School. The so-called sacred public school is one in which religious practices are mandatory (e.g. prayer and bible readings). The naked public school is one in which there is no presence of religion at all. Instead, Dr. Haynes proposed a “civil public school” in which the school does not “inculcate nor inhibit religion” and where “religion and religious conviction are treated with fairness and respect.” According to Dr. Haynes, such a school would be neutral with regard to religion. This “shared vision for religious liberty in public schools” has been accepted by such (allegedly) diverse organizations as People for the American Way and the National Association of Evangelicals.

The problem with this “shared vision” is that there is no such thing as neutrality with regard to religion. The central claim of the biblical and historical Christian religion is nothing less than the declaration that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord over everything including the Church, the governing authorities, the public schools, and every constituent of every religion in the world. Jesus is Lord over all people and every institution. The fact that many people and institutions do not acknowledge his lordship does not actually negate or alter his lordship. Jesus is Lord no matter what anyone thinks. That Jesus is Lord all the time and everywhere necessarily means that there is no such thing as neutrality with regard to him. He requires faith and obedience. Not to render faith and obedience is nothing other than disobedience and rebellion against his universal claim to universal lordship. Neutrality is a myth; there is no such thing.

In my view, Dr. Haynes’ proposal really advances a new civil religion. This new state religion which is being foisted upon our children is pluralistic acknowledging many deities and giving them all fair (?) hearing. The gods of this new state religion form a pantheon of pagan-like demigods which are merely projections of our own damaged and sinful human image. In attempting to combine all religions into one common meeting place where all are seen with equal validity misunderstands them all. Jesus Christ expects total and unqualified allegiance from everyone. The problem is that so do other deities, but only one can reign. If Dr. Haynes’ interpretation of the first amendment is correct (and it may not be), then it cannot be reconciled with the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Christians must not be persuaded by the myth of neutrality. That Christian groups like the National Association of Evangelicals have signed off on Dr. Haynes’ vision for public education only demonstrates that they do not actually understand the evangel itself. The gospel includes the news that Jesus is Lord over all, and we must understand that Jesus’ claims to lordship are total. To place him alongside other gods is to patronize him. Every institution which claims neutrality towards him is actually antagonistic to him. Christians should not be satisfied with simply gaining a hearing or getting a place at the table. We should only be satisfied when the Lordship of Christ is acknowledged at the table. If it is not, perhaps we should abandon the table. Jesus is Lord! We look forward to the day when this is the confession of every tongue.

Abortion and the Apostolic Voice

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12:1

One of the most important issues challenging us today is whether a woman has the right to terminate the life of her unborn baby. Faithful Christians regularly call for the child’s right to life, and rightly so. However, perhaps we could approach the issue from another angle as well, from the angle of sacrifice. For Christians, at least, our bodies are not our own. If Jesus really is Lord, then he sets the rules for what we do with our bodies. When the Apostle Paul appeals to the Roman Christians by the mercies of God, he is calling up everything he said in the first eleven chapters of the letter. By his mercy, God has forgiven your sin. By his mercy, God has given you right standing and brought you into his family. By his mercy, God has joined you to Christ. By his mercy, God has given you his own Spirit to transform your character. By his mercy, God will glorify you raising you from the dead to give you the cosmos. How will you respond to such mercy? Paul’s answer…offer your body to God. This is clearly applicable to the abortion debate. It is, of course, clear that we cannot expect non-Christians to submit to such an expectation. Those who deny the Lordship of Christ cannot submit their bodies to him unless he justifies them and begins to transform them by his indwelling Spirit. However, what if Christians stopped calling so much for our rights and started offering our bodies to God as a living sacrifice? What if we offered our mouths to God? Our hands? Our eyes? Our conduct? What if we were to live such radical lives of living sacrifice to God that when one of our little girls gets pregnant outside of marriage or unexpectedly or, God forbid, by force, her first tendency will be to offer her own body as a living sacrifice to God for the sake of the child she carries because she has learned that this is just what Christians do? It is right to speak about the rights of the child. But we ought to expand our witness and our behavior to testify to the universal lordship and supremacy of Jesus as we respond to his mercy by offering our bodies to him.