April 30, 2008

See to it...What You Believe Matters

There are some things that have to be done, tasks that are necessary for living. Going to work, feeding the family, doing the laundry...you see to it that these things are done...you can't not do these things.

The scriptures provide many 'see to it's,' and one in particular is found in Colossians 2:8-10:
"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him..."

From this command is found many truths: 1) You are responsible to protect your mind from godless beliefs 2) You have the ability to know the difference between the godly and the godless 3) That to walk in him (v. 6-7) involves our intellectual life 4) There is nothing harmless about human-centered philosophy 5) The deity of Christ is important in our commitment to him in that if he were not fully God bodily, our focus would continue to be human-centered.

My point is that it is important to carefully scrutinize the content of our faith, living out a systematic theology. One doctrine, one teaching of Scripture, will have a relationship to other doctrines and teachings in Scripture. Discovering those relationships will assist you developing a consistent Christian worldview. As a proper and effective witness for Jesus, we shouldn't be willing to live with incoherence, and we should willingly analyze new teachings, comparing them to what we already know to be true. This is the spirit of being a Berean.

Is it possible to welcome aspects of the occult or the new age movement into our life without directly contradicting the testimony of Scripture? Is it possible to believe in Jesus yet deny the resurrection as taught by liberal theologians and other cults? Take, as another example, the gospel. Adopting a view of the gospel that is entirely focused on curing social ills displaces the eternal value of Christ's death and resurrection. What we believe about the gospel matters as it pertains to knowing God's truth and communicating it rightly. Without the Good News with eternal implications, is there really anything good about the news?

In Paul's letter to the Colossians, he exhorts the readers to behavior that is grounded in wisdom and speech that is always gracious (3:5-6). Paul never taught that the content of what we express should be compromised so as to avoid offense, rather he taught that godliness should be expressed in love. To put it another way: It's not just how you say it, it's what you say.

April 29, 2008

The Era of Works: the Secular Gospel

"Share the gospel, use words if necessary" are the famous words attribed to the historic figure, St Francis of Assisi. Whether or not this is an accurate representation of Assisi's entire framework of the gospel, it does represent a new wave of religion that lacks all content. A gospel with out words is merely random acts of kindness. Agreeably, however, the gospel without acts of kindness lacks love.

The Christian church today is embracing the idea that since younger people aren't interested in the content of faith, but moreso in being benevolent servants in our world, that we, the church, should focus on things other than doctrine. I don't think this is necessarily true of young people, but perhaps it is to some extent.

This week we heard that the black church is different, not deficient. I agree that the superficial things that make us different do not equate to deficiency. But if the gospel message is compromised and is viewed as merely as a matter of correcting social ills, then the gospel is lost in the mire of works.

The gospel is divisive. Teaching that through Jesus alone can one be saved is divisive and judgemental, but it is what it is. That does not mean we don't have an interest in helping the widows and the poor from every faith tradition. But we don't equate the gospel to those helps, though some place within such ministries there is a place for that eternal truth to be communicated.

The postmodern church and secular "religion" have a great deal in common as they elevate works of compassion over the message of the gospel, without which there is little purpose or meaning in benevolence.
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April 27, 2008

'Different is not Deficient:' Logical Fallacies at Work

Anyone who saw Jeremiah Wright's NAACP speech tonite heard his message that "different is not deficient." Now I don't think that anyone reasonable person would disagree with that. He used many examples to make his point: worship styles, right brain/left brain, musical time signatures, musical scales - I felt like I was in a music theory class again! Even in all white churches, we experience many differences that don't speak to theological deficiency.

But it is a logical fallacy to suggest that the content of a sermon qualifies as a superficial difference in style. His words in this speech are an attempt to make it impossible to disagree on issues. The quotes that are attributed to Jeremiah Wright's past sermons are not in dispute because they were stated in a passionate style or because he might have been jumping up and down or because he was loud. They are in dispute because of the message they bear.

Does it ultimately matter? As different parts of the evangelical community embrace postmodernism such that the content of belief has no bearing on the nature of faith, we will continue down the path of an exclusively social gospel. We are going to see more and more of this as Jeremiah Wright gains more credibility based upon his commitment to logical fallacies.

April 21, 2008

Indulging in God

I've been working on an essay on the subject of indulgences that will soon be posted here and at Women of Faith in Culture in the coming days. In the process of my studies, I've come to think about the topic as it relates to women in the Bible, though perhaps it is the Psalmist David who has the most to say about self-gratification.

I will go deeper on this in the essay, but I want to draw your attention to the indulgences as a tool in womens ministry (not the indulgences of the RCC). Whether they be coffee, purses, chocolate or shoes--all of which I believe womens bible studies have utilized--is it safe for the women we are mentoring and teaching to get their attention with things that can also be the source of serious struggle?

I love chocolate, and almost immediately after partaking of its pleasure I have a sugar crash and I'm miserable. And then I want more chocolate. Yet when I partake in knowing God, I just want more God, I want to indulge in him.

It is said that your body knows exactly what it needs and at times you will crave only those things that are healthy.. That was my experience during pregnancy...it was wonderful. And when you train the body to receive only what is nutritional, it rejects the garbage. Are we training our minds to do the same, or are we training up women who can only get to God through pathways of personal gratification?

I love to feed on God through studying the Bible, through theological contemplation, and through worship and prayer. God is enough for me because God is everything to me. This doesn't mean I don't eat chocolate, I have many things I struggle with. But I don't want to place these indulgences before women when they can know that they can enjoy indulging in God alone.

April 20, 2008

Prime Time Bioethics: The Myth of Hollywood Neutrality

The Return of Jezebel James
Boston Legal
Law & Order
Ugly Betty

The above is a short list, but represents some of the current work being done in Hollywood to say something about the issues hotly debated in bioethics today. If the popular culture can be swayed on the issues, the academics who agree with Hollywood have less need for precise, rational arguments their points and our elected representatives have less work to do--or a lot more, depending on which side they fall on the issues.

Egg harvesting is the latest topic to go mainstream, an attempt to bring the process into every day vernacular. While this has been more closely associated to surrogacy on many of these shows, another application is also embryonic stem cell research. Those of us on the side of human dignity have been drawing attention to the dangers of egg "donation," the problem of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome.

Religion is alive and well in Hollywood, and the sect that seems to be winning the culture war is the one that denies the inherent value of all life, the one that believes we can use people to meet the wants and whims of others, the one that treats the female reproductive system as a manufacturing plant. How they are winning the culture war is beyond me given their very low view of women.....perhaps one reason is the lack of basic logic taught in our public educational system.

The "Art" of Abortion: Death Imitates Art Part II

I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote my last post on this topic. The general gist of this story is that a college student, Aliza Shvarts, seems to think there is something about the death of the unborn, the medical "waste," that qualifies as art. I must ask why Yale is so quick to dispute whether she actually inseminated herself and self-induced abortions. Why should they be bothered by this either way? What about her story bothers them so much? What is the motivation behind Yale's attempts to discredit one of their own students?

Whatever her intentions, it appears that Yale finds her political statement repugnant. On this basis, it is apparent that Yale is disqualifying it also as art. Yet this is their statement:
The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body. NYT
I think Yale's statement is more ambiguous than Shvart's attempt to be heard. And whether she actually accomplished what she said she did, she did succeed in desensitizing more people to the suffering of the aborted.

April 17, 2008

Death Imitates Art

Aliza Shvarts will soon be exhibiting the what she so ridiculously considers art: the videos of her own self-induced abortions that took place in her own bathtub. What made her do this, you ask?

"I hope it inspires some sort of discourse....Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it's not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone." These are the words of Shvarts reported by Fox.

When does art cease to be art? Obviously when it glorifies the destruction of what has been created in God's image. Secondly, however, I believe this ceases to be art in that it is using shock to make a political point - one which fails to be made in this case.

More on this soon.

April 15, 2008

Prime Time Bioethics: Euthanasia on Boston Legal

The indignity of suffering......euthanasia happens all the time under the guise of pain management.....these are the arguments declared as just reason for ending the life of a victim of Alzheimer's disease. But the actor/state's attorney helpfully insists that the request for morphine to put the patient "to sleep" is really an attempt to relieve the suffering of the patient's family.

Argued as a matter of constitutional privacy, physician assisted suicide is put forth as a safeguard to self-respect and human dignity because the patient in his current state of decline has no intrinsic value....his life is a misery, there is no sanctity in that.

"Whatever one believes about God.....some lives are taken far too late."

If this issue continues to be legislated in the courts, the right to put a qualitative rather than intrinsic value on human life and dignity will reside with someone else. Advocates of physician assisted suicide/euthanasia really believe that common sense will prevail and no one will really be a victim of these practices. But who will protect the person who is mentally deficient or physically challenged if the courts will not protect those who are most vulnerable now?

April 8, 2008

The Reality of Apologetics for Women

Janet and her husband Jeff were both raised in the church, the evangelical community being their primary experience with matters of faith. Now Jeff is insisting that it has all been a mistake and now abides by the pluralistic spiritualities of Oprah and other segments of our society. Janet is challenged but willing to love her husband and be a witness fo Christ to him, sharing her faith whenever possible. True story.

The inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the exclusive nature of biblical Christianity...these are just 3 areas of theology that are defended by Christian apologists in academic circles and interreligious debates. Few stop to think that many women in the church must understand these theological topics and be able to defend them. Pastors can't do everything, womens ministry leaders ought to be equipped to meet these challenges as well.

It isn't just what our kids are facing in school that requires both parents to have an unwavering understanding of the content of their faith. There are also many women in marriages where the husband is not a believer in Jesus (but is a believer in something) thus making it necessary for her to really understand what she believes. She should understand the content of her faith anyway, but this reinforces the need. Without this knowledge she is vulnerable to philopsophies not faithful to God's revelation. Without this knowledge she cannot effectively meet the needs of her unbelieving spouse. This is faith in action. God wants us to pray, but ours is also a faith of content and meaning.

Apologetics is important to womens ministry such that the women I know -and you know- can effectively give an answer for what they believe.
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April 7, 2008

Embryo-Destructive Research Testimony for Model Congress

These weekend, on the invitation of Scott Phelps, I had the good fortune to participate in a model Congress at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL organized by U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Highland Park, IL). The linked article mentions neither me nor Scott Phelps, but we had a great deal of time to testify before the student Ways and Means Committee on the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. This wasn't entirely new to me as my former colleague Joe Carter and I did this once before the Illinois State Legistlature in 2006 on a human cloning bill. Needless to say, the Model Congress was a lot less stressful and we had the opportunity to educate some young people on the issues while not contending at all with fallacious opposition.

We should take any and every opportunity we have to address important issues with young people who are willing to listen. There was genuine interest by several young ladies on the related issue of egg "donation" required for the pursuit of somatic cell nuclear transfer. As much as possible, we need to protect them from being exploited by the research community and by politicians who are in this for the money and the votes.

April 2, 2008

Having a Cow Over Cloning

Reportedly, researchers at Newcastle University (Britain) have successfully created a clone using the genetic material of a human and inserting it into the ennucleated bovine egg. You heard it right, human DNA was inserted into the egg of a cow, resulting in what is known as a cybrid, a human-animal embryo. The lack of human eggs for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is apparently responsible for pursuing the creation of these cybrids. In the name of scientific progress, ethical lines have already been breached in the pursuit of human eggs from young, financially vulnerable women. And now, another ethical line is being entirely ignored, and we're suppose to be comforted by the fact that these tiny human-cows are destroyed after 14 or so days, not allowed to be implanted in a uterus (human? cow?) and permitted to grow.

I wonder what their beef is with the implantation of these cybrids. Do they find something wrong, something repugnant with the idea of human-cow species? Do they think that humanity is somehow defiled by creating something that cannot live as a human nor should graze in a pasture? These researchers and others who forbid the implantation of these human-animal embryos know there is something terribly wrong with this, otherwise implantation would be of no serious consequence. But what they don't appreciate is that this is not a slippery slope concern. The issue here is not about what could possibly be created in the womb, it's about what has already been created in a dish.

The age of a person is discerned by the length of their existence, with certain attributes present at certain places in development. Human persons all begin and develop the same way, unless abnormalities interrupt these natural developments. Destroying an embryo at day 14 does not prevent a human from entering into the world, it ends the life a tiny person who already exists. I am not comforted by the creation and "early" destruction of these human-cow embryos, I'm terribly alarmed that the dignity of humans has been seriously violated by people who are repulsed by the same organism at a later stage of development.

April 1, 2008

Van Til's Presuppositional Apologetic

I ride the train to work every day, so I often read or blog--or both, grabbing the first thing in my library that grabs my attention (whether I've read it or not). So today, Scott Oliphint is on the train with me. In his book/pamphlet "CVT and the Reformation of Christian Apologetics" he writes (quoting CVT), "While traditional Apologetic approaches ask the unbeliever to understand his world in order to understand God, Van Til affirms, (with Reformed theology) that because God controls 'whatsoever comes to pass,' because it is 'in God that we live, move, and exist,' the world can never be understood aright at any point without reference to God." (P. 5) And later Oliphint writes, "It is important to understand that one of the primary reasons Aquinas...could not account for the existence of the God of the Bible is because, in assuming the autonomy of hiuman reason, he refused to start the knowledge transaction with the Triune God of Scripture." (P. 15).

There is so much to unpack here, but understand that beginning with the autonomy of reason logically leads to the worlsdview of humanism that rejects the supernatural and states that the highest value is individualism and autonomy.

We are in need of a radical restoration of CVT's thought in our sermons, books, blogs, and other places where Christians not only influence unbelievers, but each other. The autonomy of reason finds itself elevated in Christian circles as much as anywhere else--it affects how we think and how we live. Talking about submitting to God in all areas of our life is immediately limited by how we think about ourselves. We must start everything--political engagement, apologetics, infertility, and our grocery shopping with the God of the Bible.
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