A Church History Series for Children (and Those Who Teach Them)

3-booksMost seminary students are involved in teaching children in some venue or another. Many are husbands and fathers, and so are responsible for training their own children on a daily basis. Others are not, but are still involved in teaching children within the context of their local church. Although sometimes viewed as something less than real “ministry,” teaching children is a significant ministry opportunity in and of itself. It’s also a great training ground for learning about ministering to people of all ages and backgrounds.

Several years ago I stumbled upon a wonderful series of books for teaching children about church history. To date, Reformation Heritage Books has published nine volumes in the “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series by Simonetta Carr. This series is designed to introduce children to key figures in the history of the Christian church. So far, volumes have covered well-known Christian leaders including Augustine, John Knox, and Jonathan Edwards as well as several lesser-known figures like Lady Jane Grey and Marie Durand. According to the CBFYR website, a book on Martin Luther is currently in the works (due out in early 2016).

The CBFYR series is aimed at children ages 7–12. The books are clear, engaging, and substantive enough to communicate meaningful information about some remarkable people who stood for Christ in a variety of historical circumstances. My own children love these books, and on numerous occasions I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find an early riser stretched out on the family room floor reading about Athanasius or one of the others. They’ve received the books as Christmas presents and on other special occasions, and each time they’ve been excited to devour the new volume.

If you are wondering why believers should be concerned about teaching church history to children, the author of this series has written a helpful post on that subject. Assuming you are convinced of the value of teaching children about church history and are looking for a tool that will help you introduce children to Christian servants of the past, I can think of no better series of books to help you accomplish that goal.

The CBFYR series is available through Amazon, CBD, and WTS Books among others. If you’re interested in seeing some of the artwork used in the books, you may want to watch the series trailer.

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The Pope’s Problem: A Reprise

popeThe pope is finally gone and I am happier for it. He has practically no redeeming qualities and has left a trail of carnage from the moment he arrived until the moment he left. Make no mistake: he is the incarnation and personification of the worst sort of evil imaginable. And he’s worse than any pope in a long time. Shame on you if you said from your pulpit, “The pope has his problems but…”

So what are the Pope’s problems? Let me enumerate them:

First and most obviously, the pope effectively claims to be God. I choose my words carefully, because he does not announce that he is God; still, he accrues to himself more than is due even a proxy or vicar of God (which he does claim): he actually assumes attributes and prerogatives that belong only to God so routinely that there can be no other conclusion that commends itself to the rational mind. I sat in traffic last week and heard the Archbishop of Detroit call the faithful to “cast their hosannas” at the feet of “his holiness,” as the pope was on his way to a “canonization” event. This was followed by a few snippets from women like to swoon with giddy delirium over the “literal” wave of peace and holiness that had overwhelmed them in Mark 5:30 fashion as he rode past. All this in the time it took me to move fifty feet on Interstate 94. Reality Check: The pope is the greatest purveyor of idolatry alive today. He is a living, breathing affront to God in the very most rudimentary, uncomplicated, and intentional of senses. There is no room for a “yes, but…” To think in such terms is to have one’s Christian sensibilities occluded. He is an unrepentant leader in leading millions into what is, at least in God’s terms, the very first and worst of all possible sins.

But second, this particular pope doesn’t even do common grace well. In past papal administrations, hopeful evangelicals have pushed for “co-belligerence” of evangelical and Catholic churches in matters of social concern. Mercifully, these appeals were more than usually muted for the duration of his visit. And that is because the current pope is not only morally ambivalent (saying almost nothing, say, about the vices of abortion and homosexuality), he’s also naïve to the fact of human depravity and rather stupid (imagining that the Communist experiment of the twentieth century actually has a promising future). But because he speaks for God, we actually have sycophants on both sides of the aisle fawning over his divine words. Reality Check: The pope is using his self-aggrandizing power both to threaten our nation and to effectively suppress biblical ethics with his deafening silence.

Put these two problems together, and we arrive at the pope’s unique problem, viz., that he simultaneously threatens both the civic and spiritual governments of God in rather a comprehensive way. The true church is regularly threatened from within by heresy and from without by civic structures that actively assault the church or fail to restrain those who do. But the pope has the unique power to threaten the church in both ways. And, oddly, the evangelical church often stands poised to accommodate him. Of course it is true that there are incidental points of practical agreement between the Roman Catholic and Christian worldviews that can from time-to-time render individual Catholics and Christians odd but legitimate bedfellows (i.e., the kind of cooperation that can occur incidentally between believers and almost any fellow human), but there can be no formal, Christian, or ecclesiastical co-belligerence between us.

The pope simply has too many problems. Ἀνάθεμα ἔστω.

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What About Life on Mars?

The scientific community is abuzz this week with the announcement that liquid water has been confirmed on Mars. Of course scientists have long known that water is abundant in our universe (including on Mars), but specific evidence of a stable supply of liquid water has been lacking. It seems that we now have evidence of recurring seeps involving liquid that has, at a minimum, a water base. Not exactly the Amazon River or Lake Superior, mind you, but water nonetheless.

The reason this discovery is important, it is argued, is that the presence of water allows for the possibility of sustainable, carbon-based life somewhere other than Earth. Furthermore, it suggests that the provincial theory of biological evolution on earth now has a clear path to acceptance as a universal law. And if that is true, we finally have the last nail for the coffin of the Genesis account of origins.

Let’s look at the scientific data on its own terms and see how big this discovery really is:

  • We begin with the observation that the discovery of water is nothing more than that—the discovery that two inorganic substances quite common to our universe have combined to form the compound we call water. That’s it.
  • That water is necessary to life means nothing more than that either. It certainly doesn’t mean that life is necessary to water. That’s called affirming the consequent, and it’s usually one of the very first fallacies covered in your basic class on logic. Water on Mars does not prove life on Mars.
  • However, even if we eventually discover carbon-based life on Mars (or anywhere else in the universe), this does not prove that evolution is occurring. It simply means that there is carbon-based life somewhere other than on Earth. This bare discovery, of itself, says nothing about the origin or development of that life.
  • Furthermore, if we eventually discover carbon-based life on Mars (or anywhere else in the universe), this does not prove that personhood exists anywhere else. This is an unwarranted extrapolation from woefully incomplete data.

Now let’s consider the pertinent biblical/theological data:

  • The discovery of any sort of inorganic matter (including water) outside of Earth is, theologically speaking, a non-event. I offer no proof texts because there just aren’t any. I have no idea why this discovery would carry any theological significance at all.
  • The discovery of carbon-based life outside of Earth, were it to occur, might be an eyebrow-raiser, but would also be a theological non-event. It is an eyebrow-raiser because the Bible says that the whole creation suffers as the result of Adam’s sin (Rom 8:18–22), recovers as a result of Adam’s redemption/resurrection (v. 23), and is ultimately replaced at the commencement of the eternal state (2 Pet 3:10–13; Rev 21:1). How Martian amoebas would suffer as a result of Adam’s fall is not readily apparent; still, the fact that the whole creation needs replacement due to Adam’s sin means that every atom in the whole universe (even the carbon ones) must be made new. As such, the idea of carbon-based life on other planets, while perhaps unlikely, offers no threat to the biblical system.
  • The discovery of personal life—life in God’s image complete with self-consciousness, freedom, moral and religious sensibilities, etc.—on the other hand, would offer serious hurdles to the biblical system. Such a discovery would mean that sentient life on other planets would, without explanation, consciously suffer irreparable harm and annihilation due to Adam’s sin (see the point above) without any possibility of emancipation (Heb 2:14–17). There is no room in the biblical system for alternative redemptive plans for other species; mankind alone receives this honor. God supplies one and only one unified end for the whole universe, funneled through his singular purpose for man-in-his-image, and no exceptions are possible.
  • This speaks, finally, to the revealed purpose of God for the universe. Mankind is not only the singular object of God’s redemptive plan, but also the pinnacle of his civil structures (Psalm 8:5), with the whole of God’s creation subjected to man for man’s own service (Gen 1:28–30). The idea of undiscovered and rival sentient life forms on other planets seems quite incompatible with God’s overarching decree.

In summary, then, I would suggest that the discovery of water on Mars is no cause of alarm at all for believers, and certainly offers us no reason to amend the biblical paradosis. Nothing has happened.

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No We Are Not Together

With all of the hullabaloo this week over the visit of antichrist (not THE antichrist, mind you, but surely one who most overtly and offensively epitomizes John’s general description of the spirit of antichrist), it is a delight to point our readers to a free eCopy of one of the better treatments of this topic on the market today–R. C. Sproul’s Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism.

Hint: the answer to the question is a resounding NO. The pope is a capital enemy of the Gospel and of the Church of God on earth. We are not together.

Tolle Lege (or perhaps I should say “download and read.” What’s that in Latin?)

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Hebrews and the revelation of the Son

Have you ever noticed that the writer of Hebrews never directly quotes from Jesus?[1] Of course, the New Testament epistles do not contain many quotations directly from Jesus. This is understandable in the case of Paul who probably never met the pre-resurrected Christ. Though even in Paul’s case, he does reference the words of Jesus (I Cor. 11:23-26). And we cannot really know how often Paul is directly quoting what the resurrected Christ said to Paul (2 Cor 12:9). Unsurprisingly, we do see more quotations from those who knew Jesus during his First Advent (e.g., Peter).

I am aware that we need to be careful about judging ancient literature by modern standards.[2] Nevertheless, I want to make the argument that the lack of Jesus’ words in Hebrews is rather striking. Notice how Hebrews begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he created the world” (1:1-2, ESV). There is much to unpack here, but for our purposes we will focus on the implied contrast. The author of Hebrews (AH) compares the revelation of the prophets with the revelation of the Son. His point through the sermon/epistle[3] is that the revelation through the Son is better[4] revelation than the revelation through the prophets. But if so, why is there no direct verbal quotation of this revelation?

Let’s try to answer this question by starting with an examination of the comparisons made in Hebrews 1:1-2:

Prophetic Revelation Son Revelation
Timing of Revelation Given long ago Given in the last days[5]
Recipients of Revelation Our Fathers “Us”—1st century believers
Channel of Revelation By the Prophets By the Son
Mode of Revelation In many ways ———

You will notice that there is a clean, one to one comparison for the timing, recipients and channel of revelation. But did the AH forget to make a comparison between the mode of revelation? Clearly he makes the beginning of a comparison by mentioning the “many ways” Old Testament revelation was delivered. In my estimation, the AH did provide the second aspect of the comparison, and this fact provides the interpretive clue as to why the AH can claim to magnify the revelation of the Son even when he never directly quotes from Jesus’ verbal teaching. The mode of this last days “speaking” is not predominantly verbal; it is typological. Typological refers to the use of types. A type is like a shadow that hints at the reality of something similar to but greater than the shadow—the thing that is responsible for the shadow. In this case, the revelation of the Son is better than the revelation through the prophets (yes, even Moses Heb. 3:1-6) because it both fulfills and supersedes that prior revelation.

In what ways does Jesus fulfill the typology presented in the prophetic revelation? The chief example used in Hebrews concerns the priesthood (Heb. 7-10). Only Hebrews calls Jesus a (high) priest (though the concept of His sacrificial offering is present elsewhere in the NT). Using the Melchizedekian priesthood derived from Genesis 14, the AH shows how the OT prophesied (Ps. 110:1,6) about a coming king who would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is the full reality for which the Levitical priesthood was merely the shadow. Even the Melchizedekian priesthood was a shadow of Jesus’ ultimate priesthood, for Melchizedek himself is said to “resemble the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3).

Much more could be said about the use of typology in Hebrews, but the main point here is to suggest that the AH believed the mode of God’s revelation through the Son was not so much what the Son said as what the Son did. It also could be said that it is not what the Son said but who the Son is. In this light, it is no longer surprising that the AH does not quote Jesus’ verbal teaching directly.

[1] Following many in the early church and the majority of biblical scholars today, I assume non-Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Regardless of authorship, in the book of Hebrews, there are no direct quotations of Jesus.
[2] I am thinking here of judging the Bible on the basis of modern copyright laws or, more particularly, on the basis of modern frequency of attribution.
[3] Most interpreters agree that Hebrews was originally a sermon that was later transcribed for wider distribution.
[4] Better (κρειττων) is used thirteen times in the New Testament. Hebrews is responsible for eleven of the occurrences.
[5] This word refers to more than the AH’s lifetime. It has eschatological implications that we cannot develop here.
Posted in Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics | 2 Comments

Is Atheism a Religion?

What is religion? Most of us think we know what it is, but when we actually try to define it we run into some difficulty. Perhaps the most common definitions focus on beliefs—a religion is belief in God or spiritual beings. But several systems typically considered religions either do not include belief in spiritual beings or place no significance on them, including Jainism, some forms of Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Thus many prefer functional definitions of religion. Religions offer explanations for ultimate reality, offer spiritual benefit, provide systems for navigating life, etc. Building off of this emphasis, it is common to define religions by starting with systems typically recognized as religions and looking for similarities with others systems to determine whether or not these other systems are religions. In other words, we know that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are religions, and so is anything closely related to them. In God is Not One, Stephen Prothero discusses the kinds of things religions do:

In the family of religions, kin tend to perform rituals. They tend to tell stories about how life and death began and to write down these stories in scriptures. They tend to cultivate techniques of ecstasy and devotion. They tend to organize themselves into institutions and to gather in sacred places at sacred times. They tend to instruct human beings how to act toward one another. They tend to profess this belief or that about the gods and the supernatural. They tend to invest objects and places with sacred import. Philosopher of religion Ninian Smart has referred to these tendencies as the seven “dimensions” of religion: the ritual, narrative, experiential, institutional, ethical, doctrinal, and material dimensions. (p. 13)

So, is atheism a religion? It’s not enough to reply that atheists do not believe in God, because belief in God is not a requirement for a religion. Does atheism have enough of a family resemblance to be considered a religion? In fact, the Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that secular humanism functions like a religion and, thus, merits the First Amendment rights of freedom of religion.

Prothero has an extended discussion on whether or not atheism is a religion. He highlights the New Atheists (who he calls “angry atheists”), since they have launched aggressive assaults against “religion.” Have they, under the guise of opposing religion, actually become involved in their own religion?

Do the works of Ayn Rand function like scripture for atheists? Do the various humanist manifestos function like creeds? According to one common formula, members of the family of religions typically exhibit Four Cs: creed, cultus, code, and community. In other words, they have statements of beliefs and values (creeds); ritual activities (cultus); standards for ethical conduct (codes); and institutions (communities). How does atheism stack up on this score? (p. 324)

New Atheists clearly have a creed—the denial of God’s existence. The cultus of atheism is minimal, though there are “holy days” like Bertrand Russell day, Thomas Paine day, and Darwin Day, and they functionally worship people like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens. Though they have no basis for their morality, the New Atheists are adamant that their ethical standards are superior to traditional religions. And they have multiple communities, including American Atheists, United Coalition of Reason, and the Atheist Alliance International. For atheists like this, atheism is a religion.

[For some] atheism is, in the words of German theologian Paul Tillich, an “ultimate concern.” It stands at the center of their lives, defining who they are, how they think, and with whom they associate. The question of God is never far from their minds, and they would never even consider marrying someone outside of their fold. They are, in short, no more free from the clutches of religion than adherents of the Cult of Reason in eighteenth-century France. For these people at least, atheism may be the solution to the problem of religion. But that solution is religious nonetheless. (p. 326)

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A Couple of New Books on Those “Troublers of Churches”

“In America, Baptists were once the ultimate religious outsiders. The Puritans called them ‘the troublers of churches in all places’ and banned them from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1645. Unwilling to submit to official state churches, or to baptize infants, Baptists found themselves reviled, fined, and sometimes brutalized by authorities in England and in the American colonies. …Fast forward three and a half centuries, and a remarkable change has come over Baptists, who command tens of millions of American adherents…. Baptists possess vast networks of cultural influence: publishing houses, missions organizations, disaster relief agencies, advocacy groups, phenomenally popular authors and speakers, and a good deal more. …In many ways, Baptist have become religious and cultural insiders” (Kidd and Hankins, Baptists in America, [ix]).

So begins a recent book on the history of Baptists in America.

This past summer was unusually good to students of Baptist history. In the last few months several excellent new books on Baptist history have been published. I want to highlight two of the most important ones.

Baptists in AmericaAt the beginning of the summer, a book titled Baptists in America: A History by Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins was released by Oxford University Press.* The authors of this book both teach at Baylor University, both identify as evangelical Baptists, and both have published other top-shelf books on the history of evangelicalism. This volume is no exception to that pattern. In the preface, the authors summarize their goals for the book: “…we are seeking to tell the story of Baptist growth and battles through the centuries from the founding of England’s colonies to contemporary America. Baptists, of course, now have a fully global history. We focus here on Baptists’ part in the story of American religious and cultural history, using the great variety of Baptist experience to illuminate the tug of war between America’s intense religiosity and its pioneering secularism” (x).

The book begins with a short discussion of where Baptists came from. Then having briefly traced Baptist origins to early seventeenth-century England, the authors jump the Atlantic to talk about Roger Williams and Baptist beginnings in America. Subsequent chapters focus on the relationship of Baptists to the First Great Awakening (ch. 2), the American Revolution (ch. 3), and the Second Great Awakening (ch. 5). Several chapters discuss race relations among Baptists specifically addressing the issue of slavery (chs. 6 & 7) and the later civil rights movement (ch. 12). And then toward the end of the book a few chapters address important controversies that have taken place in Baptist life, such as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy (chs. 10 & 11) and the conservative resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention (ch. 13). Overall, the discussions in these chapters are fair and consistently quite good.

Interestingly, Kidd and Hankins reserve the question of what it means to be a Baptist for the book’s final chapter. The authors note that Baptists have been a very diverse group. They rightly believe that recent attempts to tie Baptist identity primarily to soul freedom or religious liberty fall short because “such matters have never been near the top of the Baptist agenda” (249). They point out that if one looks at major Baptist confessions of faith the issue of orthodoxy inevitably rises to the fore (249–50). Indeed, many of the most important Baptists confessions were written in order to show what Baptists hold in common with other orthodox Protestants. Nevertheless, Kidd and Hankins note that Baptists have been and remain quite divided over the proper interpretation of the Bible on a whole host of issues. In the end, the authors suggest that three features have traditionally marked out the Baptists: (1) the practice of believer’s baptism, (2) the independence of their local congregations, and (3) a willingness to call themselves “Baptists” (251).**

The Baptist Story The second volume I’d like to highlight was published by B&H just a few weeks ago (in mid-August). The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement was written by Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn, and Michael Haykin. As was true of the earlier book, these writers all identify as evangelical Baptists. However, in this case the authors teach at three different Baptist educational institutions, though each of the schools is in some way connected to the Southern Baptist Convention. As the title suggests, this book is of broader scope than the book by Kidd and Hankins.

At this point, I’ve only begun dipping into The Baptist Story, but here are a few of my initial impressions. The book very accessible. It is well-outlined, user-friendly, and written in a voice that will appeal to people who may be reading a Baptist history book for the first time. The text is also interspersed with an ample number of pictures and excerpts from primary sources. What is missing, or rather is intentionally omitted, is footnotes or endnotes. Instead, each chapter is followed by a list of resources for further study and questions for discussion.

In terms of organization and content, the book is divided into four main sections comprised of thirteen chapters altogether. The first three sections are arranged chronologically by centuries with the first section discussing the seventeenth and eighteen centuries, the second covering the nineteenth century, and the third discussing the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Highlighting the book’s recent vintage is a chapter on Baptists in the twenty-first century. This chapter mostly discusses Baptists outside of North America and recent trends within Baptist life. The fourth section of the book is somewhat different from the others in that it addresses the issue of Baptist beliefs. Interestingly, although the authors raised the question of Baptist identity in their introduction, like Kidd and Hankins, they saved their real discussion of Baptist identity for the final chapter of the book. I’m still not sure that order makes the most sense in terms of methodology, but I’m sure the authors had their reasons for putting it where they did. Although I’m not using it as a textbook this semester (partially due to its release date), I anticipate this book being used as such in many college and seminary courses in years to come and for good reason. It introduces nearly all of the key people, events, controversies, etc. that need to be discussed in a survey of Baptist history, and it does so in an interesting way. In short, I like this book. It’s readable. It’s reasonably comprehensive. And it’s clearly written by men who love their subject.

Both of these new books represent significant contributions to the literature on Baptist history. If you are interested in learning more about Baptist history, The Baptist Story would be a great place to start. And if you’re particularly interested in the role that Baptists have played in American history and culture, you’ll find Baptists in America to be a great resource.


*As an aside, I find the fact that OUP published this book rather amusing in light of the fact that Baptists were effectively unable to matriculate at Oxford for roughly the first two hundred years of their existence (from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s).

**Perhaps a fourth distinguishing trait should be added to this list, namely, a tendency to have potlucks on a regular basis. Just checking to see if anyone actually reads these notes at the bottom of a post.

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Ethics or Theological Subscription as the Ground of Functional Christian Fellowship?

A couple of weeks ago Union University made news by practicing secondary separation (or at least what fundamentalists have been pummeled over the last 70 years for practicing under that label): they broke fellowship with an organization of professing believers—the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities [CCCU]—because the Council had failed to censure two member institutions—institutions that had capitulated to the prevailing Zeitgeist on the matter of homosexual marriage. Union president Dub Oliver explained: “Our faithfulness to the authority of Scripture takes precedence,” adding, “Our advocacy for Christ-centered higher education means that we must stand with institutions that share our commitments.” He concluded, “The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue—marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture.” But here’s the thing: the CCCU has for years had as member institutions schools of various branches of the Churches of Christ, a Seventh Day Adventist School, at least one (very) Roman Catholic school, and a few other nominally “Christian” institutions that have given little thought to the details of the Christian Gospel and the authority of the Word of God for decades. These theological errors are not separation-worthy, but homosexuality is? Hmmm.

Example 2: Last week I stopped by a church blog that I frequent. Again, I applauded the author’s powerful argument regarding the use of Hillsong music in his church: due to Hillsong’s “normalization of immorality” (again, homosexuality), the author reckoned, “our music ministry will no longer use any material written by Hillsong.” But then came the curious caveat. The author admitted that Hillsong had long ago abandoned sound doctrine, but argued that “we were never concerned that using this song would lead our people into prosperity theology or wild charismaticism.” So his church had continued to use Hillsong music. But homosexuality? That went too far. Now it has become time, the author concluded, to “watch out for those who cause confusion regarding sound doctrine, and turn away from them.”

On the one hand I’m happy about these decisions—I rejoice in them as refreshing matters of biblical obedience. And maybe I should do nothing but offer a hearty “Amen” and applause to both. I agree with the willingness to part ways with disobedient brothers and appreciate their courageous stands in the face of stiff opposition. Overlooking or endorsing homosexuality IS a big deal. A really big deal. And I’m glad that these two men and the organizations they represent are refusing to shrug their shoulders and look the other way.

But I struggle with the implied suggestion that the error of homosexual marriage is a bigger deal and a greater affront to the Gospel than the denial of justification sola fide, or that advocating for homosexuality is a bigger threat to God’s people than advocating for a prosperity “gospel” that boasts no more of the Gospel than my pet rabbit. It seems that homosexuality has temporarily become more of a gospel issue than, well, the Gospel. Why is this the case?

Two responses to this trend have come to us from the confessional community (Carl Trueman and Scot McKnight). These argue convincingly that the bare evangelical model, despite all its talk of the Gospel, offers an insufficient basis for determining what constitutes a “big,” “important,” and therefore “gospel” issue, instead leaving the church to posture rather arbitrarily according to the prevailing winds of the day. At one time we pounded on smoking and drinking and rock music, but that’s much too 1970—the 21st century whipping boys are homosexuality and egalitarianism on the left and “legalism” in the right. That’s where the conservative evangelical will take a stand and practice “secondary separation.”

Now, admittedly, the 21st century evangelical watersheds do seem a bit more serious than those from 1970, so I must be charitable. Scripture itself tells us that homosexuality, especially, is a “bigger” or at least a more advanced sin problem than others (so Rom 1:24ff). Still, I think Trueman and McKnight are on to something: the bare evangelical model may be able to see that homosexuality is a big issue, but it has trouble offering a unified explanation as to why it is a big issue. To do that, one needs more than the Gospel and a few Bible verses. We need instead a holistic network of collocated theses that connect the doctrines of God, Scripture, creation, law (natural and biblical), the imago dei, the relationship of Church and culture, the state of man (both old and new), sin, atonement, sanctification, perseverance, pneumatology, apologetics, ecclesiology, the ordinances, and even eschatology. In short we need to take our stands within comprehensive traditions. Without them, we may experience the meager satisfaction and applause that comes from picking at the scabs of homosexuality and egalitarianism, but we risk ignoring the melanoma spreading beneath.

We cannot save the Christian faith merely by erecting a fortress around a few gospel loci and supplementing that defense with occasional sorties against ethical brigands. Instead, we must take our stand in the ontological and epistemological foundations from which the Gospel and its ethic flow.

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Why the Arguments in Support of Planned Parenthood Fail

Choosing Hats (an apologetics site) has a lengthy article pointing out the fallacies of four common arguments given in support of Planned Parenthood and some suggestions for how you can push back against these arguments. I thought I’d provide a brief summary of the responses given there (with a few additional thoughts sprinkled in) to give you a sense of what is being said, but would encourage you to take some time to familiarize yourself with the arguments and responses more fully as well.

It’s a Hoax

Calling it a “hoax” or “bogus” or “fraudulent” implies that the videos are forgeries. But not even Planned Parenthood has treated the videos as if they were not real people saying those things—as if it were the result of CGI. Rather, they have challenged the videos on the accusation that they were obtained illegally—which would be absurd if they were not real. They are not a “hoax.” But calling it a “hoax” is meant to intentionally mislead people into thinking the videos are not real, even when they know they are.

The Video Was Edited

The emphasis on “edited” videos is intended to make people think these videos are trying to hide the full truth and deceive those watching. But there are three problems with this argument. The full videos of the conversation have been released within minutes of the “edited” videos. Why would someone release the full videos in connection with the edited versions if they were trying to hide something? Further, almost every video used in documentaries, television, etc. is edited. So it’s not as though these videos are somehow different from every other video you watch in the news. But perhaps most importantly, the moral disgust and outrage is not a result of the editing. Jonathan Merritt notes in his article concerning the NYT editorial that the unedited versions are as bad if not worse than the edited versions:

The Times also claimed the video was unreliable because it was “edited.” They are correct that the full video was nearly three hours long while the edited version was only nine minutes. So what? These comments in the longer version do not invalidate those in the shorter version. While editorial board hopes to convince readers that The Center for Medical Progress was deliberately only telling part of the story, but they fail to mention that the full video was also posted online and available. So who is withholding information here? And, by the way, the full video is just as repulsive as the shorter version. In fact, it’s about two hours and 50 minutes more repulsive.


The Means Were Dishonest

This is an attempt to make Planned Parenthood the victim. Someone did something wrong to them, because those people lied to gain access to their staff and clinics. But are PP defenders really concerned about the morality of means? On one hand, they argue that taking organs from babies is acceptable because it furthers scientific research (i.e., the end justifies the means), while on the other hand they argue that the videos should be dismissed because someone lied in order to make them (i.e., the means matters more than the end).

But if they are really concerned about the morality of means, they must be appealing to some basis of objective morality by which we could determine whether or not particular actions are good and right. Where does that basis come from? And what does that basis of objective morality say about taking innocent life?

For a biblical and thoughtful defense of the means used to obtain the videos, see Douglas Wilson’s helpful post.

Planned Parenthood Does Good, And Only Bad People Would Try to Stop That Good

What good does Planned Parenthood actually do? Some state that they offer mammograms, but as the Washington Post pointed out years ago: “The problem here is that Planned Parenthood does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so.” What they do provide (cancer screenings, birth control, pap smears) are all offered by other health care organizations that do not do abortions.

Even Slate noted a couple years ago that to claim that abortions only constitute 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services is “downright silly.” The reality is that at least 1/3 of their revenue comes from abortions, which means abortions are central to Planned Parenthood.

Even if Planned Parenthood did other good things and abortions only constituted 3% of their services, that should be enough to have a problem with them. As Rich Lowry at the National Review argues:

The 3 percent figure is an artifice and a dodge, but even taking it on its own terms, it’s not much of a defense. Only Planned Parenthood would think saying that they only kill babies 3 percent of the time is something to brag about. How much credit would we give someone for saying he only drives drunk 3 percent of the time, or only cheats on business trips 3 percent of the time, or only hits his wife during 3 percent of domestic disputes?

The choosing hats article concludes with the following takeaway:

Planned Parenthood, and their supporters, have precisely nothing in their defense right now.  Nothing whatsoever.  They have a whole lot of experience at making things look the way they want them to look – but the mask was ripped off. Keep them running, keep them on the defensive, and show their pack of lies to be precisely what it is.  This is something we all have to keep at, have to keep momentum going on.  The Big Lie only works if there is nobody to oppose it vigorously and comprehensively.  We must understand that we are dealing with an entire nation of self-deceived people.  An entire nation of people illiterate about the most basic fundamentals of the human condition. We must teach as much as we refute.  We must strongly condemn this atrocity, while speaking that truth of condemnation in love.  His grace is sufficient for us.  He will give us the words to say, when the time comes.  In the meantime, get ready, and always be ready to give a defense for the faith – and a defense for the defenseless.

You can see the full choosing hats article here.

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Professing Themselves to Be Wise: The Foolishness of Baphomet and the Satanic Temple

The Satanic Temple of Detroit made the news recently with their unveiling of a Baphomet statue, a goat-headed idol the Knights of the Templar were accused of worshiping. Though they refer to themselves as a Satanic Temple, the members of the temple do not believe in an actual, supernatural Satan. Rather, as their website states, they believe “Satan is symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds.”

Their promotional materials advertised the unveiling as “a night of chaos, noise, and debauchery…, a hedonistic celebration introducing the controversial Baphomet monument accompanied by provocative performances and installations.” The unveiling is part of a larger effort to have the statue displayed at the state capitol in either Arkansas or Oklahoma alongside a monument of the Ten Commandments.

Why do they want to display this statue? As they note, the statue is controversial, and that is the reason they want to unveil it. They know that it is offensive to traditional religious believers, especially Christians. Their desire is to offend Christians and encourage them to keep their religious beliefs out of the public square. If Christians refuse, then the Satanic Temple will work to get their own offensive material on the same level as Christian beliefs, as evidenced by their distribution of Satanic children’s coloring books in the public schools in Florida last year.

So what is it that the Satanic Temple wants to promote? They want to “participate in public affairs where the issues might benefit from rational, Satanic insights…and encourage critical thinking.” In other words, unlike those dumb people in traditional (i.e., supernatural) religions, the members of the Satanic Temple are intelligent, critical, and rational. As I’ve noted before, atheists like those in the Satanic Temple love to trumpet their supposedly superior intellects. Yet with their incredible critical thinking skills they fail to see the irony of their actions.

They want to display the statue in order to promote chaos—which is the opposite of promoting rational thinking. They also want to display the statue in order to offend other people. It’s the equivalent of a ten year old boy repeatedly poking his sister for the sole purpose of annoying her and getting a rise out of her. And we all know that ten year old boys who poke their sisters are renowned for their “rational…insights” and “critical thinking.”

In reality, the Satanic Temple provides the perfect picture of those who deny God: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:22-23). These supposedly enlightened individuals believe it is better to celebrate a grotesque figure and work to anger other people than it is to serve a loving, benevolent, all-wise Creator and lay down their lives for the good of others. Why? Not because it matches with rational thinking but because it matches with their sinful desires. They do do not want to recognize the true Sovereign because the are defending “personal sovereignty.” Serving the true God would require repentance. It would mean no longer living for themselves but living for God and others. And they would rather act like fools than release their claim to be their own gods. Repentance is their real issue with Christianity—not reason.

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Abortion: Is This Really a New Problem?

tiny feetRecently released videos by The Center for Medical Progress have brought to light some of the more egregious atrocities committed by Planned Parenthood in the name of women’s health and medical research. Anyone with a functioning conscience who has watched these videos has been sickened by the depth to which our culture has sunk in allowing this kind of activity to take place unchecked. Apparently there are more videos to come, but in time the news cycle will run its course and both journalists and politicians will move on to other issues. Hopefully, in response to public outcry Planned Parenthood will be called to account for its actions and meaningful steps will be taken to reduce the number of abortions performed in America, but at this point that remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.

Reading the news, one could get the impression that abortion is a fairly recent issue, perhaps something that has only been common since 1973 or so. But unfortunately, such is not the case. Abortion has been around for thousands of years.

One of the earliest references to abortion is found in an Egyptian papyrus that was written well over a thousand years before the time of Christ. Dated about 1550 b.c., the Ebers Papyrus is a medical document that describes ancient remedies for a wide variety of ailments. It contains advice on how to cure everything from asthma to tape worms. Among such remedies, the document includes several herbal recipes for causing the abortion of an unwanted child. Writing a bit closer to the time of Christ, both Plato and Aristotle recommended abortion under certain circumstances for the “good” of society (Republic 5 [460], Politics 7.16 [1335b]). And in the first century, Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79) listed various substances which were commonly used in his day as abortifacients (Natural History, passim).

So abortion is not a new issue. It wasn’t even particularly novel in the first century. Various methods of causing an abortion had been in use for a long time before Christ walked the earth. But what did the earliest Christians think of such practices? Were they ambivalent or did they express definite opinions about the morality of abortion?

A number of early Christian documents specifically mention the practice of abortion. Two of the earliest such documents are usually classed among the Apostolic Fathers. Dated fairly close to a.d. 100 and sometimes referred to as The Teaching of the Twelve, the Didache claims to preserve both oral and written teachings of the twelve apostles. The Didache begins with the following statement: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways” (1.1). The text then goes on to give instructions about how to live in the “way of life”. After exhorting readers with the dual command to love both God and neighbor, the document gives some specific instructions about the implications of loving one’s neighbor. Among these instructions, we find the following command:

“You shall not murder…you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide” (2.2).

In this context, the Didache places abortion alongside infanticide and seemingly views these actions as belonging to the same category. More importantly, it commands God’s people not to engage in such activities. Just a few paragraphs later, the text describes the way of death as being followed by those who are “murderers of children” (5.2). The Didache speaks rather clearly to the moral status of abortion.

The Epistle of Barnabas was almost certainly not written by Paul’s companion. Nevertheless, internal evidence suggests that it was produced around the beginning of the second century. Like the Didache, it provides another example of early Christian teaching about the Two Ways. In his description of the way of light, Barnabas speaks about the practice of abortion. He writes,

“You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide” (19.5).

Again, abortion is place alongside infanticide and is described as something that is wicked. In place of such behavior the author exhorts his readers to fulfill their responsibilities to care for their children and to bring them up in the way of the Lord (19.5; cf. Didache 4.9).

In addition to these statements from early Christians, numerous biblical passages give principles that lead modern-day Christians to view abortion as the sinful taking of an innocent human life (e.g., Job 31:15; Psalm 22:9–10; Psalm 139:13–16; Luke 1:15). As seen above, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas reveal a very early Christian conviction that abortion is morally wrong and is essentially equivalent to infanticide. Such documents demonstrate that Christians strongly opposed the practice of abortion many centuries before the development of modern political parties or the advent of YouTube videos.

Abortion is not a partisan football to be tossed around for the sake of political points. It is first and foremost a moral issue. But because abortion is an important moral issue about which God has spoken clearly, it should impact the way Christians exercise their civil responsibilities and their legal opportunities to speak up against evil. To see such wickedness and say nothing is itself evil.

Relevant Resources:
O. M. Bakke, When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity 
Michael Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World 
Michael Holmes, trans. and ed., The Apostolic Fathers in English 
John Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance 
John Riddle, Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West 

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Why Christianity Is Necessary for Tolerance

I’ve recently noted our society’s increasing loss of true tolerance, as well as the dangers of the current orthodoxy working to suppress other ideas. But what I have not yet considered is whether tolerance is even a good thing. To simplify things, let’s simply focus on tolerance of different religious beliefs.

Most people in the West simply assume that tolerance is good, but in many parts of the world and at many times in history religious tolerance was viewed negatively. So why should people be tolerant? In An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion by Michael Murray and Michael Rea (New York: Cambridge, 2008), the authors offer two common arguments for religious tolerance.

The first is a pragmatic argument: the state and religions have different interests, so it is best to allow them to pursue their different interests independently of each other (unless the state has a compelling interest). Further, if the state were to not allow religious tolerance, it would require some means of coercive force to either compel people to adopt a particular religion or keep them from adopting any religion (which would seem counter to the idea that religious beliefs should be genuine and from the heart).

The second kind of argument put forward is epistemological: we have greater certainty that it is good to allow religious tolerance than we do that a particular religion should be forced on people, and we can never have the level of certainty for any particular religion that would be necessary to override religious tolerance.

The above arguments may seem more or less compelling to you, but they are certainly not compelling to many in the world who do not already believe in religious tolerance. If you tried to use these arguments on the leaders of ISIS you would probably not get very far: they believe the interest of the state is dictated by their religion, which should be imposed on people. And they have the certainty of supposed commands from God and the example of their prophet. Thus, Murray and Rea conclude: “The available arguments for toleration all seem to rest on principles that defenders of intolerance are unlikely to accept.” (257)

So, why does the idea of tolerance (if not the actual practice) seem so obviously good to people in the West? As with many parts of western culture, our appreciation of tolerance flows from the Christian beliefs that helped shape our societies. We think tolerance is good because we agree with at least some Christian teaching. Our appreciation of tolerance is borrowed from Christianity. Christianity provides several truths that serve as the soil out of which tolerance grows.

Existence of Truth

For many in our day, tolerance is valued because they believe there is no truth. But if there is no truth, there is no reason for tolerance. The phrase “tolerance is good” would have the same value as “Mawiki is kiddle” or even “intolerance is good.” But the Bible is clear that truth exists and it can be known. That then allows us to even consider the value of tolerance.

Separation of Church and State

In this period of God’s dealings with man, there is a distinction between the church and the state. Christ made this truth clear in His statement: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Thus, some things belong to God directly—including our worship—while other things are given to the state (under God’s general rule)—like taxes. The church is not to exercise corporal punishment, while the state has that duty (Rom 13:1-7). However, it is wrong for the state to punish people for holding wrong beliefs. While the church does have a duty to oppose false religious belief, her options are limited to personal/corporate verbal confrontation and excommunication. The Christian teaching on the separation of church and state paved the way for religious liberty.

Discovering Truth by Means of Persuasion

Ultimately, the best means of discovering truth is through special revelation. But some things in the Bible are not as clear as others. Further, God has also revealed truth through general revelation. When dealing with truths that are not as clear in special revelation or truths from general revelation, the best way to move forward is humble, thoughtful consideration of various views. God has given minds to people and encouraged them to use them to arrive at truth (Is 1:18; Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4). The only way to be able to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints is to allow them to be presented. Thus, in order to best work toward truth at least some false ideas have to be tolerated.

Inherent Value of People Made in God’s Image

One of the main reasons to tolerate people is because it is wrong to oppress, harm, and murder people. Tolerance flows from a belief in human rights, and human rights are practically impossible to defend apart from a recognition that people are made in God’s image. If humans have no value, why not stamp out everyone who stands in the way of getting what you want? But if the person standing in front of you is made in God’s image, then it would be wrong to harm him for holding a view that you do not support.

Reality of Forgiveness

One reason people struggle to tolerate others is their own pride. They view themselves as better the person they do not want to tolerate—this person with such backward ideas and values. But Christianity emphasizes the universality of sin and the importance of forgiveness. When we recognize how sinful we are, and that we live only by God’s grace, we are much more willing to offer forgiveness to others. We allow love to cover a multitude of sins rather than keeping a record of wrongs (1 Pet 4:8; 1 Cor 13:5).

Reality of Judgment

At first the reality of judgment might seem to discourage tolerance. If Christianity teaches that God is going to punish all wrong, wouldn’t that make us more oppressive? Only if we fail to understand what the Bible actually teaches. One reason we can tolerate wrongs now is because we know that one day God will make them right. That’s why we can even return good for evil. (Rom 12:14-21). We don’t have to right all wrongs now, because we can trust that God will! We tolerate evil now, because we know that eventually God will tolerate no evil. Without that belief, calls for tolerance will not be able to be sustained.

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