Roe v. Wade Was Decided (Partly) on Science Denial

In the Netflix documentary, Reversing Roe, at around the 28:00 mark, Sarah Weddington, the attorney who argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court in 1973, recounts that during the case a justice asked her when she believed a human life begins. She responded, “Your Honor, we did not try to say exactly what moment that was. There is no one answer to that. Different religions have different answers to that question. There is no legal standard that says, ‘At this point the fetus becomes a human.’ So, the question is, who gets to make that decision? Is it the woman or is it the government? And my position has always been it’s not the government.”

This is a classic case of a false dilemma (or trilemma). Why are these the only options? Weddington confuses the issue by pretending that the humanity of the unborn is either a religious issue, a decision to be made by old white men (the Supreme Court in 1973), or the woman carrying the baby.

None of these things are true. The humanity of the baby in the womb is a scientific fact from the moment of conception. Any attempt to confuse this issue is ignorance at best and malignant ideology at worst.

Consider for example these statements from widely used textbooks:

“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.” [Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

In other words, there is no question scientifically when a human life begins. To deny this is to deny science.

But there is trickery afoot in Weddington’s comments in Reversing Roe. I’m sure she knew at the time that human life begins at conception. The real question that needs answering is, “At what point does a human fetus become a person.” This may sound like an inconsequential distinction, but it is actually the crux of the matter.

Pro-Choice thinkers have succeeded in separating the issues of human life and personhood. The personhood of an individual is now what provides dignity and protection under the law. So, while it is clearly unscientific to deny that an embryo is human from the moment of conception, the way to deny the baby in the womb protection is to say it is not a person. The question, however, is who gets to say when a human becomes a person? That leads to the next essay, “Dolphins and Computers are Persons While Babies in the Womb Are Not.”

See the previous essay, “Let’s Not Forget What Abortion Really Is.”

Mark Farnham is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach (Kregel, 2021).

Let’s Not Forget What Abortion Really Is

The issue of abortion has never been more contentious among Christians. I’m not referring to debates between Christians and non-Christians, but among those who profess to be followers of Jesus.

So, let’s get back to the basics of what abortion is. A straightforward scientific definition of abortion is “the termination of a pregnancy by the death of the embryo or fetus.” Pro-Choice advocates have recently sought to minimize any sense of the personhood of the baby in the womb by redefining abortion as “inducing fetal demise” or “removing the pregnancy.” In addition, abortion is now being cast as a basic human right and “reproductive justice.” On the Planned Parenthood website any reference to the baby in the womb is avoided. It is a “pregnancy” being removed, not a baby.

I ask my progressive friends, however, will you admit what the act of abortion really is? Will you look at the medical description of abortion without blinking, and can you say afterward that this shouldn’t be a major consideration in how you vote? In reality, abortion is the single issue that determines the votes of people on both sides of the issue. 

[In this article I will use the terms embryo and fetus interchangeably for the baby in the womb. Embryo is usually used for the first 9-11 weeks of life, while fetus can be used at any stage of development. When referring to humans the etymology of the terms simply mean human “young one” or “offspring.”]

There are several methods of abortion that are used in the first, and sometimes second, trimester of pregnancy. A medical abortion uses powerful drugs to cause the embryo to be expelled within a few days. Clinical (surgical) abortions are more graphic in their methods. First, in a Dilation and Curettage (D&C) the mother’s cervix is dilated, and the surgeon inserts an instrument (curette) to scrape the wall of the uterus, cutting the human embryo to pieces and removing the placenta from its place in the uterine wall. 

Second, vacuum curettage (aspiration), or suction, is often used in combination with a D&C. The abortionist uses suction with a force 28 times that of a vacuum cleaner to tear both the embryo and placenta from the uterus into a jar. (The Planned Parenthood website calls this “gentle suction to empty your uterus”). The doctor then reassembles all the pieces of the embryo to ensure that nothing is left behind in the uterus. More than 85% of abortions take place in the first trimester.

Third, in the saline method a needle is inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the amniotic sac, and some of the fluid is removed and replaced with a solution of concentrated salt. The baby breathes in and swallows the salt and is poisoned. The outer layer of skin is burned off and the brain hemorrhages. It takes the baby about one hour to die. The next day the mother goes into labor and delivers the dead baby.

As horrific as these procedures are, abortion performed in the third trimester is worse. Dilation and Extraction (D&X) and Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) are methods used in what is sometimes called “partial birth abortions.” These procedures are also used in the unfortunate case of miscarriage, but in an abortion they are used on an intact baby, or one that would survive outside the womb if given care. The intact baby is delivered feet first until all but the head is outside the womb. A doctor then punctures the skull and scrambles the brains. Alternately, the mother’s cervix is dilated, and the doctor pulls the viable baby apart piece by piece. The baby cannot be vacuumed out because it is too large.

Although late-term abortions are rare, any act of destroying an embryo or fetus in the womb is essentially the same scientifically. It is the destruction of a unique individual that is genetically human. This leads me to my next article, coming soon: “Roe v. Wade Was Decided (Partly) on Science Denial.”

Mark Farnham is coauthor of the forthcoming book, Talking About Ethics: A Conversational Approach (Kregel, 2021).

The Image is All We Need Anymore

Rational discourse is out. The process of justice that has anchored the Western world is out. Even waiting to get the whole story or see the official report is out. All we need is a video, carefully cropped by the Controllers (as C. S. Lewis called them), and we roll out the guillotines (now literally). If you think this is somehow helping to confront racism, corruption, or any other type of injustice, you owe it to yourself to read about the way Fascist and Communist revolutions begin. Are racism, political corruption, and other forms of injustice a problem? Absolutely. But justice by video clip will usher in only one thing. Mass death. Why? The image tells the only story we want to hear.

Only the Christian Worldview Can Consistently Argue that Lives Matter

It’s strange isn’t it? The same people that teach children in school that they are nothing more than the products of blind time and chance reverse course and speak of dignity, rights, and justice when it’s convenient. 

The materialist view that is foisted upon us at every turn—in popular culture, in education, and in jurisprudence—is conveniently set aside when a sufficiently concerning social ill needs to be addressed. This is not to criticize those who reject God and fight for justice, but rather to point out that their sensitivities are rather arbitrary.

It is nothing short of negligent inconsistency at best and intellectual dishonesty at worst.

The atheistic, materialistic view of human beings has no grounds for talking about dehumanization or dignity, justice or injustice. Why? Because of its views on both man and all metaphysical values, such as morality and ethics. Look at its leading spokesmen.

Bertrand Russell, a giant in atheistic philosophy in the early 20th century reminds us of the implications of a world without God: “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the débris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” (A Free Man’s Worship)

Think about that. In a materialistic world there is no design or purpose and all beliefs are accidents of nature. All noble efforts and genius will be snuffed out. Only when we embrace despair can we live. 

Richard Dawkins gives us no more hope. “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (River out of Eden)

Physicist Sean Carroll: “We humans are blobs are organized mud, which through the impersonal workings of nature’s patterns have developed the capacity to contemplate and cherish and engage with the intimidating complexity of the world around us…The meaning we find in life is not transcendent.” (The Big Picture)

Genomist Tomàs Marquès-Bonet: “Natural selection will always be there, with greater or less force…Selection is a blind process in which mutations are generated and those individuals that are most adapted are the ones that most disseminate their mutations…No matter how clever we are, humans will disappear. We are just a minor accident in the great evolutionary scale of the Earth.”

Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of DNA: “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll might have phrased it, ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons’.” (The Astonishing Hypothesis)

And finally, an anonymous Facebook post informs human beings, “You’re a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust.”

This is the message of the Western, “scientific” mind. I won’t take the time to explore the Eastern mindset here but suffice it to say that in most of its expressions the body is a prison and the goal is to escape the body, which is essentially evil. Therefore the body is inconsequential. Everything is part of the divine, including evil, racists, and injustice, so how do we condemn what is divine on any more of a basis than that we don’t prefer those things? The Eastern mindset has no more rational basis for promoting dignity and justice than does the West.

For anyone arguing for justice in this present time of national agony over race, taking a Western view undermines any rational basis. How can lives matter if we are accidents of nature, mudballs, the sum total of our DNA, an assembly of nerve cells and molecules, and meat skeletons? A bigger question is, “Why care?” If all these things are true, why not go with the flow of natural selection and practice cruelty and aggression instead of empathy and kindness? The former are working out quite well for many people all around the world, as they always have.

Only the Christian third way with its belief in the inherent dignity of man and woman made in the image of God provides a consistent basis for saying that any life matters. At the same time, it acknowledges that we live in a world under the curse of sin and manifesting brokenness in a trillion different ways. Only the Christian worldview sees man as possessing both dignity and depravity in a way that explains the world the way it is. 

Some may object, “What about the failure of the Church and Christians to live up to this standard of dignity and to defend and protect it for all people?” Sadly, that is a legitimate observation. But it poses no real objection against Christianity because it represents a clear violation of the teachings of Jesus. To be cruel and aggressive and to prefer my own kind is the heart and soul of natural selection. When it is done in the name of Christ it is clearly a departure. Christians who practice injustice and fail to care about such heinous sins as racism betray their name. And even the best intentions and efforts of Christians will fall short because we are never promised perfection in this life. The problem is so great in our world that only a Messiah can fix it. And he will.

Only Christianity has the God-man entering our existence and showing us what perfect obedience to God’s law looks like, then dying for our failure to live as we should. Jesus offers us forgiveness and redemption through his perfect sacrifice. The Holy Spirit transforms us progressively throughout life by means of the Word of God to make us more like Christ. Part of that is to develop the heart of the heavenly Father, to grieve what He grieves, to hate what He hates, and to love what He loves.

Christians and the Church at large will never be perfect in promoting justice and righteousness in the many, many issues that we encounter in this life, but at least we have a consistent basis, a perfect example, and an empowerment from on high.

So, the questions is, “Are we doing what we can to promote real justice in our world?”

If I am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit

This post is not going to go the way you think it will, so please read to the end.

If I am guilty of something merely because I am white, there is no redemption for me. I cannot stop being white. 

White Guilt

Now, I know that those who use the phrase “white guilt” often mean not just (or not primarily) the color of my skin, but the privilege that goes with it (something to be addressed in a future post). But the heart of white guilt is the idea that if I am white, then I must have sinned in some way connected to my skin color, most likely (say some) in a racist way against a black person. And while technically my guilt arises out of privilege, many people are getting the less nuanced message that it arises out if skin color.

This fits well the narrative promoted by those who subscribe to Critical Race Theory and intersectionality (also to be addressed in a future post). It does not, however, fit the Christian narrative. I will say this many times over subsequent posts: This present national crisis is going to reveal how many professing Christians have either drifted into a Marxist worldview on the left or Individualistic worldview on the right. And it should challenge us to seek out a distinctly Christian worldview as a third way between the other two.

An article in the New York Times asks, “How Can I Cure My White Guilt?” The authors seek to answer an inquirer who writes:

I’m riddled with shame. White shame. This isn’t helpful to me or to anyone, especially people of color. I feel like there is no “me” outside of my white/upper middle class/cisgender identity. I feel like my literal existence hurts people, like I’m always taking up space that should belong to someone else…I’m curled up in a ball of shame.

Their answer to this tormented soul? “Every white person should be ashamed of that injustice [the privilege whiteness afforded]. Which is different than being ashamed of being white.” The solutions given are various works of penance: becoming an ally, expressing anguish, relinquishing privilege. In other words, law.

This is what we might call ontological guilt, culpability and shame for your very nature. It is distinctly not a Christian view of guilt. God declared his creation of man and woman to be ‘very good’ because they were made in his image. The image of God is what gives us our inherent dignity. Ontological guilt, then, is not Christian. There is no redemption for ontological guilt. There is no good news.

Biblical Guilt

In the Bible guilt is always connected to thoughts, words, or actions. This is what we call moral guilt. I am guilty when I do something I should not do or fail to do something I should do. Guilt is primarily in relation to God, and only secondarily in relation to others (Psa. 51:4). I become guilty when I break God’s law or erect idols in my heart. The gospel is the good news that because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. By repentance my moral transgressions can be forgiven, and I can be made clean.

So, if I am not guilty because of my whiteness, am I still automatically guilty of racism because I am white? Automatically? No, but I should not dismiss the notion that I have committed an act or thought of racism just because none comes to mind in a quick review of my sins. David asked God to search his heart to see if there was any wickedness in him (Psa. 139:23-4) because sins can remain hidden (Psa. 19:12). 

Perhaps every white Christian should ask God to search his heart for hidden preference, favor, hatred, or injustice toward people based on ethnic differences. So should every black, Asian, Latino, and other believer regardless of his ethnicity. We should also do this based on economic status (James 2:1-13), class, education, or any other difference. No discrimination is acceptable to God. He hates unjust treatment of others (Prov. 20:23). We should ask ourselves hard questions like:

Am I friendlier to people of certain ethnicities than to others when I encounter them?

Am I more willing to help people of certain ethnicities than others?

Do I care about the injustices experienced by people of certain ethnicities more than others?

Do I pray for and work to minister to people in need regardless of their ethnicity?

Do I care about the well-being of people of other ethnicities as much as I do those who look like me?

These are just a few of the many questions we can ask God to search our hearts. We may find after doing this that God reveals some prejudices. If so, we should experience shame and grief for our sin that leads us to repentance. And if we have sinned against another person as a result of these heart attitudes we should seek out their forgiveness.

Black Guilt

It would be awful to be guilty simply because of my skin color. It would be anguish to know that there is nothing I could do to escape condemnation simply for who I am and not for anything I have done. 

This is exactly the position in which many black people find themselves. It is hard for me to understand that until I listen to their stories. Because many white people are insulated from close relationships with black people they may not be aware of this. I presently live in the whitest place I have ever lived. I have never known what it is like to be pulled over by a policeman for no apparent reason. I don’t know what it is like to be called names for my melanin. I have never been afraid to walk through a nice neighborhood because I am white. 

A black friend from the West Coast told me yesterday that he was harassed for his ethnicity this week. One of his sons is a mechanical engineer in his 20’s and has been pulled over a dozen times in the last year on his way home from work. Many other compelling and heartbreaking stories have been told. Are we listening?

I am well aware as a theologian that the root problem is sin in the heart. You cannot legislate or educate hatred out of the heart. Most African American spokespeople do not assume we can. This raises the issue to be addressed later of what can be done, not just in human hearts, but in police training, the justice system, and other realms.

But before we go there, I ask myself and my white friends, are we willing to listen to the stories of those who have been harassed and mistreated merely for who they are? Will we weep with those who weep and resist evil when we see it?

Here’s who I am presently listening to: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/george-floyd-and-me/

Next: Human dignity and equality are only consistent in a Christian worldview.

I invite comments, corrections, suggestions, and questions.

Discerning between Injustice and Ideology: The Christian Third Way

The last few weeks have been a time of national agony. Agony for all who saw the video of the last eight minutes of George Floyd’s life and found themselves short of breath in sympathetic response. Agony for African Americans in seeing another brother needlessly killed. Agony for whites who have been told they bear guilt for being who they are. I have heard all three expressed.

The challenge of this national agony is that ideological groups are parasitically attaching themselves to a genuine act of injustice. This partially explains the angst that many feel about the situation. Protests were overshadowed by rioting in the first week after the incident. Genuine efforts at righting injustice were hijacked by Antifa and other radical organizations pushing a more sinister agenda. Constructive attempts to change problematic structures and institutions were drowned out by unrealistic and extreme solutions more fit for a full-scale revolution.

Left and Right are quickly drawing up lines and digging in. For Christians, however, this ought to be a time where a distinctly Christian third way is proclaimed. We dare not fall into uncritical acceptance of political or ideological answers from either side. 

As theologian Denny Burk states so well,

The error from the right will be a refusal to acknowledge any racial disparities in encounters with police and how those disparities shape a community’s despairing attitudes toward law enforcement. If we aren’t guarding ourselves from errors on the right, we might gaslight some of our brothers and sisters and not be able to commiserate with them like the Bible commands, “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). They will not feel like we are hearing them, which will in turn lead to alienation from them. It will also keep us blind to injustices that the Bible says we ought to expose: “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11).

The error from the left includes ideologies like Critical Race Theory and intersectionality that are at odds with the gospel and that frame many people’s thinking about these events. These ideologies reflect materialistic worldviews that view all of life through the prism of racial identity and power relations. They tend to produce blanket condemnations of law enforcement that are not fair to the vast majority of officers that are serving our communities well and that abhor police misconduct as much as we do. Some people use such ideologies to justify the rioting and looting that have undermined the aims of peaceful protestors around the country.

In the coming days I hope to untangle the issue of injustice from the barnacle-like parasites that have attached themselves to this critical issue and present a Christian third way that gleans the wisdom from left and right while avoiding their errors. 

Next up tomorrow: If I Am Guilty for Who I Am, the Gospel Is of No Benefit.

It Would Be So Much Easier to “Believe the Science” If We Could Trust the Scientists

science fraud

During this Corona Virus crisis those who have questioned the conclusions of scientists and the decrees of politicians have often been depicted as “science deniers,” a term most often assigned to anyone who questions the accepted pronouncements of climate change. As with climate change, however, the reason many people question or disbelieve the edicts from those at the top is simply that they don’t find the people making them to be trustworthy. Too many examples abound of scientists and politicians who are mistaken, revealed to have an agenda, or who act hypocritically.

There are some obvious violations of trust, such as “Dr. Lockdown” in the UK, Neil Ferguson, who was the architect behind the shutdown and social distancing there, discovered not to be social distancing from the married woman with whom he had a sexual tryst last week. Or the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who got a haircut last week, despite the fact that barbershops and salons remained closed under stay-at-home state mandates. While seemingly minor offenses, they go to show that sometimes authorities that enforce restrictions on others feel they themselves are above the law. This certainly does not encourage trust in the “experts.”

Less nefarious, but more to the point, scientists and doctors are sometimes wrong. Notice how the protocols for ventilator use have changed. Previously the experts said to use ventilators “this way.” Now many are saying to use them “that way,” or not at all in many cases. The shortage of ventilators has now become a glut. This is one of the problems with “trust the science.” Either the doctors were right in their first use of ventilators or they were wrong. If they were wrong, then they should not have been believed. If they were right at first, they need to explain now why the protocols have changed. The same is true of the use of face masks.

HONG KONG-CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS

The very nature of science is one of ever-changing conclusions, as old “settled facts” are refined, revised, or overturned. In addition, scientists disagree among themselves, so that science does not speak with one unified voice in regard to many practical applications. This has become obvious in the home-made videos of doctors on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis challenging the protocols they believed were killing patients. Scientific data has to be interpreted and two scientists can agree to the facts yet disagree on the interpretation of those facts.

When we factor in experts with a vested interest in certain conclusions, our skepticism about “always believing the experts” proves wise. Over 50 years ago Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutionsexposed the illusion that science is a completely neutral venture. Science has to be funded and often comes with an agenda, scientists sometimes seek to enhance their careers at any cost, and sometimes they are simply wrong in their conclusions. As an example, Neil Ferguson predicted in 2005 that up to 200 million people could die of the bird flu. In reality, in the years before and after that prediction only a few hundred people died of the bird flu.

This is not an anti-science piece. It is rather a warning against scientism, the belief that science is the only path to knowledge because the material world is all that exists, and only science is equipped to discover knowledge of the material world. Scientism breeds a naivete and credulity about scientific authorities that is unhealthy because it is uncritical. Yes, science should be believed when it stays in its lane and recognizes its limitations, but when it seems less than objective and its purveyors stand to benefit from its conclusions, we the people ought to challenge the pronouncements of science and the resulting fiats from politicians until they can actually prove them to be true and necessary for the common good.

What the Book of Revelation Says about the Economic Crisis

economic crisis

Did anyone imagine a few months ago that most of the world would essentially shut down its economic engines in so short a time? The economic effects of the Coronavirus are yet to be seen, but the biblical book of Revelation does predict a global economic disaster shortly before the end of this age.

Revelation 17-18 describe the fall and total ruin of “Babylon.” At various times in church history Babylon has been interpreted differently. In the first century many Jews and Christians considered Rome to be Babylon because it destroyed the Jerusalem temple in 70 A.D. and resembled ancient Babylon in its love for its own glory and power (1 Pet. 5:13). This would make the emperor the antichrist, an easy identification considering Roman citizens were often required to offer an annual sacrifice of incense and declare that “Caesar is Lord.”

During the Reformation the pope was considered the antichrist by many reformers, making the Roman Catholic Church the Babylon of the 16th century. Fast forward to 1990 and Saddam Hussein, who tried to reconstruct the ancient ruins of Babylon by building what art historians called a “Disney for despots.” For a few months, prophecy wonks declared this the predicted end-times rebuilding of Babylon in a literal sense and Hussein the obvious antichrist. Pictures of the majority of Babylon still in ruins and the capture of Hussein hiding in a hole ended that chatter quickly.

A far more plausible understanding of Babylon in these chapters is that it symbolizes “the prevailing economic-religious system in alliance with the state and its related authorities and existing throughout the ages.” (G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 850). That is, Babylon stands for the seductive power of economic prosperity and the system that empowers it, which is political, economic, and religious in nature. Therefore, Babylon has manifested itself in various kingdoms and empires throughout the ages.

What Babylon does is seduce us into trusting in and loving economic prosperity in a way we should only trust in and love God. Possessions, wealth, and economic prosperity are not wrong in themselves, but they become idolatrous so easily that Paul warned that the love of wealth, power, sex, prestige, opportunity, and comfort (the things money can buy) is the source of all kinds of evil in the world.

Revelation 17-18 predicts the total collapse of this world economic system shortly before Jesus returns. Chapter 18 describes the universal mourning that will take place because of the loss of all the material possessions brought to us by the system. It will be a total collapse. There will be no restocking of shelves, no supply chain, and no hope that it will ever be restored. The fall of Babylon is the prelude to the return of the Son of God in judgment.

Does this mean that the present crisis is the fulfillment of the fall of Babylon? Not necessarily, although time will tell. In that case unbelievers are called to repent and believe in Jesus before it is too late. The present crisis does show us how easily that which we take for granted and think is unshakable and will always be progressing to greater delights can be taken down in a few short weeks.

This is a call for believers to repent of our greater love for God’s good gifts than for God himself. It is a call for us to forsake our hope that a bigger and better house, car, savings account, wardrobe, vacation, or 401K will make everything perfect. How easily God is left out of such plans. The problem is not the items. The problem is our love for them, our dedication to them to the neglect of God and Christian service, our hope found in them such that if they fail to materialize, we are devastated.

The book of Revelation was written to predict the end of history, but also to encourage Christians to faithfulness now. In Revelation 14:12 John writes, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” We may see the collapse of the global economic system in our time, but even if we do not, it is coming. It is time to purge ourselves of love for that which will fade, rust, and fall. It is time to turn our attention to knowing God, longing for the return of Christ, and boldly sharing the hope of Christ in a confused, terrified, and spiritually blind world.

Social Disorder Is Often the Occasion for God’s Reformation of the Church

Coronavirus TP

The Cornona virus has brought social disruption on the scale only rivaled by wars and terrorist attacks. It can be for Christians a great temptation to panic and retreat from society, and to circle the wagons to wait out the attack so we can get back to our normal, comfortable way of life and church.

Theologian David Wells, however, calls us to see if God might be doing some house cleaning in the American evangelical church through social upheaval:

It is, perhaps, one of the oddities of God’s providence that reformation in the church’s life, of which the evangelical world surely stands in need, has often been abetted, if not triggered, by social disorder. Before God rebuilds, he often pulls down and plucks up. Unhealthy habits of mind and injurious patterns of life that might have been in the making for long periods of time are often more easily swept away by social chaos than by a preacher’s appeal to conscience.

It was so with unhappy regularity throughout the Old Testament, and it seems to have been so throughout the life of the Church. The moments of deep transformation, such as those that occurred at the time of the Reformation, also seem to happen at times of great upheaval in society.

I believe that we are now living in such times, and though I see many of the omens that would portend a very troubled future and perhaps the disintegration of Western civilization, this is also a moment when, in God’s mercy and providence, the Church could be deeply transformed for good–provided that, unlike the frog, it knows how to jump out of the pot.

David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology (Eerdmans, 1993), 91.

Cultivating a Culture of Evangelism in Your Church

Is evangelism a part of the DNA of your church? Is it assumed that every member is consistently starting and continuing gospel conversations with their unbelieving neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, and classmates? Is equipping for this practice woven into everything that comes from the pulpit? Are there testimonies about witnessing opportunities regularly featured during Sunday morning worship?

Talking

All these things are necessary aspects of a church with a culture of evangelism. Frankly, if these and other habits are not present in your church I can almost guarantee that evangelism is not part of the culture. And yet it absolutely is what was intended when the Great Commission was given.

cultivating

A very good article appeared this week on the 9Marks website: “Building a Culture of Evangelism Takes Time, So Be Patient and Get Busy.” Here is an excerpt:

In most churches, the role of the church in evangelism is largely reduced to programs. Local churches create programs or events in order to share the gospel with the surrounding community. Unfortunately, such programs tend to displace the more important work of cultivating a culture of evangelism. They tend to divert members’ attention away from cultivating friendships with unbelievers and toward propping up a program—particularly, event-driven programs. (Watch The Gospel Blimp film for an older, slightly cheeky illustration of this tendency.) The result is as surprising as it is unintended: a church full of busy Christians who simply have no time for non-Christians.

This is an excellent read and well worth the time of any pastor or evangelistically minded member. I might also add my own short guide to cultivating a culture of evangelism and apologetics in the church.